• Measuring Feeling as Theory of LiteratureRomanticism and the Performance of Genre in Natsume Sōseki’s Kusamakura and Critical Writings

Natsume Sōseki 夏目漱石 (1867–1916) is widely thought of today as one of the greatest novelists of modern Japan, but it is less well known that throughout his writing career he was highly ambivalent, if not suspicious, of the novel (shōsetsu 小説) and may not have even thought of himself as a novelist. Largely under the influence of Western models, this new genre had become widely accepted as the literary norm in Japan by the early twentieth century.1 But its dominance challenged the understanding of literature as defined by traditional Japanese letters (bun 文), which included especially classical Chinese-style poetry and prose (kanshibun 漢詩文) but also waka 和歌 (thirty-one-syllable Japanese-style verse).2 These genres had defined the parameters of high-class Japanese literacy for more than a millennium and were still very much alive well into the late Meiji period. A proficient practitioner of kanshi 漢詩 (classical Chinese-style verse) and haiku [End Page 1] (seventeen-syllable Japanese-style verse) throughout his career, Sōseki was steeped in the aesthetic sensibility of traditional poetry.3 It is unsurprising, therefore, that when he began experimenting with literary prose in the early 1900s, influenced by his friend and poetic mentor Masaoka Shiki 正岡子規 (1867–1902), he labeled his narratives not as novels but as shaseibun 写生文 (sketch writing)—a type of prose Sōseki considered inherently poetic. An early masterpiece by Sōseki in this category is the acclaimed Wagahai wa neko de aru 我輩は猫である (I Am a Cat; 1905–1906).4

In his short essay Shaseibun 写生文 (On Sketch Writing; 1907), Sōseki defines the genre as a type of prose more akin to haiku poetry than to the novel.5 He explains that shaseibun writings, unlike novels, are largely devoid of plot and instead focus exclusively on objective observation. The most important difference that Sōseki highlights, however, is with regard to what he calls the “inner state” (shinteki jōtai 心的状態) of novelist and shaseibun author, respectively. He argues that the novelist is strongly affected by, or drawn into, his or her characters and their emotions. The shaseibun author, on the contrary, exhibits a gentle and humorous detachment that resembles the stance taken by a parent toward a child. Even if the child cries, Sōseki remarks, a good parent does not cry with the child. Similarly, the shaseibun author observes and describes (or “sketches”) his or her figures and their emotions—their love, their tears, their greed—not coldly, but with amused interest, unlike the novelist, who passionately sheds tears together with his or her characters.6 In short, Sōseki envisions the shaseibun genre in emotional terms as a type of prose writing that allows for more affective distance from the narrated world and its emotions than does the novel.

“Human emotion” (ninjō 人情) is a key concern in Sōseki’s essay and, as I will argue, his broader literary and theoretical project. The term “ninjō” was an important critical concept in Meiji-period discussions of the novel. It figures notably in the seminal treatise Shōsetsu shinzui 小説神髄 (The Essence of the Novel; 1885–1886), by influential literary critic and novelist Tsubouchi Shōyō 坪内逍遥 (1859–1935), which famously declares that the novel’s focus should be on the depiction of “human emotion” (ninjō) and “social manners” (setai 世態).7 Although ninjō could traditionally [End Page 2] denote a broader range of emotions, Shōyō used the term primarily in reference to male-female love and desire.8 His definition of the novel’s content was of great importance in shaping the subsequent development and understanding of the genre in Meiji Japan. Literary historian Hiraoka Toshio 平岡敏夫 has aptly labeled the Japanese novels widely read in the late 1880s and 1890s in the wake of Shōyō’s literary reform as “novels of human emotion and social manners” (ninjō setai shōsetsu 人情世態小説)—that is to say, novels that revolved around plots of love and sentiment, often in connection with the depiction of social problems.9 It was these novels— including Tokutomi Roka’s 徳富蘆花 (Kenjirō 健次郎; 1868–1927) Hototogisu 不如帰 (Cuckoo; 1898–1899) and Ozaki Kōyō’s 尾崎紅葉 (1867–1903) Konjiki yasha 金色夜叉 (Gold Demon; 1897–1903)—together with the Western novels known to him as a scholar of English literature that Sōseki had in mind when he characterized the novelist as crying with his or her characters.10

The novel’s strong focus on sentiment made the genre problematic in the eyes of Sōseki, whose literary sensibility was still entrenched in the world of traditional letters. Genres such as kanshi, waka, and haiku represented emotions in a more indirect and aesthetically subdued fashion than did the novel. Emotions in traditional Japanese verse were often represented through the mediation of seasonal imagery or nature-related tropes rather than through direct expression or description. Traditional poetic discourse both in China and Japan thus presented the categories of landscape (kei 景) and emotion ( 情) as inherently intertwined and dependent on each other.11 Such a characterization was fundamental to the aesthetics of premodern poetic genres despite general differences in their topical and thematic orientation. In classical waka, for instance, “love” (koi 恋) was, together with the four seasons, a primary topic of poetic composition, and it was evoked mainly through the medium of natural imagery.12 [End Page 3] Haiku, while less focused on love, as a rule juxtaposed human topics, often in a humorous manner, with seasonal tropes.13 Kanshi landscape poetry differed from both waka and haiku with its greater reliance on an allegorical reading mode that saw in nature-related metaphors the expression of the poet’s moral or political feelings.14

The traditional aesthetics fundamental to all of these poetic genres lay at the heart of shasei 写生 (sketching), a term introduced by Sōseki’s mentor Masaoka Shiki at the turn of the century in reaction to the rise of the novel. In his essay Jojibun 叙事文 (On Narrative Description; 1900), Shiki defined the object of shasei and shaseibun as either “natural landscape” (keshiki 景色) or “human affairs” (jinji 人事).15 He argued that the lively narrative description (joji 叙事), or “sketching” (shasei), of natural objects and of human beings would, when freed from the conventions of traditional poetic diction, have great power to move the reader. This type of narrative prose did not revolve around plots of “human emotion” and “social manners” as in the novel, but instead emphasized visuality, placing human beings at a distance and thus treating them as though they were landscape or objects within a landscape—or, as Shiki emphasized, part of a “painting” (kaiga 絵画) of a landscape.16

Shiki, however, did not explicitly reflect on the distinction between shaseibun and the novel. It was Sōseki who, in his essay Shaseibun, first theorized the sketcher’s stance toward the sketched human beings as emotionally more detached than that of the novelist, thus appropriating and redirecting the discourse on human emotion that had hitherto been connected to the novel.17 As I argue below, Sōseki’s reflection on shaseibun was part of a broader theoretical and literary project that sought to [End Page 4] characterize, with a strong awareness of the contemporary novel and in distinction from it, various genres of writing and “literature” (bungaku 文学) in terms of their capacity to represent, express, or relate to “human emotion.” While previous scholarship has pointed to Sōseki’s resistance to the novel, his appropriation of the discourse on human emotion in an attempt to define alternative genres or modes of literary writing in distinction from the novel has been largely overlooked.18

This article focuses on Sōseki’s experimental work Kusamakura 草枕 (The Grass Pillow; 1906) and on his critical writings, demonstrating that throughout these works Sōseki engaged in a persistent investigation of the ways in which literary writing in general and specific genres in particular mediate and produce emotion. On the one hand, I show that Kusamakura is a text that highlights, in exemplary fashion, various genres—shaseibun, haiku, kanshi, and English verse—as textual mediums representing and conveying “human emotion.”19 The work’s narration, I argue, performs and investigates the emotionally loaded quality of these genres, probing and dramatizing their relative proximity to and distance from the novel. On the other hand, I examine how a similar investigation also lies at the heart of Sōseki’s critical writings, in particular his seminal treatise Bungakuron 文学論 (Theory of Literature; 1907)20 and his essay Sōsakuka no taido 創作家の態度 (The Attitude of the Literary Writer; 1908).21 These texts theorize literature in general as well as specific literary modes in terms of their capacity to represent and convey emotion, and they thus complement the Kusamakura project in important ways. In particular, I pay attention to the literary mode that Sōseki, in highly idiosyncratic fashion, defines as “romantic.”22 In Bungakuron, he calls “romantic” those writings that, unlike the novel, do not [End Page 5] exclusively focus on the human element but instead juxtapose, as did haiku and kanshi poetry or shaseibun prose, the human element with the landscape. This juxtaposition allows for a more indirect representation of emotions than that found in what he defines as the “realist method” (shajitsuhō 写実法) of the novel, with its exclusive focus on human content. At the same time, he argues that the emotional impact on the reader produced by “romantic” texts is stronger than that engendered by “realist” writings.

