Alan Tansman, University of California, Berkeley
Asymptotic Intimacies: On the Possibility of Communication in Sōseki’s Narrative
In his fiction, Natsume Sōseki constructs narrative worlds in which characters often feel farthest apart whe they appear closest together. Distant events, abstract ideas, secrets, and narrative dissonances often occupy the space between characters, mediating their interaction precisely by throwing into question the “presence” of those characters, both to each other and to readers.
Thus, long-winded narratorial reflections on character motivation interrupt contentious dialogue, dislodging the reader’s immersion in communicative moments in the very act of clarifying character behavior (Meian); bereaved first-person narrators access the psychic lives of their dead friends by developing idiosyncratic scientific theories (Shumi no Iden); and, most famously, confessional “testaments,” purporting to embody the lives of their authors, are transmitted across null spaces that leave their effects on their recipients unnarrated (Kokoro).
Proceeding from such observations, this panel asks how Sōseki’s poetics allows readers to perceive communicative “contact” between characters against such mediating discontinuities. While much canonical criticism has enshrined Sōseki as the conscience of Meiji Japan’s reckoning with alienated individualism, we argue that his seeming obsession with the infinitesimal distances between people and the isolation of narrating voices conceals more intricate meditations on the representability of communication itself—on the temporality, and thus the reconcilability to narrative time, of phenomena of communion between discrete consciousnesses. Accordingly, this panel’s four papers share an interest in Sōseki’s engagement with problems of novelistic intersubjectivity. We consider Sōseki’s reflections on the comic as a rubric for examining characters’ perceptions of each other in Meian; the use of bodily sensation to generate affects only tenuously registered by narratorial consciousness in Shumi no iden; the potential of symptomatology as a framework for reading communicative asymmetries in Michikusa; and the metaphor of hereditary transmission as a model for Sōseki’s ethical preoccupation with the transmissibility of life experience in Kokoro.