In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Penning the Mad Man in the Attic:Queerness, Women Writers, and Race in Sōseki's Sanshirō
  • Sayumi Takahashi Harb (bio)

In Memories of Sōseki (Sōseki no omoide, 1928), Natsume Sōseki's widow, Kyōko, notes that in the early years of their marriage, her husband liked to go around the house cross-dressed in her kimonos—the more feminine and delicate, the better.1 Around the same time, the modernist English novelist Virginia Woolf articulated her now famous theory of the "androgynous mind" in A Room of One's Own, which was published in 1929.2 I shall not attempt here to delve into Sōseki's "mind" in order, somehow, to subsume his psychology and/or sexual identity into Woolf's schema. Instead, my task here is to re-examine the appearances and representations of women writers as they play out in one specific novel by Sōseki, Sanshirō (1908), carefully engaging the possibility that the text itself might evince an "androgynously" queer intertextual fusion of ideas and affects.3 To what extent, how, and why did Sōseki engage with and "try on" the écriture of women writers (especially British women authors, and Aphra Behn in particular)? Furthermore, might there be a kind of "queer literary theory" tucked away in the folds of these textual choices, allusions, and postures? If we choose to define "queer" here more broadly to signify that which challenges putatively stable, normative forms of behavior and ways of being (and their policing),4 then it is certainly worth noting that the diversity and complexity of confrontations, the dialectical juxtapositions of manifestly unequal binaries (e.g. masculine vs. feminine, domestic vs. foreign language, major vs. minor literatures, Western "civilization" vs. non-Western "barbarity," the haves vs. have-nots of money and/or power) in Sōseki's texts give them their at times tragic, at times darkly comic and ironic aesthetic savor. To put it differently, Sōseki's novels concern themselves with dynamic contestations of what seem to be normalized states, as they utilize language to open up "queer" spaces and gaps between signification and identity, thereby effectively exposing the underlying fragility of such identifications and labels. As writer Tawada Yōko has noted, Sōseki's texts exploit this "queer" potential [End Page 92] within language, for "Just by switching the positions of the words, you create a space that doesn't exist in reality."5 It is precisely this "queer" space opened up both by deft manipulations of language as well as unconscious errors therein that can resemble at once an attic in which the mad and those unhinged from society may wander, as well as a "room of one's own."

So how do we position Sōseki, then, as a writer who sought a room of his own while at times slipping into a self-exile of near-madness as in his days studying abroad in London? Though an emblematic writer of the canon of modern Japanese literature, Sōseki has yet to garner much of the attention of comparative literary criticism in a more global arena. By expanding the borders of Sōseki criticism a bit, I hope to demonstrate how the text of Sanshirō engages with questions of gender, authorial agency, and power in ways that highlight the oxymoronic "queerness" of the position of a writer who is somehow simultaneously both "major" (at home) and "minor" (abroad), and thus simultaneously part of, and yet excluded from, hegemonic discourses concerning literary identity and authority. For Woolf and Behn, it was their gender that exiled them; for Sōseki, it was mainly his race, his Japaneseness, his queer non-whiteness in a white-supremacist literary world where Caucasian authors were considered the only real arbiters of literary taste and genius. In his seminal work Accomplices of Silence, the cultural theorist and scholar of Victorian English and Japanese literature Masao Miyoshi poignantly demonstrates how Sōseki's diaries and letters "point…to his bitterness toward England, a bitterness that he immediately directed back at himself for being a Japanese in the first place, especially a Japanese scholar of English literature," and the extent to which he internalized...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 92-108
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.