Theses Doctoral

Adjusting to the Times: Kanagaki Robun, Gesaku Rhetoric, and the Production of Modern Japanese Literature

Woolley, Charles Edward Zebulon

This dissertation attempts a concomitant reexamination of two interrelated phenomena. Its primary undertaking is an analysis of mid-to-late nineteenth century gesaku commercial fiction production and its structural transformations during the first decades of the Meiji period, together with the imbrications of its narratological and rhetorical conventions with the language of reportage writing on the page of the Meiji newspaper. In conjunction with, and in order better to situate, the foregoing, its secondary task is to question the literary-historical emplotment of this period and its authors in the later 1920s, at the moment when Meiji literary history first emerges as an analytical object after the institutionalization of literature and journalism as discrete categories of discursive production. To such ends, this dissertation focuses on Kanagaki Robun (1829-1894), whose diverse career coincides what has come to be considered the transitional moment – and thereby recalcitrant to historiographical analysis not altogether fraught with ambivalence – intervening between the latter decades of the Tokugawa period and the ultimate establishment of Literature (bungaku) as an ideologically self-sufficient category of social value and discursive praxis by the first decades of the twentieth century. His survival in the annals of this later literary history proffers an occasion to reconsider the mechanisms involved in the arbitration of social, literary, and aesthetic value.
Chapter I begins with a brief sketch of Robun’s early biography and career before the Restoration, through which we hope to delineate some sense of the social and literary-productive context undergirding his activity, specifically, and, more generally, the attitudes towards authorship, adaptation, and narration constituting the prevailing ethos of the time; here, we take a survey of several of Robun’s earlier works, written before his assumption of the “Kanagaki” penname and his first major success with Kokkei Fuji mōde (Ridiculous Pilgrimage to Mount Fuji, 1860-1), many of which are erotic parodies of well-known kabuki or Chinese vernacular narratives, and analyze the manner in which the author constructs his enunciative position therein, before momentarily considering how Robun, at this juncture in his career, was perceived by his peers. Then in conclusion, we anticipate both Robun’s later career, its ambivalent emplotment in literary history and the fraught evaluation of the early Meiji period in toto through a later retrospective on the part of literary critic Tsubouchi Shōyō as he looks back on the literary ecosystem of the early Meiji period and the ethical conflict, latent in his argument, between the ideological dominance of modern rubrics of literary value and incommensurate pleasures of reading as lived experience.
Chapters II and III take as their focus Robun’s work in the comic hizakurige-mono genre pioneered by Jippensha Ikku’s Tōkaidōchū hizakurige (Along the Eastern Sea Road by Shank’s Mare, 1802-22), first with his success with Fuji mōde and subsequently, Seiyōdōchū hizakurige (Along the Western Sea Route by Shank’s Mare, 1872-4), a heavily intertextual updating of Ikku’s classic. Chapter II approaches Robun’s contributions to the genre through formal and narratological analysis, considering how the shift in topos, from domestic travel on foot, as in Ikku, to transpacific nautical travel via steamship, precipitates modulations in narrative structure, and weighs the ramifications of these intrageneric transformations. Chapter III shifts its focus to the intergeneric and intertextual, with attention to the modular configuration of its primary intertext in Ikku’s Tōkaidōchū hizakurige and the paratextual apparatus of hanrei, or the prefatory guidelines explicating a given text’s contents, provenance of sources, and editorial policies followed, etc. inherited from non-fictional and academic writing, and how these operate in Ikku and Robun as a space for conceptualizing social knowledge and the figure of the author.
Chapters IV and V address the latter portion of Robun’s career, after the Meiji government’s promulgation of the Three Articles on Education and its efforts to conscript gesaku authors like Robun to assist in the education of the new subjects of the Meiji state. Here, we examine the simultaneous devaluation of and dependence upon popular fiction in Robun’s Bunmei kaika-inflected writing, before his relocation to the emergent newspaper industry, at which point we consider the sort of narrative and rhetoric prevalent in reportage writing in the 1870s and its phenotypical affinity with gesaku stylistics. Chapter IV concerns itself with a discussion of the political and economic factors precipitating Robun’s move away from gesaku production and his subsequent literary activity informed by his new role as a government official employed by Kanagawa Prefecture, before his move to the Yokohama mainichi shinbun (Yokohama Daily News). Chapter V then turns to the space of newspaper narrative and the emergence of tsuzuki-mono or serialized narrative, and how their early status as neither consummately fiction nor non-fiction adumbrates aspects of the epistemological economy of readerly desire and social knowledge, aspects subsequently concealed by the later ascendance of bungaku and the shōsetsu as the dominant lens through which socially valued discursive production comes to be apprehended, and the concomitant institutionalization of Journalism as Literature’s reciprocal in the early twentieth century. In the epilogue, we attempt to locate more precisely the coeval emergence of these ostensibly distinct and antagonistic categories in public discourse in the early 1900s, and the concomitant adjudication of the sociocultural value of early Meiji gesaku production and its affiliated figures, anticipating in turn the more rigorous synthesis of a systematized Meiji literary history in the years immediately following the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake.


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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
April 15, 2016