- Satō Haruo and Modern Japanese Literature by Charles Exley
"O Rose, thou art sick!" To many Japanese readers, especially those of older generations, this line is associated almost as much with Satō Haruo (1892–1964) as with William Blake. Satō's acclaimed novella Den'en no yūutsu (Melancholy in the country, 1919; translated by Francis Tenny as The Sick Rose: A Pastoral Elegy, 1993) is so rich in intertextuality that it serves as an excellent text for a postgraduate seminar in comparative literature training in explication of the text. Satō is also one of the key figures in the history of the reception of Edgar Allan Poe in Japan. In modern Japanese literary history, Satō is regarded as an important and influential poet, novelist, critic, and essayist. He started to publish as a teenager in the late Meiji period, in prestigious literary magazines such as Myōjō, Subaru, and Mita bungaku, sharing his antinaturalist thoughts and styles with Mori Ōgai, Yosano Hiroshi, and other bright literary stars. In popular journalism, Satō is best known for his romantic relationship with Tanizaki Jun'ichirō's first wife, Chiyoko. A decade after communication between the two writers was severed, Tanizaki finally agreed to a divorce so that Chiyoko could marry [End Page 450] Satō in 1930. This so-called saikun jōto jiken (wife transfer incident), a term that scandalizes and at the same time mocks the private lives of these celebrated writers, also triggered directly and indirectly works by both writers during and after the "incident," one of the most celebrated examples being Satō's poem "Sanma no uta" (Song of the mackerel pike, 1921). Like many other writers (though not Tanizaki), Satō wrote patriotic pieces during the war and yet maintained a powerful position in the postwar bundan literary world, with numerous ("three thousand," though surely this is, in the Li Po style, rhetorical exaggeration) disciples.
Charles Exley's Satō Haruo and Modern Japanese Literature is the first book-length study in English of this important author and his writings. It is a welcome and timely addition to the rapidly growing body of work on interwar-era literature, culture, and society. The book not only draws on a wide range of existing studies in multiple disciplines in both Japanese and English but also attempts consciously "to present what has been a fragmented examination of Satō's work into a larger context" (p. 2). The relatively compact volume offers careful and insightful readings of the works Satō produced before the war. Given that Satō continued to write and publish during and after the war, the concentration on the prewar period and on prose fiction and essays may seem limiting at first. In five well-structured chapters with an informative introduction and an epilogue, however, Exley demonstrates how rich and complex, and surprisingly varied, these prewar texts are. Indeed, the strength of this book lies in its careful analysis of these selected texts, especially their inter- and para-textualities and sociopolitical contexts, as well as their aesthetic principles and literary devices.
Chapter 1, entitled "The Ends of Fantasy," examines "articulations of the fantastic … as a strategy to make unfamiliar texts of foreign literature familiar" (p. 19) in two early short stories: "Supein inu no ie" (The house of a Spanish dog, 1917) and "Aojiroi netsujō" (Pale passion, 1919). Through an exploration of the uncanny spaces and dreams, these texts express "a shared ambivalence toward modern rationality and conventions of realistic depiction" (p. 34). Chapter 2, "Nervous Urban Bodies," scrutinizes the melancholy in the two novellas Den'en no yūutsu and Tokai no yūutsu (Melancholy in the city, 1922; in Tenny's translation, "Gloom in the City"). The obsession with the nerves, the body, and medical discourses on one hand, and the self and the interior on the other, all of which was shared by many artists and writers of the time, is linked to modern urban life in the city itself and on its outskirts, or the den'en as "a liminal space between the city and...