While Bungakuron meticulously defines the criteria that enhance or reduce the emotional impact of literary texts, Kusamakura consciously highlights, reflects, and objectifies the amount of emotion inherent in the various genres that it performs. Kusamakura itself constitutes a literary performance of Sōseki’s theoretical writings. At the same time, his analytical deconstruction of various literary modes and genres, including the novel, highlights their commonality as literature that conveys and represents human emotion. Sōseki’s project was to define literature as a universal category that could potentially subsume all genres. This project sought to integrate the often alienating multiplicity of literacies—old and new, Japanese and Western, traditional poetry and the modern novel—that clashed painfully in the late Meiji period and in Sōseki’s own writings.23

Performing Genre: Shaseibun, Haiku, and English Verse in Kusamakura

Kusamakura is a performance of shaseibun prose that consciously and ironically highlights constitutive elements of the genre. An unnamed young male painter in the Western style (yōgaka 洋画家) and also a poet, Kusamakura’s narrator travels through the landscape of Kyushu with the stated goal of not being strongly affected by the people and by the “human affairs” (jinji) that he encounters during his journey, thus seeking to realize the emotionally detached state that Sōseki envisioned for the shaseibun author.24

The young narrator aims to experience “human affairs without becoming directly involved in them and by only “sketching” them in his landscape paintings, in his [End Page 6] poetry, and in his shaseibun prose; he even goes so far as to specify that he will observe a distance of three feet between himself and the figures in his painting. His assumption is that this distant way of approaching the world will enable him to overcome the “suffering” (kurushimi 苦しみ) inherent in deep involvement with human affairs and emotion and that his encounter with the world will thus be rendered “charming” (omoshiroi 面白い). Sōseki’s narrator states:

When I walk through the mountains and approach the objects of the natural landscape (shizen no keibutsu 自然の景物), all that I see and hear is charming. It is merely charming, and no pain whatsoever arises. . . . But why is it that there is no pain involved? This is because I am viewing the landscape (keshiki 景色) just as I would see the scroll of a painting or read a volume of poetry.25

A bit later, the narrator also claims:

I intend to treat the human beings that I will encounter—farmers, village people, the clerks at the village office, old men, and old women—without exception as accessory figures (tenkei toshite 点景として) in the big landscape of nature. . . . It is my design to observe the people whom I will now encounter at my leisure from a high vantage point so that there will be no electric current of human emotion (ninjō no denki 人情の電気) between us.26

Sōseki’s presentation in Kusamakura of the narrator’s discourse and the shaseibun genre is both performative and ironic, constantly testing the limits of his postulated narratorial distance toward human affairs and the possibility of its being breached. In chapter 1, for instance, the narrator stumbles over a stone on his path, which serves as a physical reminder that the landscape his discourse sought to reduce to the status of aesthetic artifact is capable of impacting him in painful ways.27 The stone, however, is only a metaphorical anticipation of the alluring and mysterious woman Nami 那美, who jeopardizes the young man’s emotional detachment after he encounters her at the hot spring resort Nakoi 那古井. Nami, in other words, threatens to drag him into the “suffering” of male-female love. Her presence in Kusamakura serves a highly self-reflexive and theoretical goal. Through his narrator’s increasing erotic and emotional attraction to Nami, Sōseki investigates the subtle line of demarcation between shaseibun prose and the novel. Were the narrator’s affective distance to break down—were he to enter a love relationship with Nami and suffer—Kusamakura’s shaseibun prose would instantaneously metamorphose into the sentimental plot of a novel. Although constantly playing with the possibility of such a turn, Sōseki consciously avoids it and instead continues to probe the ambiguous line between detachment and affective involvement, thus highlighting the difference between shaseibun and the novel. [End Page 7]

In a similar fashion, Sōseki’s narrator also investigates other genres as literary forms that might convey his attraction to Nami in a more detached fashion than is possible via the plot of a novel. He explores genres such as haiku, English verse, and kanshi as mediums of expression for precisely the type of emotion that had been most strongly associated with the novel: male-female love. His exploration of haiku is particularly interesting, as it introduces the notion of objectivity, a central idea in Kusamakura with regard to the performance of various literary genres as emotionally detached modes of expression. The narrator asserts that any strong feeling, for instance one’s reaction to an event initially experienced as frightening, can be turned into poetry or painting and thus placed at an emotional distance if it is viewed “objectively” (kyakkanteki 客観的). If thus severed from the poet’s immediate experience, strong feelings such as “unrequited love” (shitsuren 失恋) can be transformed into an appropriate topic for painting (and poetry) because the initial suffering inherent in the feeling has been excised, with only its “gentle” (yasashii やさしい) aspect and less violent feelings such as compassion and sorrow remaining.28

For example, on the night of his arrival at the Nakoi hot spring resort, depicted in chapter 3, Kusamakura’s narrator confronts the following scene: Nami, to tease him, hides in a dark corner of the garden and uncannily intones a waka allegedly composed by a madwoman who once inhabited the place.29 Under the influence of Nami’s “frightening” (kowai 怖い) performance, the narrator composes the following haiku poems:

Haru no yo no The spring night’s
kumo ni nurasu ya clouds dampen
araigami the [woman’s] freshly washed [and untied] hair!
Haru ya koyoi This spring night
uta tsukamatsuru [I see] an elegant form
onsugata humbly offering a poem [to me].30

In these poems, the narrator’s feelings—his erotic attraction to Nami as well as his fright at her apparition—are encapsulated in expressions such as “freshly washed [End Page 8] hair” (araigami) and “an elegant form” (onsugata).31 Such images point to the element of human affairs, or the danger of emotional entanglement, in the poems. At the same time, these faintly eroticized expressions are set alongside natural imagery such as the “clouds,” which, through elegant poetic superimposition, seem to fuse with and dampen the woman’s hair. The objectification of feeling through poetry, as theorized by Kusamakura’s narrator, consists of this merger of human affairs (and emotions) with specific objects in the landscape—which also reduces the intensity inherent in human emotion and renders it “gentle” and even elegant. However, although poetry thus produces detachment, the narrator’s discourse and his poetic compositions simultaneously highlight haiku composition as a medium that carries and conveys erotic attraction.

Sōseki even amplifies the dynamic of self-reflexive emotional objectification in Kusamakura by quoting English poetic intertexts. A good example is George Meredith’s (1828–1909) poem “Sadder than is the moon’s lost light,” which first appeared in Meredith’s novel The Shaving of Shagpat: An Arabian Entertainment (1856). In chapter 4 of Kusamakura, the first two stanzas of the poem are cited in the English original after a scene in which the narrator has unexpectedly encountered Nami’s seductive gaze.32 After a brief moment of intense silent communication and Nami’s sudden withdrawal from the scene, the narrator reflects in the following manner:

Suddenly what came to my mind was the following poem:

Sadder than is the moon’s lost light,  Lost ere the kindling of dawn,  To travellers journeying on,The shutting of thy fair face from my sight.

If I were in love (kesō shite 懸想して) with the woman [Nami] wearing the gingko-leaf hair-style (ichōgaeshi 銀杏返し) and wished to meet her at all costs and if, shortly before being able to meet her, I had to part from her with this one glance that, so overwhelmingly unexpected, would fill me with joy and regret, I think I would compose exactly such a poem. And I would probably also add these two lines [from the same poem]:

Might I look on thee in death,With bliss I would yield my breath.

