Theses Doctoral

Ethics of Emotion in Nineteenth-Century Japanese Literature: Shunsui, Bakin, the Political Novel, Shôyô, Sôseki

Poch, Daniel Taro

This dissertation investigates how textual negotiations of "human feeling" and its ethically disruptive potential fundamentally shaped the production of literature in Japan over the early modern-modern divide well into the 20th century. "Human feeling" (Jap. jô, Chin. qing) was a loaded term in traditional Confucian discourses that subsumed amorous sentiment and sexual desire. It was seen as both a powerful force that could reinforce important societal bonds (such as the one between husband and wife) and as transgressive and ethically suspect. While traditional literary discourse, reaching back to the "Great Preface" of the Chinese Classic of Poetry (Shijing), defined poetry as a medium that could channel potentially unregulated emotions and desires, from the 18th century onward a strong awareness of "human feeling" started shaping the production of a broader spectrum of Japanese genres, such as jôruri puppet theater and, especially from the early 19th century, narrative fiction. I argue that the necessity to represent and write about potentially transgressive feelings and desires lies at the heart of major genres in 19th century Japan. At the same time this engendered the often conscious impulse to regulate these feelings ethically, for instance, through the specific dynamics of gender and plot. I define negotiations of "human feeling" as the simultaneous impulse in writing not only to represent but also to ethically and socially regulate and control feelings and desires. Precisely because the representation and negotiation of "human feeling" define the very essence of Japanese poetic writing and, from the 19th century onward, increasingly that of narrative writing as well, I argue that negotiations of "human feeling" are central to the broader emergence and formation of modern literature in Japan.

My first chapter examines selected ninjôbon ("human feeling") by Tamenaga Shunsui (1790-1843) and Kyokutei Bakin's (1767-1848) long narrative yomihon ("books for reading") cycle Nansô Satomi Hakkenden (Eight Dog Chronicle of the Nansô Satomi Clan, 1814-42). I examine how both ninjôbon and yomihon writings explore the deep opposition as well as the implicit affinity between "human feeling" and the sphere of Confucian ethics. My second chapter investigates a variety of novels (shôsetsu) written in the "long" decade of the 1880s: the translated novel Karyû shunwa (Spring Tale of Flowers and Willows, 1878-79), political fiction, and Tsubouchi Shôyô's (1859-1935) rewriting and reform of political fiction at the end of the decade. I for instance examine how these novels -- such as Suehiro Tetchô's (1849-96) Setchûbai (Plum Blossoms in the Snow, 1886) or Shôyô's Imo to se kagami (Mirror of Marriage, 1885-86) -- allegorically negotiate both transgressive sexual desire and chaste spiritual love within a teleological plot structure of democratic reform and heroic activity. My third chapter turns to Meiji-period fiction after 1890, in particular to texts that thematize the new medium of art as well as the figure of the artist or the literary writer. I argue that these texts -- Kôda Rohan's (1867-1947) Fûryûbutsu (The Buddha of Romance, 1889), Mori Ôgai's (1862-1922) German trilogy (1889-90), or Tayama Katai's (1871-1930) Futon (The Quilt, 1907) - continue the ethical negotiation between transgressive sexual desire and spiritual feelings within an implicitly allegorical plot structure that points back to 1880s political fiction. My fourth chapter largely focuses on the diversity of Natsume Sôseki's (1867-1916) early literary oeuvre, including various genres of poetry, so-called sketch writing (shaseibun), and novels. I argue that Sôseki's literary experimentation, for instance in Kusamakura (The Grass Pillow, 1906), with various non-novelistic genres stems from the desire to devise an alternative regime of literature that mediates the representation of "human feeling" in a more detached manner than that of the novel. At the same time, Sôseki's novel writing - as I demonstrate through my reading of Sorekara (And Then, 1909) - brings back a non-detached focus on "human feeling" that profoundly echoes the earlier attempt in 19th century fiction to reconcile transgressive feelings with the telos of a heroic and ethically driven plot.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Shirane, Haruo
Suzuki, Tomi
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 23, 2014