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  • When Our Eyes No Longer See: Realism, Science, and Ecology in Japanese Literary Modernism
  • Mark Williams
When Our Eyes No Longer See: Realism, Science, and Ecology in Japanese Literary Modernism. By Gregory Golley. Harvard University Asia Center, 2008. 400 pages. Hardcover $39.95/£29.95/€36.00.

"Electromagnetic energy must be accorded its place in the history of modern Japanese literature" (p. 20), suggests Gregory Golley in his recent study of what he portrays as the trend toward aesthetic modernism in early twentieth-century Japanese literature. And this is merely the most pronounced of a series of unusual depictions of territory familiar to aficionados of Japanese literature of the late Taishō/early Shōwa period. Such observations may be designed to "defamiliarize" (in the sense that Russian Formalists such as Victor Shklovsky have used the term) widely discussed works by three canonical authors of the period, Tanizaki Jun'ichirō, Yokomitsu Riichi, and Miyazawa Kenji; they also serve as useful counters to conventional examinations of the art of these authors, whom Golley appropriates as merely prime exemplars of what he sees as an all-pervasive trend in the literature of the period to try to capture in art the invisible relations joining human beings to each other, to nonhuman beings, and to the larger material universe. For if, as Shklovsky suggests, the purpose of all art is "to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known" (quoted on p. 123), then it was this very dialectic between the perceived and the experienced world that Tanizaki, Yokomitsu, Miyazawa, and others sought so concertedly to overcome.

In retrospect, Golley's title provides more than adequate forewarning of his intention to probe what he sees as an aesthetic "shift outwards"—away from "the claustrophobic and egocentric concerns of the 'I-novel' to face the political and ethical demands of the world outside" (p. 2). His focus is on the ideological and ecological incarnations of scientific realism in several modernist works of the period: from the photographic portrait of the female protagonist that Tanizaki provides us in Naomi, to the fragmented vision of the imperial cosmos Yokomitsu offers in Shanghai, to the intimate depictions of astrophysical phenomena and the fixation with Darwinian notions of interdependence within the natural world evidenced by Miyazawa in so many of his "Ihatov" stories (those located in the wilderness of his native Iwate). By adopting a notion of perception unproscribed by the limits of immediate corporeal experience, then, Golley comes to view "aesthetic modernism" as representing not so much "a moment of representational or subjective collapse," but more a "singular and anomalous moment of perceptual and referential expansion" (p. 3; here and below, italics are Golley's). And, in so doing, he comes to characterize the texts in question as making visible "a historical and material reality that both envelops and stands outside our senses"—as accurately portraying "a world our eyes could never see" (p. 9).

Golley begins by crediting Natsume Sōseki with drawing attention to the crucial distinction between the merely modern and the "modernist vision of reality"—in which the object of interest was not simply material history but "the subjective experience of that history" (p. 13). What separates Sōseki from the authors in this study, however, is the former's "essential pessimism about the individual's ability to know, or literature's capacity to depict, the historical contours of an extrasensory reality" [End Page 412] (p. 15). More specifically, Golley credits this later generation of authors with embracing scientific realism in the literary realm—and with a consequently heightened appreciation of the role of industrialization (and it is here that electromagnetic energy comes into its own as a "driving force") in unveiling "a new way of knowing and depicting the universe" (p. 20) and thus sparking an unprecedented epistemological crisis. In short, what these authors offer, suggests Golley, is a new mode of discourse capable of picturing the invisible—an ability not so much to reflect the world as to map it and to picture it as a network of relations.

In the chapters that follow, Golley succeeds in retaining a sharp focus on the...


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pp. 412-414
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