Luckily, I have already left behind me the realm of what is called longing or love (koi toka ai toka iu kyōgai 恋とか愛とか云ふ境界), and even if I wished to feel this kind of suffering I could not. But the poetic flavor (shishu 詩趣) of the incident that just occurred now for a brief moment is very well captured in these five or six lines. Even without such a painful longing [End Page 9] between me and the woman with the gingko-leaf hairstyle, it would still be charming (omoshiroi) to match our current relationship to the content of this poem. Or it would also be pleasing to interpret the meaning of this poem with our case as an illustration.33

In this scene a dynamic of objectification unfolds, similar to the one that was possible with the haiku poetry in chapter 3 and perhaps strengthened by the fact that the quoted reference is explicitly marked as non-Japanese. Strong feelings that could potentially develop between the narrator and Nami are transposed into and contained within the poem so that the real relationship remains playful and “charming.” Whereas the haiku poems objectified their composer’s feelings by reducing their intensity and rendering them “gentle,” Meredith’s poem introduces a strongly subjective first-person voice, absent in the haiku, that intensifies the feeling of “longing” and “love” not only by dramatically staging a determination to die but also by producing an intense dialogue between the male speaker and his imagined female interlocutor.

The narrator’s reflections in the above scene resonate with Sōseki’s “theory of literary distance” (kankakuron 間隔論) as developed in Bungakuron, his treatise on literature that I take up in detail in the next section. There, he asserts that in “lyrical poetry” (jojōshi 叙情詩) the main function is to “sing feelings” (jō o utau 情を歌ふ) and that the speaker should be the “I” of the poet. Sōseki states:

If one wishes to sing one’s feelings in poignant (tsūsetsu 痛切) fashion, then the one who sings [in the poem] must be oneself (jiko 自己). This is because there is [no speaker] who would possess feelings (jōsho 情緒) as poignant as one’s own. For this reason, lyrical poetry starts with the [pronoun] “I” (yo 余) and ends with the [pronoun] “I.” “I” should be the composer of the poem, and if this cannot be the case then it should be the poem’s protagonist, with whom the composer has become one. This is why, with a lyrical poem, we are always able to enjoy the flavor of poetry with the least amount of distance possible.34

A first-person voice, as in Meredith’s poem, is the most authentic medium for conveying a strong subjective stance and for reducing the distance between the reader and the text.

Moreover, in Bungakuron Sōseki posits literary “illusion” (genwaku 幻惑) as the power that enables a text to profoundly impact the reader, or, in other words, the means by which the reader becomes subjectively and emotionally involved with the text. Because of the strongly subjective first-person voice in Meredith’s poem, the literary illusion it produces is also strong and lets poetry come to the fore as a privileged medium for producing emotional immediacy. However, Sōseki’s narrator in the above scene self-consciously and ironically highlights the emotionally loaded nature of the medium of poetic expression only to again objectify and neutralize it through his critical reflections. As we shall see, the ambiguous oscillation between subjective expression and affective noninvolvement that surfaces here is even more complex with regard to the kanshi intertexts that are quoted in Kusamakura. Before [End Page 10] examining those kanshi, however, a discussion of Sōseki’s literary theory and its significance for the reading of Kusamakura is in order.

Romanticism in Bungakuron

The attempt of Kusamakura’s narrator to objectify—to self-consciously highlight and measure, as it were—the “electric current of human emotion” in the poems he cites is an inherently theoretical endeavor. A different, albeit comparable, endeavor of emotional objectification occurs in Sōseki’s critical writings, which investigate the amount of emotion produced by “literature” (bungaku) and various literary genres. In his seminal Bungakuron, Sōseki broadly defines “literature” as the product of the association between specific content-related “ideas,” which he labels with a capital F (probably for “focus”), and “emotions” (jōsho), which he labels with a lowercase f (probably for “feeling”).35 The stronger the “volume of feeling” (jōsho no bunryō 情緒の分量), or “f,” that is associated with an idea (or multiple ideas) in a literary text or genre, Sōseki argues, the more powerful the literary “illusion” (genwaku)—the emotional impact of a text or genre on the reader—becomes. More importantly, the stronger the “volume of feeling” in a text, the more “literary” (bungakuteki 文学的) the text becomes. In short, Sōseki defines literariness by the amount of emotion that a text is able to produce and to convey, as literary illusion, to its readers. As other scholars have pointed out, Sōseki’s understanding of the quantification of emotion in Bungakuron was indebted to his reception of contemporary scientific and psychological models, especially as found in the work of American psychologist William James (1842–1910).36 At the same time, Sōseki’s theoretical investigation of literature as an inherently emotional textual practice was also deeply informed by his own experimentation with genre and his interest in various literary forms— shaseibun, poetry, and the novel—as mediums that can represent and convey emotion.

An important objective of Bungakuron is to determine the “means” (shudan 手段) by which literary illusion is produced. Sōseki offers a detailed discussion of these means in the fourth section of his treatise, “Bungakuteki naiyō no sōgo kankei” 文学的内容の相互関係 (Interrelations between Literary Contents). His fundamental argument is that in most cases literary illusion and the emotional impact (f ) of a text on the reader increase if two types of content (F)—most often a human and natural content—are combined in the text.37 The various possible combinatory modes, or “interrelations,” between types of literary content are the means by which illusion is [End Page 11] produced. In contrast, both emotions (f) and literary illusion are reduced if only one content type—for instance, human affairs—is the focus of the text. This is the case in what Sōseki defines as the “realist method” (shajitsuhō), which is the only means he posits that does not rely on a combination of two types of literary content but only focuses on one.38 Although Bungakuron does not explicitly state this, it is clear that genres combining human and natural content include shaseibun and traditional poetry (haiku, kanshi, and waka), whereas the only genre that exclusively focuses on human affairs is the novel.

Nature (shizen 自然) and human affairs constitute independent categories of literary content (bungakuteki naiyō 文学的内容) in Bungakuron. Sōseki differentiates among four different categories of “literary content”: “sensory F” (kankakuteki 感覚的 F), “human F” (jinji 人事 F), “supernatural F” (chōshizen 超自然 F), and “intellectual F” (chishiki 知識 F). However, he downplays the ability of the latter two categories to produce a strong sense of illusion in the reader; only the first two types of content are, in general, able to produce illusion. Sōseki, moreover, specifies that the material of “sensory F” consists of the “natural world” (shizenkai 自然界), while the material of “human F” consists of the “human drama mirroring good and evil, joy, anger, sadness, and delight.”39

The theoretical framework of Bungakuron thus resonates with the issues that lie at the core of Sōseki’s essay Shaseibun and the literary project of Kusamakura. While the novelist is deeply drawn into “human F,” or the drama of human emotion, the shaseibun narrator seeks to approach this drama more distantly, often through the mediation of the natural world. In Bungakuron, Sōseki argues that a literary means that combines two types of literary content, human and natural, increases literary illusion and makes the emotional impact of a text on the reader stronger. What he intends to convey, however, is not emotional involvement—the kind postulated for the novelist in the essay Shaseibun. In Bungakuron, Sōseki defines what he understands by illusion as “taste” (shumi 趣味), “poetic flavor” (shishu), or “poetic mood” (shikyō 詩興). Genres that, like traditional poetry, combine both natural and human content produce stronger poetic flavor and, to Sōseki, have a stronger emotional impact on the reader and are therefore more literary. At the same time, these genres allow for more detachment from the drama of human emotion than those—particularly the novel—that exclusively focus on the human element.40

A particularly interesting literary means that Sōseki identifies in Bungakuron as producing illusion is the “harmonizing method” (chōwahō 調和法), where two different types of content are juxtaposed and therefore “harmonized” in one and the same text. The example that Sōseki cites to illustrate this technique is the following couplet excerpted from Bai Juyi’s 白居易 (772–846) “Song of Everlasting Sorrow” (Ch. Changhenge 長恨歌, Jp. Chōgonka), composed in 806: [End Page 12]

Her [Yang Guifei’s] beautiful face looked desolate, 玉容寂寞涙瀾干
and her tears were streaming down
the bough of a pear tree in flower under the spring rain. 梨花一枝春帯雨41

Sōseki argues that the power of this couplet lies in the visual juxtaposition of the human image of the beautiful palace lady (Yang Guifei) in tears with the natural imagery of a blooming tree under the spring rain. The aesthetic effect is heightened because the two “materials,” the human and the natural, are mutually amplified by their copresence in the text.42

