restricted access Complicit Fictions: The Subject in the Modern Japanese Prose Narrative (review)
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Reviewed by
James Fujii. Complicit Fictions: The Subject in the Modern Japanese Prose Narrative. Berkeley: U of California P, 1993. xvii + 287 pp. No price given.

Fujii's book is part of a recent wave of theoretically informed work on Japanese literature and marks an undeniable advance in studies of Japanese narrative. The type of subject constructed in European realist prose of the nineteenth century has overshadowed modern Japanese literature, Fujii says, "by serving as both the ostensible object of appropriation for modern Japanese writers and the standard by which critics in both the West and Japan have evaluated this literature." His aim is to debunk the standard of Western realism and examine the construction of the subject in selected works of modern Japanese prose in terms of "historical particulars very much their own." Fujii draws primarily on Mikhail Bakhtin's narrative theory, but also engages a range of theoretical positions of both Japanese and Euro-American critics. Work of this sort promises a transformation of U.S. [End Page 187] scholarship on Japanese literature. It also will contribute to the debate underway in other fields on the status of the subject in literary criticism and theory.

Fujii treats novels by four writers from the early twentieth century, ranging from the firmly canonical Shimazaki Tôson and Natsume Sôseki, to Tokuda Shusei, who has been excluded from the canon, and Origuchi Shinobu, who actively contested it. A discussion of each novel's relationship to the canon and its critical reception prefaces his own analyses. Fujii outlines the ways that these novels construct the subject by examining strategies such as shifts in point of view, professions of narrative uncertainty ("she seemed to be thinking that . . ."), and the treatment of the narrative speech act itself. Following the example of Bakhtin, he also examines the novels' relation to other versions of the subject in circulation. The chapters on Tôson's Hakai (Broken Commandment, 1906) and Sôseki's Kokoro (Heart, 1914) for example, focus on their complicity in the construction of national and imperial subjects, and in the latter case, in the erasure of Japan's early imperialism from the history of its modernization. Fujii's argument that Japanese "naturalism" also is basically political in its use of "reality effects" to construct the subject and social space forms a concerted intervention in an issue that remains contentious for Euro-American and Japanese critics alike. This deft combination of narrative theory, ideological analysis, and a critique of the transcendental subject produces a number of compelling readings. The chapter on Kokoro stands out particularly as a fundamental reassessment of a treasured, canonical text.

Despite Fujii's skill with individual novels, Complicit Fictions remains more a series of essays on related themes than a broad treatment of the subject in modern Japanese literature. The sample of eight novels leaves out fiction written in the late nineteenth century as well as the 1920s movements of Japanese modernism and the "J-novel," The narrow selection forces Fujii to rely on "Western realism" as a negative touchstone for the argument: his repeated references to a phenomenon which (as he points out) largely lives on in the minds of critics, tell us less about what the subjects in modern Japanese literature are, than about what they are not. "Western realism" unintentionally gains a ghostly objectivity, with the occasional result of reinforcing familiar distinctions between Japan and the "West." With a broader selection, Fujii would have been able to discuss positively a range of different subjects, while still avoiding the kind of "totalizing" analysis associated with conceptions of the subject as transcendental. One also hopes he thereby might have been able to include works by women. (He discusses some issues of gender in the chapters on Shûsei.) A more consistent anchoring of the discussion in the historical and political situations of the texts' production would have complemented such breadth. When Fujii takes account of such conditions, as in the essays on Kokoro and Hakai, his readings are exceptionally good.

The many strengths of Complicit Fictions outweigh these problems. The number of critics and theorists whom Fujii engages—often disagreeing [End Page 188] pointedly—shows the...


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