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  • Struggling Upward: Worldly Success and the Japanese Novel by Timothy J. Van Compernolle
  • Yukiko Shigeto
Timothy J. Van Compernolle. Struggling Upward: Worldly Success and the Japanese Novel. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2016. Pp. 264. $39.95 hardcover.

Timothy J. Van Compernolle's Struggling Upward: Worldly Success and the Japanese Novel makes a meaningful contribution to existing studies of modern Japanese novels by probing the intersection between the novel and the nation from the angle of risshin shusse (ambition and worldly success). This is a fresh approach that allows for the crisscrossing of not only literary genres but also a wide range of non-literary print media. Most important, it brings to centre stage an investigation into the literary chronotope as it relates to the dominant time-space of the nation. It comes as somewhat of a surprise that this is the first monograph to undertake a concerted engagement with the topic of risshin shusse, given, as noted by Compernolle, its role as "one of the most powerful ideologies of modernity" (2). In Meiji Japan (1868-1912), the discourse of risshin shusse, along with the related ideas of individualism, self-help, and social evolution, played a key role in forging a particular type of aspiring, [End Page 343] forward-looking national subject. These attributes were necessary for the emergent capitalist nation-state in its drive to gain equal standing with its western counterparts in the age of imperialism.

One of the key terms in this book is "chronotope of success," a phrase Compernolle coined. This particular chronotope consists of linear temporality and hierarchically organized space. In a typical success story, an ambitious individual moves from a rural area to the metropolis in order to attain higher education and subsequent social advancement. Compernolle, for his purpose in this book, draws on Jay Ladin's reorientation of Mikhail Bakhtin's conception of chronotope "around the portrayal of character in fiction and with the way authors, narrators, and readers relate to that character" (10). Building also on Nancy Armstrong's formulation of novelistic narratives as what "inscribes this desire [ambition] in the hero or heroine as a rhetorical additive and follows his or her effort to close a gap between that desire and the circumstances of birth" (8), Compernolle sets out to analyze the protagonist's subjective experience of time-space and of the narrative strategies employed to make that legible for readers. In keeping with Ladin's argument that it is in relation to other space-time-event clusters that an individual chronotope gains contour and becomes visible, throughout the book Compernolle carefully attends to the tensions and negotiations that the chronotope each protagonist inhabits bears with the dominant chronotope of success. In fact, the final decade of the Meiji period, the book's focus, witnessed the production of less straightforward success stories than were provided in the earlier decades of the period. Writers during the last decade of Meiji instead produced more nuanced narratives that unfolded the chronotope of success with varying inflections. This owes not only to the maturation of novelistic form, but also to how the late Meiji was a time, particularly with the onset of the economic downturn triggered by the financial panic of 1907, when social advancement became fiercely competitive and only attainable for those who could survive the race. It was a time when "a range of important issues related to social mobility and national space come to the fore" (15). Some of these issues are dealt with in the novels explored in this book.

In Chapter 1, through clever and close analyses of works by one of the representative writers of Japanese naturalism, Tayama Katai, Compernolle foregrounds a "chronotope of inertia" (37) in which the chronotope of success is inverted. Tayama's novel Inaka Kyoshi (A Country Teacher, 1909) is examined as a paradigmatic example in which the protagonist is forced to take up a job in the countryside due to his family's dire economic straits, and endures perpetual deferment of his desire for social advancement. The beauty of Compernolle's study lies in his exposition of the way nature functions within the chronotope of inertia as a compensatory object...


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pp. 343-346
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