Sōseki also argues that the harmonizing technique is particularly representative of the Japanese (or Eastern) poetic tradition, while it is rather rare in English literature:

When human material (jinjiteki zairyō 人事的材料) is matched with sensory material (kankakuteki zairyō 感覚的材料) or when sensory material is juxtaposed to human material, they naturally fuse in the text, prevent monotony, and make the text more lively. This fusion also produces an emotion that is much superior to the one these materials would have produced separately. . . . A scholar of Chinese letters (kangakusha 漢学者), in an evaluation of a poem, once remarked that “both emotion and landscape are exquisitely executed” (jōkei kenshi 情景兼至), meaning that he was praising the fact that the harmonization of human materials with sensory ones in the poem was particularly successful. Japanese people have always had an innate love for nature, and since ancient times poetry as well as literary prose (shiika bibun 詩歌美文) could not be composed without this harmonization. As the background for human affairs, there always had to be nature, and the foreground for nature necessarily consisted of human affairs. People in the West do not take a particularly strong delight in the natural landscape, and the fact that they do not consider this harmonization to be a necessary ingredient for their literary compositions is indeed noteworthy for somebody from the East.43

The emotional effect that Sōseki associates with the Japanese, or “Eastern,” literary tradition is, as we saw earlier, crystallized in expressions like “poetic flavor” (shishu) and “poetic mood” (shikyō). For this reason, he criticizes Samuel Richardson’s (1689–1761) novels for treating only a single kind of “material”—the human one— and for thus being less poetic. He characterizes the emotional impact on readers produced by “Eastern” poetry as stronger than the one produced by Richardson’s novels.

At the end of his discussion of the different means by which literary illusion is produced, Sōseki subsumes all combinatory methods—the ones bringing together different types of literary content in a text—as belonging to what he calls the “idealist [End Page 13] school” (risō-ha 理想派), or “romantic school” (roman-ha 浪漫派). He sets these opposite to the “realist school” (shajitsu-ha 写実派), or “realist method” (shajitsuhō), which uses only one type of literary material (F) with only one type of literary emotion (f) attached to it. In a numeric chart, Sōseki shows that—owing to the amplificatory effect brought about by the combination of different types of content and their emotions—the “volume of feeling” produced by “romantic” texts is necessarily higher than that produced by “realist” texts.44 As noted previously, although Sōseki does not explicitly relate the romantic or idealist school to a specific genre, it is clear from the majority of cited examples that romanticism—as a regime of representation in which human and natural content are combined to form an aesthetically stimulating nexus—is associated with poetry, both English and Japanese (including kanshi). The realist school, in contrast, is the representational regime most suited to the aesthetic world of the novel, which only focuses on human affairs. Sōseki by no means disqualifies realism, and he expresses a strong appreciation for the novel and for individual novelists (including Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë). Moreover, he meticulously lists the respective strengths and weaknesses inherent in both literary schools.45 In Bungakuron, however, literariness—the ability of a text to produce literary illusion—is more strongly associated with romanticism and the language of poetry. Although the text mostly cites English literary sources, the section “Interrelations between Literary Contents,” which discusses the means that produce illusion, points back to the traditional aesthetic format of Japanese haiku, kanshi, and waka, which “harmonizes” human “foregrounds” with natural “backgrounds” in the same poetic text.

Subjectivity and Romanticism in Sōsakuka no taido

Approaching romanticism from a slightly different angle is Sōsakuka no taido— a lengthy theoretical essay that is particularly relevant for understanding the way kanshi poetry is explored as a medium of emotional expression in Kusamakura. In Sōsakuka no taido, Sōseki differentiates between two fundamental attitudes of the literary writer that subtly mirror those of the novelist and shaseibun author as described in the essay Shaseibun. One is what he calls the attitude of the merchant or scientist, but it is clear that this is an indirect reference to the novelist. This stance entails a desire to perceive and describe the world directly as it is, using sensuous perception or (linguistic) concepts. It does not aim to “savor” or “enjoy” (tanoshimu 楽しむ) the world, but merely to seek after knowledge or material gain. The second is what Sōseki calls the attitude of the artist, a clear reference to both the poet and the shaseibun author.46 This stance always strives for enjoyment. Moreover, it never seeks to perceive or describe things in the world directly, but always through the [End Page 14] mediation of something else, using, for example, similes, metaphors, and symbols— literary figures that juxtapose and substitute one type of “idea” or “content” (to use Bungakuron’s terminology) with another. Sōseki considers this attitude of the artist— or of the poet and shaseibun author—characteristic of “romanticism” (romanshugi 浪漫主義). Insofar as it combines different types of literary content (for instance, human and natural) through the use of similes, metaphors, and symbols, this attitude resonates with Sōseki’s definition of the romantic school in Bungakuron.47

Especially noteworthy in connection with the romantic attitude is the problem of subjective expression or, more precisely, the question of how a subject’s emotions can be conveyed and expressed by representing them with different content. In his discussion of substitution through symbols (shōchō 象徴)—for Sōseki the most complex and enigmatic level of romantic expression—he introduces the concept “mood” (kibun 気分). He defines “mood” as “subjective content” (shukan no naiyō 主観の内容) originally linked to and produced by specific objects or situations in the exterior “world dissociated from the self” (higa no sekai 非我の世界). These original objects or situations, however, are often irretrievably lost, and as the mood becomes more complex the “I” has more difficulty relating it to corresponding objects in the exterior world. This then leads to a fundamental separation between the mood and the possibility of its objective representation, a gap that sometimes triggers what Sōseki defines, in English, as an “infinite longing”—or, in Japanese, mugen no shōkei 無限の憧憬—for this lost state of representation.48 Out of this situation, the need for “symbolic” expression finally arises.

Sōseki provides the following reflection on the complex interrelation between the subjectivity of the mood and its objective representation through symbols:

It happens that you suffer and would like to give expression to your suffering, but this is just not possible. If you leave it this way, then that of course is it, but if you wanted to give at least one-tenth of it expression, be it only incompletely, then you would have to have recourse to symbols (shōchō). You do not express all ten parts of it—“do not express” would be the wrong wording: you cannot express them—and so inevitably you leave it at one-tenth. Of course, if you only wanted to express your mood (kibun) as mood, then you could merely say “I am very sad” or “I am a bit happy,” and there would not be any need to discuss the possibility or impossibility of expressing it fully. However, if you attempted to find an object for this somehow deep, broad, and complicated mood in the objective world dissociated from the self (kyakkanteki naru higa no sekai 客観的なる非我の世界), then you would have to substitute the ten parts of your mood with a form (keisō 形相) corresponding to one-tenth of it; the remaining nine parts are alluded to (omoiokosu 思ひ起す) by this symbol. But since this is something difficult to do even for the person who has the mood, it is even more difficult for somebody else to understand. It sometimes happens that you only hear one part and then know all ten parts of it, but this only works if you are someone who can see one part and then feel the ten parts together. And even if you can see one-tenth and then feel ten-tenths, this does not necessarily mean that you feel exactly the same as the one who produced the [End Page 15] expression. What you use as symbols may belong to the world dissociated from the self, but what these hint at (anji suru tokoro wa 暗示する所は) is the mood of the self (jiko no kibun 自己の気分). It is my mood, and to say it very precisely, it is not the mood of anybody else and of course not the mood of an outside object.49

The “forms” (keisō) of the “world dissociated from the self” through which the mood of the first-person subject (“my mood”) is, even if only incompletely, expressed and hinted at are, most often, natural objects of the landscape. Nature is the privileged medium through which feelings can gain material form in poetic language.

The specific emotional quality of the mood in Sōseki’s theory, however, remains unspecified and thus turns into a potentially overdetermined receptacle for different emotional or affective types. In Sōsakuka no taido, Sōseki differentiates among types of emotion that an artist may seek to express—for instance, the sentiments (jōsō 情操) associated with the beautiful (bi 美), the good (zen 善), and the sublime ( 壮). The “good,” or the feeling related to moral judgments, also often subsumes the sentiments of “love” (ai 愛) and “hope” (kibō 希望).50 At the same time, the fact that this romantic mood is nearly incommensurable with communication and representation— that its content remains largely indistinct—points to the extreme degree of emotional and subjective detachment that is inherent in symbolic expression. It is precisely this type of detachment that comes to the fore in Kusamakura’s kanshi poetry.

