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  • Doubled Visions of Desire:Fujimura Misao, Kusamakura, and Homosocial Nostalgia
  • Robert Tuck (bio)

Fujimura Misao's (1886-1903) suicide was unquestionably one of Japan's biggest news stories of 1903. A student at the elite First Higher School (Daiichi kōtō gakkō, founded 1886) in Tokyo, on May 22 of that year Fujimura had thrown himself into the Kegon Falls near the town of Nikkō in Tochigi Prefecture. The prevailing interpretation in the weeks that followed was that the suicide was a result of philosophical despair, a view given weight by a short passage titled "Thoughts at the Precipice" (Gantō no kan), which Fujimura carved on a tree near the falls before his death:

Boundless are the expanses of space, endless the expanses of time; with my own meagre five-foot body, I attempt to fathom this vastness. But ultimately, what authority does Horatio's philosophy merit? The true nature of all that is I sum up in but a single word, and that is "unfathomable" (fukakai). Tormented by this realization, my agony has at last brought me to the decision to die. Now that I stand at the precipice, there is no anxiety of any kind in my breast. Only now do I come to understand that great tragedy and great joy are one and the same.1

Short enough to be excerpted in full in Japan's print media, "Thoughts at the Precipice" was widely discussed and analyzed therein; the reference to Horatio prompted some to hail Fujimura as "Japan's Hamlet," while prominent journalist Kuroiwa Ruikō called Fujimura the first Japanese man "to die for philosophy's sake."2 Others, by contrast, understood Fujimura as symbolic of an unhealthy degree of introspection among Japan's youth, as in the case of the president of Tokyo Imperial University Katō Hiroyuki, who penned a piece titled "Young Men Should Not Study Philosophy" (1903).3

Sōseki himself had a personal connection to the Fujimura affair, since he had actually taught the young student for a time, and Fujimura appears in three subsequent [End Page 79] Sōseki works written between 1904 and 1906: one 1904 shintaishi (new-style poem) poem and the two novels I Am a Cat (Wagahai wa neko de aru, 1905-6) and Kusamakura (1906). Kusamakura serves as an extended meditation on the power of art and poetry to transcend the anxieties of modern existence, narrated through the persona of a nameless painter (hereafter, "the painter") travelling in a rural hot-spring resort. At one point in Kusamakura, the painter specifically refers to Fujimura, for whom he expresses admiration as "a youth who threw away his precious life for the sake of the word 'beauty.'" (Those who found Fujimura's suicide less impressive, the painter suggests, are little but "louts and riff-raff" [gesu gerō]).4

In this essay, I consider Fujimura's suicide and the reaction to it as a point of departure for fashioning a new reading of Kusamakura. In particular, I explore the reaction to Fujimura's death as one of a number of examples of writing by the elite men who made up the First Higher School community. In these writings, which span a number of different literary genres, we find a consistent pattern of literary writing being used to articulate admiration and love for fellow members of this male community. The discursive thread connecting the examples I discuss is the articulation of emotion directed toward other men – be it friendship, love, admiration, or grief – by means of cross-gender identification. Writers could cross-identify in a number of different ways, but, most frequently, we see the writer of a given text employ language and tropes that suggest he himself is adopting a female identity to write to a male addressee; or, conversely, a male writer might use imagery and language that projected conventionally feminine characteristics or a female identity on to a male recipient. In both cases, language and imagery more conventionally found in descriptions of male-female heterosexual love highlight personal and social bonds between men.

Not only were practices of literary cross-identification extremely widespread, but understanding their significance opens up new readings of, and insights into, several of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2329-9770
Print ISSN
0913-4700
Pages
pp. 79-91
Launched on MUSE
2019-07-02
Open Access
No
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