A Three Cornered World

Hoyt Long, University of Chicago

Robert Tuck (Panel Organizer), University of Montana
Hitomi Yoshio, Florida International University
Brian Dowdle
, University of Montana

A Three-Cornered World: Japan, China, and the West in Kusamakura

This panel presents four mutually illuminating readings of one of Natsume Sōseki's most challenging and polyphonic works, his 1906 novel Kusamakura. Following an unnamed Western-style painter as he sojourns in a remote mountain town, Kusamakura functions both as narrative fiction and as a site for Sōseki's meditations on the nature and value of divergent forms of literary and pictorial art. Contextualizing Kusamakura with Sōseki's critical writings and work in other literary genres, the panel addresses key issues such as the image and function of the author in Meiji society, the relationship between gender and writing, and the tension between "western" and "oriental" aesthetics in poetry, painting, and narrative prose. 

Following the conference's main theme of "Sōseki's diversity," each paper highlights Sōseki's uses and understanding of Western, Chinese, and Japanese literary traditions. Juxtaposing Kusamakura with Sōseki's Sino-Japanese verse (kanshi), Tuck draws attention to how Sōseki's gendered poetic aesthetic resonates throughout the narrative, structuring the character of the mysterious Nami. Hansen examines patterns of poetic discourse in Kusamakura in conjunction with Soseki's Bokusetsuroku (1889), a Sino-Japanese depiction of an earlier poetic journey, as the basis for the reconstruction of a nostalgic Chinese imaginary. Taking Nami as one case study, Yoshio considers Sōseki's ideas of "oriental aesthetics" in the light of Meiji discourses of sociology and psychology, in order to illuminate his vision of the artist/writer in Japan's emerging national literature. Lastly, Dowdle places Kusamakura in dialogue with Sōseki's later novel Michikusa (1915) to consider how his depictions of foreign-language books as material objects, and of the act of reading itself, reveal new forms of visual cultural capital re-shaping Japan's literary elite during the early 20th century.