Kusamakura’s Kanshi

In the sixth chapter of Kusamakura, Sōseki’s first-person narrator similarly analyzes his subjective “mood” (kokoromochi 心持ち; also mūdo ムード) prior to composing a kanshi poem. He describes his mood as “hard to grasp” (toraegatashi 捕へ難し) and difficult to represent through either painting or poetry. He states that this subjective “feeling” (waga kanji わが感じ) has not come to him from the exterior world and is also not reducible to a specific object in the natural landscape (keibutsu 景物). At the same time, he is aware that in order to express and represent this mood he must substitute it with a symbol in the form of natural imagery. He defines this challenge in the following way: “The only problem is what kind of landscape and emotion (keijō 景情) to bring into my poem to copy (utsusu 写す) this broad and somehow indistinct inner state.”51 And although this state is highly subjective and individual— the narrator repeatedly points out that he is seeking the representation of only his “own mood” (jiko no kokoromochi 自己の心持ち)—it remains “abstract” (chūshōteki 抽象的) and affectively detached. Out of this mood, the following kanshi poem emerges:

In the second and third month of spring 青春二三月
my melancholy follows the long, fragrant grasses. 愁随芳草長
The quietly blooming flowers have fallen in the empty courtyard. 閑花落空庭
An undecorated zither is lying in the deserted hall. 素琴横虚堂
A spider is hanging motionless. 蠨蛸掛不動
Incense smoke is curling around the bamboo beams. 篆煙繞竹梁
I sit alone, not saying a single word. 独坐無隻語
In my heart I perceive a small ray of light. 方寸認微光
The world of men is full of useless matters, 人間徒多事
but who could ever forget this state [I am in right now]? 此境孰可忘
Having by chance earned this one day of peace, 会得一日静
I now know exactly what a hundred years of restlessness mean. 正知百年忙
Where is it that I could direct my deep feelings? 遐懐寄何処
I will send them far away to the realm of the white clouds. 緬邈白雲郷52

This poem is “romantic,” following Sōseki’s definition in Bungakuron, in that it couples human affairs (or emotions) with natural phenomena so that the emotions relate to, or speak through, the landscape. It takes a subjective, first-person stance that expresses an affectively unspecific and detached mood through the symbolic forms of natural imagery. This happens in the first and last couplets, where the vastness of the speaker’s “melancholy” and “deep feelings” is underlined and materially extended by movement through the natural landscape—the vast sweep of spring grasses in the first couplet and the limitless expanse of sky in the last. The speaker’s mood and his feelings seem emotionally loaded, and a certain ambiguity permeates the tone of the poem. The setting suggests, on the one hand, a psychological state of peace and equilibrium, which is underscored by the natural imagery: the stillness of the spider’s web and the quiet movements of the smoldering incense smoke in the hall are replicated by the poet’s tranquil, seated posture. On the other hand, this very tranquility also makes him intensely aware of the underlying tensions and restlessness of his life in the social world beyond the ephemeral idyll of his respite inside the hall, thus producing an atmosphere of unease and resentment.

The poet’s melancholia and deep feelings can be read as signifiers of discontent resonating with certain important strands in the classical Chinese poetic tradition, such as eremitic verse.53 In his early essay Eikoku shijin no tenchi sansen ni taisuru kannen 英国詩人の天地山川に対する観念 (The Conceptual Attitude of English Poets toward Heaven and Earth, Mountains and Rivers), written in 1893—five years before the above kanshi poem was composed—Sōseki defined “romanticism” (rōmanchishizumu ローマンチシズム) as the eighteenth-century English literary movement that sought to leave behind the poetic conventions and court-centered life of classicism. In his formulation, poets would instead leave the cities, go to the [End Page 17] mountains and woods, and seek a mode of expression, often in nature-themed poetry, that reflected their true, “Heaven-endowed nature” (tenpu no honsei 天賦の本性).54 What fundamentally motivated each poet was a “discontent” (fuhei 不平) whose origins might have varied from one to the next. While Oliver Goldsmith (1728–1774) resented society for rather economic reasons, William Cowper (1731–1800) felt a religiously motivated discontent with the vanity of the people, and Robert Burns (1759–1796) was driven by the egalitarian desire for social justice.55 Sōseki’s essay is particularly interesting in that it appropriates, and deftly merges with English literature, a major motive in the classical Chinese and Japanese poetic tradition: discontent with the social world and the conventionality of court-centered literary culture and the renunciation of a career amid society in favor of an eremitic life among the “mountains and rivers.”

Another kanshi poem, composed by Sōseki in March 1898—around the same time as the two poems in Kusamakura, but not included there—brings to the fore in a much more drastic manner the close interconnections among romantic subjectivity, the natural landscape, and the motive of social or political discontent. The untitled poem reads:

My heart harbors pain. 吾心若有苦
Although I examine it [my heart’s pain], it cannot be easily examined. 求之遂難求
When I look up at the expanse between Heaven and Earth, 俯仰天地際
why do I let out this plaintive cry? 胡為発哀声
The flowers of spring: how often have they bloomed and then scattered? 春花幾開落
The affairs of the world: how often have they undergone change? 世事幾迭更
As sun and moon make their rounds, my hair becomes white. 烏兎促鬢髪
But my ambition looks down upon fame in the world. 意気軽功名
Yesterday night a halo surrounded the moon, 昨夜生月暈
and a whirlwind was blowing through the town in the morning. 飆風朝満城
I woke up in my dream and from my pillow I could hear 夢醒枕上聴
my solitary sword emitting a scream at the bottom of its chest. 孤剣匣底鳴
With stern determination I shook my robe and stood up, 慨然振衣起
and I climbed up the tower to watch the way ahead of me. 登楼望前程
But the way ahead of me I could not see. 前程望不見
Obstructing my view, only clouds of grief were floating. 漠漠愁雲横56

A strong emotionality, presumably linked to political and social discontent and to thwarted ambition, permeates this poem. It appears as if the speaker, whose “ambition looks down upon fame in the world,” once harbored a wish to actively participate in [End Page 18] politics and in the government, as would have been appropriate for a “gentleman” (Ch. junzi 君子, Jp. kunshi) in the Confucian tradition.

This is particularly obvious when examining Sōseki’s original version of the poem’s fourth couplet, which was subsequently rewritten by Nagao Uzan 長尾雨山 (1864–1942), Sōseki’s mentor in kanshi composition in Kumamoto. The original couplet read:

Someone as untalented as me could not become a vessel of the state.57 菲才非国器
How could I aspire to fame in the world? 所願豈功名58

It is not clear whether the discontent and frustration in these lines are directed at the speaker’s own lack of talent or at a degenerate, hostile world that will not let men of worth assume legitimate positions of social and political responsibility. However, the poem creates a heroic discourse that “symbolically” relates to the material world and to natural and cosmic imagery.

A martial stance somehow reminiscent of poetry written by samurai activists (shishi 志士) in the bakumatsu period comes to the fore in the personification of the sword, which screams in discontent in the morning and thus exhorts the poet to actively participate in political affairs.59 Moreover, the poem’s cosmic imagery is filled with an atmosphere of foreboding and doom, symbolized by the halo around the moon at night and the whirlwind in the morning, which seems to emphasize the speaker’s martial desires. The only genuinely seasonal imagery—the blooming flowers in spring—serves as an allegory for the passing of time that gradually reduces the possibility of political participation; through the parallel structure of the couplet, the flowers are also explicitly associated with the “affairs of the world,” the realm of the political.

