Theses Doctoral

Envisioning Literary Modernity through Translation: Futabatei Shimei and the Formation of Modern Literary Discourse in 1880s–1910s Japan

Ishida, Yuki

This dissertation interrogates and explores the formation of literary modernity in Japan in the 1880s–1910s, a process fundamentally underpinned by translation and often attributed to the novelist and Russian–Japanese translator Futabatei Shimei (c. 1862/1864–1909), who has been acclaimed as one of the progenitors of modern Japanese literary language, modern Japanese literature, and modern literary translation in Japan. Drawing extensively on Russian texts, I revise the view of the literary modernization process by situating Futabatei’s translation practice in its historical context and reconstructing the reception and reading of his translations, showing what was at stake in both Russian and Japanese. I select two converging approaches to this end. First, I analyze the process of forming through translation and its evaluation the foundational concepts that define the contours of modern Japanese literature: the question of what is considered artistic, creative, Western, Japanese, foreign, local, real, and modern.

Second, I examine how language reform, in particular the standardization of the Japanese language, led to the formation of a new literary language that continues to frame the way we interface with language in the present. While these two aspects—the evaluative concepts of modern Japanese literature and the language norms that underlie the modern Japanese language today—tend to be perceived linearly and teleologically and are often reduced to the development of the nationalization of Japan and its language, my analysis reveals that these two processes, fundamentally forged through translation practice, entailed extensive experimentations with language varieties in the midst of the changing linguistic sensibilities and evolving discursive imaginaries of the West, Russia, and Japan. The work of Futabatei, who engaged with the formative process of not only modern Japanese literature but of modern Russian literature, serves as a unique prism through which to view the formative process of modern literature, modern literary language, and modern literary translation—all of which emerged out of linguistic competition, experimentation, and hybridity.

Chapter 1 examines the emergence of the concepts of artistic-literary creation and production in Japanese translations from the mid-1880s to the early 1890s. Drawing on the formation of modern Russian literature, I analyze Futabatei’s translation of texts written by Russian critics in the 1820s–1840s, the time of the formation of the concept of modern literature in Russian discourse. In doing so, I show how Futabatei’s translation practice transforms concepts of artistic production through translation. The chapter also introduces the issues of translatability and the linguistic specificity of aesthetic concepts. The transformations introduced into Russian texts by Futabatei posed fundamental questions about the concept of artistic creation and production itself, which foreshadowed long-lasting debates on artistic production in subsequent years.

Chapter 2 focuses on the translations of Ivan Turgenev’s works, written around the 1850s, and examines how conceptualizations of Westernness and Western literature evolved in the period following the Sino–Japanese War (1894–1895). Impassioned calls for the standardization of literary language and the translation of Western literature into Japanese to create a “national literature” (kokumin bungaku) as well as the revision of the unequal treaties between Japan and major powers—including Russia, which was generally perceived as Western—led to the reconsideration and reimagining of what constitutes Westernness in literary translation. I show that the generalized sense of Westernness in literature at this time was intertwined with the competition among various writing styles and increased interest in the Edo or Tōkyō language, which was itself undergoing reconceptualization. I also argue that dialogue in novels represents a unique and important locus within which ideas about Westernized socialization and language standardization encountered each other generatively.

Chapter 3 considers Futabatei’s translations at the turn of the twentieth century—some with source texts that I have newly uncovered—which have hitherto been largely understudied. My analysis focuses on translations of texts originally written by lesser-known writers in the 1890s, such as “Parent’s Heart” (originally written by Fritz Marti) and “Commune of Four” (originally written by Ignaty Potapenko). The differentiation between the concepts of “standard language” (hyōjungo) and “dialects” (hōgen), alongside the burgeoning attention paid to the representation of local languages in literature, led to a number of literary experiments that incorporated local elements and in the process constructed a new literary language as Futabatei did with countryside and regionally associated language. By analyzing the shifting evaluations of his translations in this period, I illustrate how the standardization process and the introduction of the local intervened in the shifting perspective of how foreignness should be conveyed in translation, with particular emphasis on how the awareness of the construction of literary language varieties is foregrounded, problematized, and obscured at different times with the emergence and development of the concept of dialect.

Chapter 4 turns to texts from the post-Russo–Japanese War (1904–1905) period, specifically those pieces of literature related to war and madness—two major themes through which the relationship between “Western” literature, its translation, and the real came into question. By analyzing Futabatei’s translations of such stories, I argue that the establishment of views of language varieties in this period led to different ideas about the representation of Japanization in translation. I then illustrate the changing positionality of Russia and Japan in this period and the way that the representation of madness in literary texts complicated the sense of reality therein. I also explore how the emergence and prevalence of the concept of the “modern” was linked with the use of language varieties in translations. The integration of the overarching concept of the modern into literature and the existence of language varieties associated with specific social strata and localities tend to be considered unrelated or even mutually exclusive phenomena. However, I demonstrate that the concept of the modern was instead integrated into Japanese literary discourse by means of such language varieties.

Ultimately, by reconstructing Futabatei’s translation practice and its reception and placing them back into their fluid historical contexts, my analysis reveals the fluctuations in collective linguistic sensibilities and the engravement into Japanese literary discourse of foundational conceptions, such as the artistic and the creative, the Western, the foreign and the modern, thus providing a new history of the formation of modern Japanese literature.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Suzuki, Tomi
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 7, 2022