- Revolutionary Flesh:Nakamoto Takako’s Early Fiction and the Representation of the Body in Japanese Modernist and Proletarian Literature
Introductions: Nakamoto Takako as Modernist Writer, Proletarian Writer, and Woman Writer
In March of 1929, Tokyo Asahi Shinbun began serializing a three-part feature by established mainstream literary critic Hirotsu Kazuo under the title "Recent Women Writers." Hirotsu begins by admitting that he was reluctant to read a recent issue of the relatively new journal Women in the Arts (Nyōnin geijutsu), but did so anyway out of a sense of obligation to the editor, Hasegawa Shigure, who was an acquaintance. His reluctance transformed into enthusiasm, however, when he read a story by Nakamoto Takako called "The Female Bell-Cricket."1 Impressed by the "strength," "tenacity," and "icy cruelty" Nakamoto displays in this work, Hirotsu seeks out another of her stories, "Temporary Closure," and finds it to be similarly ruthless.2 Reading these stories leads him to assert that Nakamoto differs from her [End Page 311] cruel contemporaries, such as Masamune Hakucho, in that her cruelty does not "proceed from her head" but rather from her willingness to submerge herself in the "swirl of modernity" (gendai no uzumaki) along with her characters and suffer with them as they hit bottom, presenting every detail of the descent to the reader with cool, cruel assuredness. He asserts that her true predecessor is Tamura Toshiko, whom she surpasses in her willingness to portray "female malice" ("onna no ijiwaru"; quotes in the original) in all its glory. This glowing assessment of Nakamoto leads off his rundown of "recent women writers" and becomes a subsequently invoked standard by which the other women's writings are judged throughout the rest of his feature.
This review marks the first and perhaps most positive public recognition Nakamoto Takako's fiction received during her long career as a writer. Coming just two years after she moved to Tokyo from Yamaguchi to pursue her literary career, this public recognition placed her prominently among her literary peers and undoubtedly helped pave the way for her to publish widely in a variety of journals, as well as have her stories republished in three separate collections that came out in 1930.3 Yet, as scholars like Joan Ericson have pointed out, the advantages gained from being recognized and marketed as a "woman writer" came with a price. As Ericson puts it, "Women writers grouped by critics shared no unifying tradition, no school, and no journal. . . . To call someone a 'woman writer' said nothing about the author's relation with other literary, intellectual, social, and political trends. And the seeming simplicity of the term facilitated conflating the author's sex with her style. The label 'woman writer' connoted an inevitable destiny when, as a critical assessment, it should have been only a contingent association."4 Ericson's cautionary remarks seem especially pertinent when discussing a writer like Nakamoto, who consciously questioned her literary allegiances and willingly experimented with the style and content of her fiction as she explored the possibilities offered by the various schools of literary and political thought circulating around her. The move to Tokyo that signaled the beginning of her career was instigated at least in part by her correspondence with Yokomitsu Riichi, who by 1928 had firmly established himself as one of the most prominent avant-garde modernist writers and critics in Japan, and who had helped to establish the New Sensationist [End Page 312] school, a movement that had come to symbolize the experimental modernism that blossomed in the aftermath of the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. Starting in 1929, though, Nakamoto began to question the efficacy of New Sensationism for articulating the leftist political issues she increasingly felt she should address in her writing. In October of 1929, she moved closer to the Tōyō Muslin factory in order to help organize the labor movement there, and, in the November issue of Women in the Arts, she vowed to correct the "specious philosophy" that had informed her previous works and devote herself to the proletarian movement and to writing pieces concordant with Marxist thought.5 The very prominent role both movements played in Nakamoto's work...