A related theme that seems to permeate this poem, indirectly at least, is youth as the period in life when political participation and activism are possible, if not mandatory. The kanshi poem, which Sōseki quotes in chapter 12 of Kusamakura, in fact explicitly mentions this theme. The second part reads:

My solitary grief extends to the fringes of the high clouds. 孤愁高雲際
On the vast sky a lonely goose, separated from its flock, is flying home. 大空断鴻帰
My heart, how deep and calm it feels. 寸心何窈窕
In its limitlessness it has forgotten about true and false. 縹渺忘是非
I am thirty years old and about to turn old, 三十我欲老
but the spring colors are still young and fresh. 韶光猶依々
I freely wander around and follow the transformation of things. 逍遥随物化
With a calm mind I face the fragrant spring grasses. 悠然対芬菲60

This poem undoubtedly displays a more detached and reconciliatory tone than the previous one, but the original passion and strength of the speaker’s political and social ambition are nonetheless still recognizable in the grandiose and cosmic dimensionality of the first couplet. The poem also makes clear that the feeling of intense grief, as well as its appeasement through Zhuangzian “free and easy wandering” and an acceptance of constant transformation (which in the previous poem is the origin of grief), is connected to the speaker’s youth—his age of thirty years, the approximate age at which Sōseki composed the poem and precisely the age of Kusamakura’s narrator.61

Youth is a particularly cogent motive in that it relates not only to discontent and heroism, inherent in the kanshi tradition, but also to love—the theme par excellence of the novel. In both chapters where kanshi poetry is composed in Kusamakura, the erotic presence of the woman Nami is indeed particularly important. In chapter 6, for instance, Nami’s alluring dance in a long-sleeved kimono (furisode 振袖) playfully interrupts the narrator’s process of poetic composition. A potential emotional subtext for the narrator’s mood could, therefore, also be love.

In all the above kanshi poems, however, the potential emotional subtexts—political discontent or love—are extremely diluted and subdued. As Sōseki writes with regard to symbolic substitution in his essay Sōsakuka no taido, only one-tenth of the poet’s emotion seems to find expression through the poem’s imagery, while his general mood remains abstract and undecipherable—or, rather, calm and peaceful. This aesthetic format creates an effect of emotional detachment that liberates the poetic speaker from the vicissitudes of suffering inherent in the world. In orientalizing fashion, Sōseki performs his kanshi as what he calls “Eastern poetry” (tōyō no shiika 東洋の詩歌), echoing a famous eremitic poem by Tao Yuanming 陶淵明 (365–427) that he cites from earlier in his text as an example of strong emotional detachment.62 However, Kusamakura also self-consciously reflects kanshi as a literary genre that, similarly to English verse and haiku composition, still transmits the “electric current [End Page 20] of human emotion”—be it only one-tenth as strong and transparent as the current flowing through other genres, such as English verse and the novel.


Sōseki’s performance of genre in Kusamakura highlights, in different ways, shaseibun, haiku, English verse, and kanshi as forms of writing that qualify as highly literary based on Sōseki’s definition of that term in Bungakuron; that is, these forms are particularly suitable for affectively moving the reader and producing literary illusion. Meredith’s passionate love poem, by staging a first-person lyrical voice that “sings its feelings,” produces an effect of emotional immediacy that reduces the distance between reader and text and enhances illusion. Kusamakura’s shaseibun prose as well as the haiku and kanshi cited by the narrator, while obviously either less lyrical or nonlyrical, also produce literary illusion by juxtaposing (or harmonizing) natural and human content and by conforming in this way to Sōseki’s definition in Bungakuron of romantic writing. The various genres performed in Kusamakura, all their differences notwithstanding, converge in the quality of being exemplars of romantic writing and thus distinct from the novel. In contrast, the novel, because of its exclusive focus on human affairs—the “human drama mirroring good and evil, joy, anger, sadness, and delight”—belongs to the literary mode that Sōseki defines as realist. As we have seen, Sōseki sees the “volume of feeling” produced by realist texts as weaker than that produced by romantic writings; the capacity of realism to move the reader, to inspire poetic flavor, and to be literary is not as strong as that exhibited by romanticism.

The performance of genre in Kusamakura as well as the discussions in Sōseki’s critical texts leave little room for doubt about his general preference for romantic over realist writing. As we have seen, romantic writing offers a more detached stance toward the drama of human emotion in the way postulated by Sōseki with regard to shaseibun in his 1907 essay on the genre. That Sōseki was ambivalent, if not suspicious, of the modern novel and its affectively involved plots of sentiment and “human emotion” reflects a literary sensibility grounded in the aesthetic world of traditional Japanese letters (bun 文) as epitomized by kanshi and haiku. Moreover, Sōseki’s ambivalence was probably compounded by a sense of unease over the licentiousness that Meiji discourses had continuously ascribed to the representation of human emotion—male-female love and desire—in the novel.63

However, Sōseki’s literary and theoretical project by no means aimed for a nostalgic and naïve return to traditional literacy under modern conditions, nor did Sōseki simply reject the novel and what he defined as realism. The performance of various non-novelistic and traditional genres in Kusamakura as literary mediums that convey and express emotion was only possible because of Sōseki’s strong awareness of the contemporary novel and his appropriation of the discourse on human emotion that had been connected to it. Through this performance, Sōseki objectified, distanced, [End Page 21] and alienated the aesthetic world of traditional letters to distinguish it from, and weigh it against, as it were, the world of the novel. Kusamakura’s narrator no longer naturally inhabits the world of traditional letters, but instead ironically performs it in order to measure how much “electric current of human emotion” it can transmit.64 Similarly, Sōseki’s critical investigation of traditional literary modes—those combining natural and human content, for instance—under the banner of “romanticism” takes place in an inherently modern theoretical framework that relies on distinctions made between those modes and the novel and on a critical lexicon (including such terms as “romanticism”) that was alien to traditional Japanese letters. Although the “volume of feeling” produced by romantic (and traditional) texts makes them more literary than realist writings, according to Bungakuron, both romanticism and realism still belong to a common “literature” (bungaku) that Sōseki defines by its inherent capacity to convey emotion.

Sōseki’s universalist definition of literature, his attempt to measure the “volume of feeling” inherent in all genres, aimed at integrating literary forms and practices—the novel and traditional poetry, for instance—that seemed incommensurable and yet coexisted and clashed in the late Meiji literary field. It was an attempt, in other words, to integrate the complexity of literary modernity in Meiji Japan and to cope with the pain and alienating disorientation that its clash of literacies had produced in Sōseki’s own experience.65 Yet was this integration successful? As Sōseki’s performance of genres in Kusamakura reveals, his literary and theoretical project remained a highly intellectual endeavor, fraught with self-reflection and irony. It is significant in this respect that Sōseki from 1907 onward started producing works that were more strongly akin to the novel, and he largely abandoned the writing of “sketches” per se (although not the composition of kanshi and haiku).66 However, whether in the interrogation of “natural love” (shizen no ai 自然の愛) in Sorekara それから (And Then; 1909), the breakdown of narrative plot and affectivity in Mon 門 (The Gate; 1910), or the obsessive production of kanshi poetry while writing Meian 明暗 (Light and Dark; 1916), Sōseki continued to question the genre of the novel and the emotions it depicts.67 His interrogation of genres and their emotional distinctions never seemed to come to rest. [End Page 22]

Daniel Poch

The author is assistant professor of Japanese literature in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Hong Kong.

He would like to thank Haruo Shirane and Tomi Suzuki for their invaluable critical feedback on this article at various stages.


1. The term “shōsetsu” (Ch. xiaoshuo) came into wide use in Japan in the mid-eighteenth century to refer to Chinese vernacular fiction and Japanese works of popular narrative, but then underwent a radical semantic reconfiguration in the 1880s and 1890s under Western influence. On the historicity of shōsetsu as a concept, see Suzuki, Narrating the Self, ch. 1; Walley, Good Dogs, ch. 2. The rise of the novel in Meiji Japan has received attention in a number of recent English-language studies; see Levy, Sirens of the Western Shore; Reichert, In the Company of Men; Ueda, Concealment of Politics; Saito, Detective Fiction; Vincent, Two-Timing Modernity; and Van Compernolle, Struggling Upward.

2. For an authoritative study of the historicity and transformation of the concept “literature” (bungaku 文学) in Japan, see Suzuki, Nihon no “bungaku” gainen (for an English translation, see Suzuki, The Concept of “Literature” in Japan).

