Theses Doctoral

Imaging the World: the Literature and Aesthetics of Mori Ogai, the Shirakaba School, and Akutagawa Ryunosuke

Yasuda, Anri

This dissertation examines the role of aesthetics in Japanese literary discourse, with attention to the emergence of new cross-cultural perspectives, from the late 1880s through the 1920s. Modernity in Japan was marked by the rapid and often jarring juxtapositions of new techniques and ideas from Western sources against older Japanese traditions, and my project considers how literary authors envisioned and interpreted this cultural eclecticism. In particular, I focus on their reactions to Western paintings and sculptures. The visual arts seemed to offer viewers a direct access to `universal' aesthetic values though their non-linguistic nature, and thus appealed to those seeking to attain cosmopolitan perspectives. Through analyzing Japanese writers' literary responses to foreign artworks, and their ideas on vision as an avenue of information, I investigate the changing nature of representation and signification in this new age, and the role of literary language within it.
I take as the main subjects of my dissertation Mori Ogai (1862-1922), the members of the Shirakaba School such as Mushanokôji Saneatsu (1885-1976) and Shiga Naoya (1883-1971) during the period of their eponymous publication Shirakaba (1910-1923), and Akutagawa Ryûnosuke (1892-1927). Each of these authors has been both praised and denigrated for the high-minded idealism and aestheticism of his works, in no small part because of a marked tendency to employ foreign literary and artistic references. I argue that despite assessments that their works had been composed at an intellectual remove from the social and material contexts in which they lived, the ideal of aesthetics they had upheld as a fixed and transcendental principle that allowed for their appreciation of imported images and ideas of beauty, in fact catalyzed their critical assessments of their own discursive positions within Japanese society. These writers explored the links and the disjunctions between their artistic ideals--which spanned across disparate cultural and national boundaries--and their more immediate awareness of themselves as citizens of modern Japan. They discovered that for them, any attempt at cosmopolitanism had to take place within the contexts of their Japanese realities, and any thoughts about it had to be voiced through the medium of Japanese literary language. Even visual images could not ultimately elide the viewer's conceptual frameworks, and were interpreted in light of them. What resulted was thus a distinctly hybrid outlook in which their conceptions of Japan, the world, their individual identities, and their creative and critical productions, were indelibly linked with each other.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Suzuki, Tomi
Anderer, Paul
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
December 8, 2017