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  • Editors' Introduction:Sōseki Great and Small
  • Reiko Abe Auestad (bio), Alan Tansman (bio), and J. Keith Vincent (bio)

The work of Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916) is a deep pool of ramifying literary, philosophical, and intellectual currents. The characters and plots of his novels belong to the cultural lingua franca of modern Japan: the cat with no name who catches no mice; Botchan, who jumps out of a second-floor window; Sanshirō and the woman on the train; Sensei and his younger friend strolling past tombstones in Zōshigaya. These literary moments, as well as episodes from Sōseki's own life story—the maid whispering in his ear as a boy the secret of his true parentage, or the glimpse of his own diminutive figure staring back at him in a London shop window—have acquired the resonance of so many primal scenes. Sōseki's very body, his pockmarked face and chronically bleeding stomach, has come to bear the stigmata of Japan's transition into modernity. He has proven inimitable among Japanese novelists, a towering figure whose genius chanced to flourish at a time of extraordinary cultural and political transformation.

To read and to study Sōseki has meant many things over the decades. In his own lifetime he was known as a poet, a theorist, a scholar of British literature, a generous mentor to younger writers, and a writer of wildly popular serialized fiction. In the interwar decades following his death in 1916, his disciples set about promoting his legacy as consummate stylist and a paragon of liberal humanist values. In the postwar period, to study Sōseki was to study what the first major Sōseki critic and biographer Etō Jun called "man's isolation in the egoistic modern world" and "the dark shadow that underlies Japan's seemingly rapid and successful modernization."1 Since the 1980s, writers on Sōseki in Japan and elsewhere have amassed a remarkable body of critical scholarship, bringing to bear a range of methodologies, from narratology to new historicism, to show how Sōseki's works and his iconic figure have been mobilized to serve a discourse of national exceptionalism, used as a smoke screen for colonial violence, and abetted an unexamined androcentrism.2 From our vantage point now, the full reception history of [End Page 1] any one of Sōseki's novels can read like a compendium in miniature of a century of literary, historical, and political debates in Japan.3

The essays in this issue began at a conference held at the University of Michigan in 2014, when we attempted to take stock of this century of reading Sōseki and to begin to envision where the next century might take us. "Sōseki's Diversity" spanned three days, coming to a close on the one hundredth anniversary of the publication of the first installment of Sōseki's most canonical novel, Kokoro, in the Asahi newspaper, on April 20, 1914. As far as we know, it was the largest conference on a single Japanese author ever held outside of Japan. Seen in retrospect, it coincided with the beginning of a period of intense public and scholarly engagement with Sōseki's work. The Asahi newspaper re-serialized five of his major novels in their original format, beginning with the opening installment of Kokoro on the final day of our conference.4 The centenary of Sōseki's death in 2016 and the sesquicentenary of his birth in the following year brought more conferences and many more publications in Japanese,5 including a new edition of his collected works from Iwanami Shoten and a hefty one-volume encyclopedia of Sōseki studies.6 In the same year, roboticist Ishiguro Hiroshi unveiled an uncannily lifelike Sōseki android who is currently touring Japan performing lectures and readings of Sōseki's works. The publication since 2008 of no fewer than nine new or revised English translations of Sōseki's novels and a volume of his theoretical writings has brought Sōseki new readers in English as well.7 For Japanese readers, and for those of us who teach and write about Japanese literature outside of Japan...


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