3. For an insightful overview of late-Edo and Meiji kanshibun that also contextualizes Sōseki’s work, see Saitō, Kanbunmyaku to kindai Nihon; for Meiji kanshibun, see especially Saitō, Kanbunmyaku no kindai; Gōyama, Bakumatsu, Meiji-ki ni okeru Nihon kanshibun; Fraleigh, Plucking Chrysanthemums. For a recent study that examines Meiji-period kanshi, waka, and haiku in view of the construction of a “national poetic community,” see Tuck, Idly Scribbling Rhymers.

4. In Natsume Kinnosuke [Sōseki], Wagahai wa neko de aru, p. 183, Sōseki’s cat-narrator calls his own writing an attempt at shaseibun. For an English translation, see Natsume Sōseki, I Am a Cat.

5. Natsume Kinnosuke, Shaseibun, p. 55. The essay was first published in the Yomiuri shinbun in January 1907. Sōseki’s comments on shaseibun here largely overlap with his understanding of haiku poetry.

6. Natsume Kinnosuke, Shaseibun.

7. Tsubouchi, Shōsetsu shinzui, p. 68. For Shōyō’s appropriation of the ninjō concept from prior Edo-period discourses, see Kornicki, Reform of Fiction in Meiji Japan, ch. 2. For detailed studies of early modern discourses on ninjō, see Nakamura, Kinsei bungei shichō kō; Flueckiger, Imagining Harmony.

8. The synonyms for “ninjō” that Shōyō provides range from “sexual desire” (jōyoku 情欲) to “spiritual love” (airen 愛憐); see Tsubouchi, Shōsetsu shinzui, pp. 69, 88. See also Shōyō’s preface to his novel Imotose kagami 妹と背かゞみ (Mirror of Marriage; 1886), where he states that the most poignant “emotion” (ninjō) is “love” (ai 愛); Tsubouchi, Shinmigaki: Imotose kagami, p. 164.

9. Hiraoka, Nihon kindai bungaku no shuppatsu; for the impact of Shōyō’s discourse on the Japanese novel in the 1890s, see also Kornicki, Reform of Fiction in Meiji Japan, ch. 4–6.

10. In Kusamakura 草枕 (The Grass Pillow; 1906), Sōseki explicitly refers to these two commercially successful contemporary novels as typical examples of the genre (Natsume Kinnosuke, Kusamakura, p. 10). For recent readings of them as Meiji-period melodrama, see Ito, Age of Melodrama, ch. 1, 2; Zwicker, Practices of the Sentimental Imagination, ch. 4. For an early English translation of Hototogisu, see Tokutomi, Nami-ko.

11. The authoritative study on emotion (Ch. qing) in classical Chinese poetry criticism is still Wong, Ch’ing in Chinese Literary Criticism; for a recent critical reevaluation, see Lam, Spatiality of Emotion in Early Modern China, pp. 2–5, 87–89. For such discourse in Japan, see Nakamura, Kinsei bungei shichō kō, pp. 133–44.

12. For example, specific seasonal tropes such as the singing of the cuckoo (hototogisu 時鳥) in early summer could be read as signifiers for erotic longing. For the emergence of love as a topic in Heian-period waka, see McCullough, Brocade by Night; for the significance of seasonality in classical waka and traditional Japanese literature and culture, see Shirane, Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons.

13. Haiku, which derived from comical linked verse (haikai no renga 俳諧の連歌), was a much later and less canonical genre than waka and only came to prominence in the early Edo period. For an incisive study of topicality, both seasonal and human, in haiku poetry, see Shirane, Traces of Dreams, esp. ch. 7, 8.

14. This reading mode derived from hermeneutical practices that had developed out of the commentarial tradition surrounding the canonical Classic of Poetry (Ch. Shijing 詩経, Jp. Shikyō); see Van Zoeren, Poetry and Personality.

15. Masaoka, Jojibun, p. 362. The essay was first serialized in the weekly supplement to the newspaper Nihon 日本 (Nihon furoku shūhō 日本附録週報) in January–March 1900. Shiki broadly uses the term “human affairs” in reference to human subjects as opposed to landscape. The term therefore does not explicitly relate to “human emotion.” However, one of the examples for “human affairs” that Shiki cites in his essay is the narrative description of young women bathing at night in the sea (Masaoka, Jojibun, pp. 363–64). This description subtly conveys the narrator’s erotic attraction (his emotion) while distancing it at the same time through a focus on landscape and the absence of a narrative plot. This precisely illustrates Sōseki’s later notion of the emotionally distant stance of the shaseibun narrator.

16. Masaoka, Jojibun, p. 367. For a different reading of Shiki’s shaseibun as realism, see Etō, Riarizumu no genryū, ch. 1.

17. On shasei and the literary friendship between Shiki and Sōseki, see Turney, Sōseki’s Development as a Novelist; Karatani, Zōho Sōseki ron shūsei, pp. 303–57; and, most recently, Komori, Shiki to Sōseki.

18. For Sōseki’s shaseibun as a literary form of “resistance” (teikō 抵抗) to the novel, see the important essays in Karatani, Zōho Sōseki ron shūsei, pp. 227–300; for the broader conceptual framework, see Karatani, Origins of Modern Japanese Literature. See also Fujii, Complicit Fictions, ch. 4. For the argument that Sōseki’s literary theory questions Western universality, see Vilslev, “Questioning Western Universality.”

19. Kusamakura was first published in the journal Shinshōsetsu 新小説 in September 1906. For the text in English, see Natsume Sōseki, The Three-Cornered World (translated by Alan Turney); Natsume Sōseki, Kusamakura (translated by Meredith McKinney).

20. Bungakuron was first published in book form in May 1907 by Ōkura Shoten 大蔵書店. For a partial English translation, see Natsume Sōseki, Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings; for a valuable discussion of Bungakuron’s textual history and important critical issues, see the editors’ introduction to that volume. Also note that Sōseki’s Bungakuron has become the subject of increasing scholarly attention. In addition to the abovementioned partial English translation, recent publications include a complete new annotation by Kamei Shunsuke 亀井俊介 in 2007 (see Natsume Sōseki, Bungakuron) and a growing number of articles in both English and Japanese. See in particular the special issues on Bungakuron in Japan Forum 20:1 (2008) and Bungaku 13:3 (2012).

21. Sōsakuka no taido was first presented as a talk in February 1908. For more background on the talk, see Komori Yōichi’s 小森陽一 explanatory note to Sōsakuka no taido in volume 16 of Sōseki zenshū 漱石全集, pp. 690–91.

22. Sōseki uses the terms “romantic school” (roman-ha 浪漫派) and “romanticism” (romanshugi 浪漫主義).

23. In a well-known passage in his preface to Bungakuron, Sōseki describes the poignancy of these clashes through a personal anecdote. He relates that he had embarked on the study of English literature (eibungaku 英文学) with the assumption that it would conform to the understanding of “literature” (bungaku) he had gained from the classical Chinese works (kanseki 漢籍) he had enjoyed studying as a youth. Over ten years of study in Tokyo and London, however, instilled an awareness of the irreconcilable difference between English and classical Chinese “literature,” leaving him with “a sense of having been betrayed by English literature” (eibungaku ni azamukaretaru ga gotoki fuan no nen 英文学に欺かれたるが如き不安の念). This alienating experience served as the trigger for his investigation into “literature” as a universal category. See Natsume Sōseki, Bungakuron, vol. 1, p. 18.

24. The fact that Kusamakura’s narrator is a painter in the Western style is a veiled reference to the discourse of Masaoka Shiki, who discussed the idea of shasei with reference to Western oil painting. For more on this, see Morris, “Shiki and Buson.” Note that Sōseki and Shiki both used the term “jinji,” but Sōseki’s use correlates more explicitly with the notion of “human emotion.”

25. Natsume Kinnosuke, Kusamakura, p. 8. All translations in this article, unless otherwise indicated, are my own.

26. Natsume Kinnosuke, Kusamakura, pp. 12–13.

27. On the physicality of the body and its movements in Kusamakura, see Ōtsu, “Hadō suru setsuna.” See also, with regard to the body as a site of “subconscious” movement and resistance, the more recent Ubukata, Seishin bunseki izen, ch. 5.

