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  • Detective Fiction and the Rise of the Japanese Novel, 1880–1930 by Satoru Saito
  • Oshino Takeshi (bio)
    Translated by Nicholas Lambrecht
Detective Fiction and the Rise of the Japanese Novel, 1880–1930. By Satoru Saito. Harvard University Asia Center, Cambridge, Mass., 2012. x, 308 pages. $39.95.

This book aims to make clear how, during the process of Japan’s modernization, detective fiction and the modern novel shared a concern with the same issues even as they continued to be framed in opposition to one another, and further to describe how each interacted with state power. The book focuses particular attention on the booms in detective fiction that occurred in the latter half of the 1890s and in the 1920s. During these two periods, public awareness of issues of freedom and rights increased and the institutional reform of government representation emerged as an issue of contention. It is no coincidence that these were also times of intensified state surveillance and control of the public.

The success of detective fiction in the 1920s has usually been dealt with in the context of urbanization, but this book is the first to point out its structural repetition of the early development of the modern Japanese novel while also dealing comprehensively with the political functions of detective fiction up to 1930. Its methodology of using detective fiction and the modern novel as a unified axis of evaluation in order to engage in close and concrete analysis of the complicated and at times unstable relationship between detectives and criminals, the individual and the masses, and the establishment and the anti-establishment is remarkably insightful. Saito elucidates the way mechanisms of disciplinary power affected the narrative mode in Japan’s circumstances, showing how modernization and Westernization were accompanied by the establishment of a new subjectivity, even as he employs discourse analysis of detective fiction to bring to light the contradictions generated by this process. This attempt to bring the Foucauldian themes of the hidden complicity and historicity of power, subjectivity, and literature to bear on the context of Japan’s modernization represents an important contribution. [End Page 458]

The book begins with consideration of Tsubouchi Shōyō and Kuroiwa Ruikō. Saito shows that subtle similarities between detectives and novelists are revealed by Shōyō’s theory of the novel (which ostensibly opposed the popular detective fiction of someone like Kuroiwa Ruikō) and Shōyō’s alteration of a first-person narrator to a third-person narrator in his translation of detective fiction. He then proceeds to an analysis of the first Japanese detective novel, Ruikō’s Muzan (Merciless), explaining how the juxtaposition of a detective character, situated as the model for a Western subject, with a Chinese criminal character representing the Other indicates how the desire for subjectivity arose in tandem with an imperial gaze.

However, readers of detective fiction could not turn to the Meiji state to provide an outlet for the ideal of risshin shusse (moving up in the world) or their desire for a free subjectivity. Saito argues that young readers’ frustration led them to a sense of identification with the figure of the intelligent criminal, as can be seen in the reception of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The analysis shows that he applied the same sort of code of reading toward Tayama Katai’s naturalism as well.

Another model for subjectivity is found in Natsume Sōseki’s self-portrait of the young intellectual torn between Japan and the West, which is highlighted through the contrast in Sōseki’s works between, on the one hand, a skeptical view toward detectives and disaffected men of leisure and, on the other hand, a detective-like narrative voice. Akutagawa Ryūnosuke carried on the difficult Sōseki-esque project of modernizing the subject, and it might be said that writers such as Satō Haruo and Tanizaki Jun’ichirō were able to persist by insulating the difficulty of that subjectivity in the world of dreams and the unconscious.

Edogawa Ranpo went still further. By exploring the limits of the scientific examination of evidence and highlighting the theme of the uncontrollable and opaque nature of the mind, he moved into writing parodies...


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pp. 458-460
Launched on MUSE
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