The Dilemma of the Modern in Japanese Fiction Dennis C. Washburn

Publication date:
11 Mar 1995
Yale University Press
326 pages: 229 x 140mm

This book looks at modernity in Japanese literary culture as a continuing historical dynamic rather than as merely the product of the intense Westernization of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The author links the modern in Japan to a sense of cultural discontinuity that may be located in fictional narratives before the encounter of Japan with the West, and he argues that modernity in Meiji Japan can be understood in terms of cultural conflict—not only Japan versus the West, but also Japan's present versus its past.

Washburn compares readings from Meiji literature with readings from pre-Meiji and post-Meiji works. He begins with Genji monogatari (early eleventh century) and the Hojoki (1212), continues with stories by Saikaku (late seventeenth century), and ends with a consideration of selected texts from the Meiji period (1868-1912) through the end of the Second World War. Washburn focuses on common thematic elements that recur over time and on such formal considerations as voice and perspective that evolve historically to give expression to the sense of the modern. Using this approach, he is able to look at many individual authors in a new way and to present significant reevaluations of many important texts.
This book is also a study of the East Asian Institute, Columbia University.

"The book . . . covers an impressive range of authors and topics sensitively and eloquently. Washburn's familiarity with his materials is considerable, so his chapters might serve as intelligent introductions to representative writers and texts."?Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit, Free University, Berlin, Modern Language Quarterly

"Washburn presents his readings of a breathtaking range of works . . . and there can be no doubt about the breadth of his knowledge of Japanese prose. . . . The book will often strike readers as new and refreshing . . . because of the eloquence of the author's style, . . . his self-confident yet dizzying attempt to span centuries with his critical notions, and his insistent wanderings through geographically and culturally diverse critical and literary realms."?Ann Sherif, Case Western Reserve University

"An ambitious and courageous effort to address the question of what constitutes the 'modern' in Japanese literary history and how it relates to what is 'Japanese.' An important contribution to the field."?Ken Sheriff Ito, University of Michigan