- The Linguistic Turn in Contemporary Japanese Literary Studies: Politics, Language, Textuality
The Linguistic Turn in Contemporary Japanese Literary Studies is another wonderful addition of critical essays to our field of Japan studies. It is comprised of translations of Japanese scholarly essays as well as original English-language works, all of which, in one way or another, thematize and/or embody the notion of the “linguistic turn” experienced in the 1970s and 1980s. What constitutes this “linguistic turn” is eloquently and incisively delineated by Michael Bourdaghs’s brilliant introduction: it was a movement from sakuhinron (studies of a single work) to tekusutoron, a reading of works as “texts” based on:
the adaptations of concepts and methodologies originally developed in the realm of linguistics, be it in the structuralism of Saussure, the dialogism of Volosinov and Bakhtin, the theories of linguistic subjectivity derived from the work of Benveniste, or the analyses of codes, message, and poetic function carried out by Jakobson and the Prague School.(p. 5)
The change in methodology, which coincided with “the rise of ‘theory,’” this volumes shows, engaged with multifarious forces that define our field and opened up multiple possibilities that are thematized in this book: analysis of subjectivity and intersubjectivity, gender, the politics of language, and so forth.
The book is divided into three parts. The first, entitled “Pieces of the Linguistic Turn: Translation,” includes essays by Noguchi Takehiko, Kamei Hideo, Hirata Yumi, and Mitani Kuniaki, all originally published in Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s by participants in this linguistic turn. Deploying the narratological and semiotic framework that was integral to the linguistic turn, Noguchi’s essay takes up a commentary on Genji monogatari (The tale of Genji) written by nativist scholar Hagiwara Hiromichi and shows how Hiromichi explicated the narrative discourse of monogatari solely through the poetic functions of language. Kamei masterfully traces the history of modern Japanese literature focusing on representations of subjectivity and intersubjectivity—the central component of this linguistic turn—while situating Ōoka Shōhei’s Furyoki (A Japanese POW’s story) as a response to the limitations of the theories of “language” embedded in the history of modern Japanese literature. Hirata’s piece is also heavily narratological [End Page 233] in her examination of Edo and early Meiji texts, exploring the complex shift in narrative discourse and its link to the production of a new subjectivity. The last essay, by Mitani, constitutes a critical response to the works of Kamei and Hirata in that it highlights their urge to “productively” narrativize the birth of the modern narrator; the essay argues that such shift in narrative discourse marked a loss and/or a concealment of alternate possibilities inherent in classical Japanese literature. These essays together convincingly show how the linguistic turn was not a homogeneous occurrence. Despite their common theoretical stances and methodologies, the works demonstrate how such positions were contested as well as questioned by the very proponents of the linguistic turn.
The volume’s second part, “Theories and Politics of Language,” includes a translation of another essay by Kamei, which is complemented by articles written by John Whitman, Richi Sakakibara, and Norma Field. Though their notions of “politics” differ considerably, each of the essays is remarkable. Kamei unravels the complex site of the political discourse of the 1960s and 1970s by examining the language of student protests and demonstrates how intellectuals in the 1970s sought post-Saussurian theories of language that were forgotten in the rise of structuralism in the 1980s. Whitman historicizes and produces a link between the debate on Tokieda Motoki’s (mis) understanding of Ferdinand de Saussure and the recent deployment of Tokieda’s theories in the field of Japanese literary studies. Sakakibara takes up Yoshimoto Takaaki and examines Yoshimoto’s use of the term gengo (language), a contested term in the political field of the 1950s and 1960s, to offer a sharp critique of orthodox Marxism by endowing a certain universality to the term...