Theses Doctoral

Literary Writing, Print Media, and Urban Space in Modern Japan, 1895-1933

Shockey, Nathan

The first decades of the 20th century saw the radical transformation of the ways in which literary media was produced and consumed in Japan. A new mass readership and a widening market for all manner of typographic print formed a rapidly changing ground upon which writers and critics reassessed how, why, and for whom they created works of literature and social thought. This dissertation examines a selection of fictional and critical texts from the turn of the century through the 1930s to demonstrate how mass-produced typographic media both served to produce mass consumer society in this period and functioned as sites for its critique, extending the aesthetic, linguistic, and political horizons of modern Japanese social life. I contend that an engagement with the commodity character of printed text enabled authors to develop experimental practices of writing that problematized the nexus of mutual interactions between printed text, visual media, urban space, and the human body.

Chapter 1 traces the rise of magazines and affordable books through the late 1920s to show how new forms of print media served as forums for the dissemination and discussion of alternative models of literary practice and social organization. In Chapter 2, I examine the journal Bungei Jidai (Literary Age, 1924-1927) to explore how a generation of authors born into the age of mass-market print established literary networks, evaluated existing paradigms of reading, and experimented with new forms of writing. In the third chapter, I examine an array of fictional texts, sociological studies, schemas of urban planning, and other representations of modern city life in order to analyze how authors and critics understood the mutual mediations between municipal space, the printed text, and the human body in this period. Finally, in Chapter 4, I identify a shift in the understanding of printed language concurrent with the changes to urban and discursive space that I discuss in the previous chapters. I follow discussions of language reform policies, literary formalism, the economics of the publishing industry, and the project of proletarian literature in the late 1920s in order to demonstrate the emergence of a sense of "literary materialism" precipitated by the proliferation of typographic text. In a brief conclusion, I address the importance of this crucial period for understanding the present shift from print to digital text.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Shockey_columbia_0054D_11025.pdf Shockey_columbia_0054D_11025.pdf application/pdf 2.03 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Suzuki, Tomi
Anderer, Paul J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 2, 2012