28. Sōseki derived this idea from Masaoka Shiki, who developed a similar notion of objectivity in shasei as a way to establish distance from frightening emotions—in Shiki’s case, specifically the fear of death in the face of his incurable tuberculosis. For helpful discussions that touch on this aspect of Shiki’s thought, see Karatani, Zōho Sōseki ron shūsei, pp. 335–39; Komori, Shiki to Sōseki, ch. 6.

29. Note the gendering of the poetic quotes in Kusamakura, with Nami reciting a waka and the male narrator English poetry and kanshi. Both, however, participate in haiku composition, and the fact that Nami playfully corrects and rewrites the narrator’s poems in chapter 4 can be seen as a challenge to the gender hierarchy. For a reading that points out Nami’s “feminist resistance to male narrative authority,” see Sakaki, Recontextualizing Texts, ch. 3.

30. Natsume Kinnosuke, Kusamakura, p. 36; see also Natsume Kinnosuke, Haiku, shiika, p. 360.

31. In my translation of onsugata, I added the descriptor “elegant” as an equivalent for the honorific prefix “on.” Alternatively, the prefix could be read as indicating the poet’s direct address of Nami (“your [elegant] form”). The contradictory juxtaposition of the honorific “on” with the humble verb tsukamatsuru (“to offer”), both used in reference to Nami, creates a subtle effect of irony.

32. Natsume Kinnosuke, Kusamakura, p. 48. Note that the verses quoted by Sōseki form two stanzas of three verses each in Meredith’s novel; see Meredith, Shaving of Shagpat, p. 30. I quote the poem from Sōseki’s text.

33. Natsume Kinnosuke, Kusamakura, pp. 49–50.

34. Natsume Sōseki, Bungakuron, vol. 2, p. 207.

35. For this definition, see Natsume Sōseki, Bungakuron, vol. 1, p. 31. For a discussion of “F” and “f,” see Komori, Sōseki-ron, pp. 311–22.

36. See LaMarre, “Expanded Empiricism”; Murphy, “Separation of Cognition and Affect.” Sōseki’s quantitative model and his notion that “literature” should appeal to the reader’s emotions were not unprecedented in Japan. Similar ideas can be found in earlier Meiji-period rhetorical treatises, which were equally informed by nineteenth-century anglophone psychology. For an illuminating discussion that touches on this, see Tomasi, Rhetoric in Modern Japan, ch. 4, 5.

37. Note that Sōseki uses the terms “literary content” (bungakuteki naiyō 文学的内容) and “F” synonymously.

38. Natsume Sōseki, Bungakuron, vol. 2, p. 187.

39. Natsume Sōseki, Bungakuron vol. 1, p. 140.

40. Natsume Sōseki, Bungakuron, vol. 2, pp. 13–191.

41. Bai, Changhenge, p. 815. Yang Guifei 楊貴妃 (716–756) was a beautiful Chinese palace lady and femme fatale who monopolized the affection of the Tang emperor Xuanzong 玄宗 (685–762; r. 712–756) and, according to official historiography, accelerated the downfall of the dynasty. Sōseki cites only the second verse of the Chinese original (omitting the character 春), paraphrasing the first one (Natsume Sōseki, Bungakuron, vol. 2, p. 83).

42. To illustrate the cumulative emotional effect produced by this juxtaposition, Sōseki employs the mathematical formula “f+f′=2f, or 2f′.” See Natsume Sōseki, Bungakuron, vol. 2, p. 94.

43. Natsume Sōseki, Bungakuron, vol. 2, pp. 84–85.

44. Natsume Sōseki, Bungakuron, vol. 2, p. 189.

45. Natsume Sōseki, Bungakuron, vol. 2, p. 190.

46. Sōseki also labels the two stances the “objective” (kyakkanteki) and “subjective” (shukanteki 主観的) attitudes, respectively.

51. Natsume Kinnosuke, Kusamakura, p. 78.

52. Natsume Kinnosuke, Kusamakura, pp. 79–80. In Kusamakura, the poem is presented as a genuine production of the first-person narrator, but it was actually composed by Sōseki earlier, in March 1898, while he was teaching in Kumamoto. In later editions of Sōseki’s works, the poem became anthologized under the title “Sitting quietly on a spring day” (Shunjitsu seiza 春日静坐). For carefully annotated editions of the poem, see also Natsume Kinnosuke, Kanshi, pp. 201–204; Yoshikawa, Sōseki shichū, pp. 73–76.

53. On the traditional East Asian literary motive of “discontent,” see Marra, Aesthetics of Discontent.

54. Natsume Kinnosuke, Eikoku shijin, p. 23. In this early essay, Sōseki also uses the term “naturalism” (shizenshugi 自然主義) synonymously with “romanticism.” The term “naturalism” here refers to the orientation toward “nature” of the eighteenth-century English poets whom Sōseki discusses. His use of the term is unrelated to the literary movement, both in the West and in Japan, with which it is usually associated.

55. Natsume Kinnosuke, Eikoku shijin, pp. 46–47.

56. Natsume Kinnosuke, Kanshi, pp. 198–201. See also Yoshikawa, Sōseki shichū, pp. 70–73. Sōseki composed four kanshi poems in March 1898, of which two are quoted in Kusamakura.

57. “Vessel of the state” is a traditional term referring to a worthy person (often a minister or official) to whom government could be entrusted.

58. Natsume Kinnosuke, Kanshi, p. 200.

59. For the poetry of samurai activists in the bakumatsu period, see Fraleigh, “Songs of the Righteous Spirit.” Another more recent political context that could have informed this imagery is the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement (Jiyū Minken Undō 自由民権運動), which swept Japan in the late 1870s and 1880s, when Sōseki was a youth. Sōseki, however, never seems to have been actively involved in the movement, unlike many contemporary authors and intellectuals.

60. Natsume Kinnosuke, Kusamakura, p. 152. See also Natsume Kinnosuke, Kanshi, pp. 194–98; Yoshikawa, Sōseki shichū, pp. 66–70. The poem is untitled in Kusamakura; the title “Spring Mood” (Shunkyō 春興) was added in later collections of Sōseki’s works.

61. For the narrator’s age, see Natsume Kinnosuke, Kusamakura, p. 4. In his poem, Sōseki refers to the notions of “free and easy wandering” (Ch. xiaoyao 逍遥, Jp. shōyō) and of following the “transformation of things” (Ch. wuhua 物化, Jp. bukka) in a calm and dispassionate fashion, which were central ideas in the early Chinese Daoist classic Zhuangzi 荘子 (Jp. Sōshi). I have followed Burton Watson’s translation of these terms; see Watson, Zhuangzi, pp. 23, 44.

62. As one example of “Eastern poetry,” Kusamakura’s narrator cites the following famous couplet from Tao Yuanming’s poem “Drinking Wine” (Ch. Yinjiu 飲酒, Jp. Inshu): “I picked a chrysanthemum by the eastern hedge, off in the distance gazed on south mountain” (採菊東籬下、悠然 見南山); translation by Stephen Owen. See Owen, Anthology of Chinese Literature, p. 316. For the poem in Kusamakura, see Natsume Kinnosuke, Kusamakura, p. 10.

63. For Meiji critical discourses on the licentiousness of human emotion in the novel, see Yamada, “Ninjōbon no saisei made”; Hiraoka, Nihon kindai bungaku no shuppatsu, ch. 4.

64. This explains the impression of literary scholar Saitō Mareshi 斎藤希史 that Kusamakura, while seemingly still belonging to the sphere of traditional Chinese-style letters (kanbunmyaku 漢文脈), demonstrates the extent to which this sphere was already fading in the late Meiji period (Saitō, Kanbunmyaku to kindai Nihon, p. 212).

65. See Sōseki’s remarks in the preface to Bungakuron, discussed earlier in footnote 23.

66. Sōseki’s later collections Eijitsu shōhin 永日小品 (Spring Miscellany; 1909) and Garasudo no uchi 硝子戸の中 (Inside My Glass Door; 1915) can still be considered examples of shaseibun writing. For a discussion and translation of these works, see Marcus, Reflections in a Glass Door.

67. For translations of these works, see Natsume Sōseki, And Then; Natsume Sōseki, The Gate; Natsume Sōseki, Light and Dark. For a discussion of the kanshi composed concurrently with Meian, see Yiu, Chaos and Order, ch. 6.


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