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History as it is or History ignored ?. The search for a definition of “Historical” fiction in Meiji Japan Luca Milasi (“Sapienza” University). “ History ” in Japan: a long tradition. Nara period (714-794): Kojiki 古事記 ( Record of Ancient Matters) [712 ca.]

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History as it is or History ignored ?


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    1. History as it isor History ignored? The search for a definition of “Historical” fiction in Meiji Japan Luca Milasi (“Sapienza” University)

    2. “History” in Japan: a long tradition • Nara period (714-794): Kojiki 古事記 (Record of Ancient Matters)[712 ca.] • A retelling of the creation of Japan and the legendary first sovereigns, from Jinmu to Oojin (660. B. C. to A.D. 310 in the legendary history) Nihon Shoki 日本書紀 (Chronicles of Japan) [720] • Compilation of many elements in the guise of history, largely to justify the line of sovereigns (laid down in Chinese).

    3. “History” in Japan: a long tradition – Pt. II • According to its preface, the Kojiki was set down from the recitation of memorized matter by a Lady-in-waiting, Hieda no Are 稗田阿礼.The Kojiki, one of the first documents in Japan’s literary history, was virtually unknown for centuries due to the complexity of that time’s writing system. • In the XVIII and XIX Century there have been three successive views of the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki: they were venerated as national scriptures, then dismissed as worthless fabrications, and lastly, as a result of closer examination by philologists, these have been viewed as a mixture of historical facts and mythology.

    4. “Fiction in Ancient Japan”: the beginning of the novel form? • Genji Monogatari 源氏物語 [The tale of Genji], a long work by Murasaki Shikibu (D. ?1014), a lady at the court of emperor Ichijo. Probably completed in its present form by A.D. 1009. • Though the present arrangement of chapters, as well as authorship of the last few chapters have often been questioned, GenjiMonogatari is considered to be one of the world’s finest and earliest novels. Some argue that Murasaki is the world’s first modern novelist.

    5. Fiction in Ancient Japan II • Murasaki Shikibu’s success as an author of fiction is a phenomenon occurring after the inclusion of Genji Monogatari in a “new” literary canon. Meiji writers who would later turn out to be advocates of a new historical fiction greatly contributed to promote the formation of this new canon in their critical reviews. • Before the models of the modern psychological novel and historical novel were avaliable to Japanese intellectuals, even an antecedent of the fictionalized, psychological novel such as Genji Monogatari had been regarded as narrating historical evidence andh its author, though later revered as the first great writer of “fiction” in Japan, had been occasionally criticized for her choice to focus on an illicit liason occurring in the royal house which actually has no historical basis.

    6. The formation of a new Literary canon: Criticism in Meiji Japan • Early critical works (essays): • Tsubouchi Shōyō (1859-1935), Shōsetsu Shinzui 小説真髄 (Essence of the Novel) [1885] • Mori Ōgai (1862-1922), Ima no Shoka no Shōsetsuron wo Yomite今の諸家の小説論を読みて (On reading the Latest Theories on the Novel form) [1889]

    7. Literary Criticism of the Early Meiji Period: Criticism (hyōron) was clearly one of the main concerns of intellectuals in the “Era of the Enlightenment” (The Meiji period, 1868-1912). ōgai took up his career as a critic of literature right after his return from a prolonged stay in Germany, with the publication of essays on the Daily Yomiuri. In shorter essays, he dealed mainly with brief exposure, and criticism, of Zola’s Naturalism. Shortly thereafter, he constituted the group Shinseisha (The New Voices Society), and in October 1889 the group founded a new magazine, ‘Shigarami-zoshi’ (‘The Weir’). The group was soon to become very active in promoting the understanding of Western literary movements, especially Naturalism and Romanticism. ‘Shigarami-zoshi’ enjoyed a rather large circulation at the time.

    8. The formation of a new Literary canon: Criticism in Meiji Japan – Pt. II • Mori ōgai (1862-1922), Ima no Shoka no Shōsetsuron wo Yomite (On reading the Latest Theories on the Novel form) [1889]: 《 As we have already stated, debate on the matter [the value of Zola’s theories] leads to this conclusion: making use of Anatomy and Science as a basis for the creation of fiction may not be such a wrong idea, yet, one cannot help feeling that scientific results may not alone constitute good material for fiction, in the manner Zola has attempted to do in his ètudes. Scientific results are the real world, but do writers really have to content themselves with wandering within the limited boundaries of such a world? It is my opinion that, while science may be good material to base upon for a novel, it is only through the power of imagination that best results are achieved with such [poor] material. In this respect, we have to note that (…) Zola has dismissed the latter to serve the former. (…) We may assume that applying the rules of the realistic novel too strictly leads, as a matter of fact, to a mere, uninteresting imitation of the real world, with no artistic merit at all. This, in my opinion, accounts for the failure of the Naturalists’ efforts as works of art.》

    9. Tsubouchi Shōyō (1859-1935), Shōsetsu Shinzui 小説真髄 (The Essence of the Novel) [1885] (…) The main business of the novel is human nature. Social conditions and behaviour rank second. By "human nature", I mean man's sensual passions, what Buddhism calls the one hundred and eight appetites of the flesh. All human beings, even those who are wise and good, are creatures of carnal lusts. Sages and fools alike harbour evil desires--what sets a man apart as good or wise is simply that he suppresses them, and uses the exercise of his reason or the strength of his conscience to drive away the hounds of passion. (…) A novelist is like a psychologist. His characters must be psychologically convincing. Should he contrive to create by his own invention characters at odds with human nature, or worse, with the principles of psychology, those characters would be figments of his imagination rather than human beings, and not even a skilful plot or a curious story could turn what he wrote into a novel. Such characters are like marionettes. They seem at a quick glance just like a group of real people moving about, but the spell is instantly broken when closer inspection reveals both the operator and the mechanism. Similarly, a novel at once loses its charm if it becomes obvious that the author is behind each character pulling strings to direct his movements.

    10. Mori Ōgai, Ima no Shoka no Shōsetsuron wo Yomite ( On Reading the Latest Theories on the Novel, continued): (…) Nonetheless, excessive Idealism in art, which is the opposite of Naturalism, has its flaws too. We may think of Romanticism in Germany, or the yomihon of the Japanese pre-modern period: both these literary genres wander quite too far from the real world. Great long novels are, for instance, Genji Monogatari, and then, Bakin’s Hakkenden and Bishonenroku, while in China we have masterpieces such as Shuihuzhuan. In Germany, we find Goethe’s “Wilhelm Meister” as well as “Titan”, by Jean Paul. (…) The method of psychological introspection has widely spread since the end of the last century, along with the newly emerging philosophical theories on Realism; this is easily understood looking in history recordings. (...) The fact that since the very first days of the newborn realistical novel, the method of psychological analysis has allowed writers to obtain the finest results in portraying their characters’ inner nature needs to be emphasized. Yet, it is my opinion that these tendencies towards investigating human behaviour have not emerged in the literature of Asia only after the introduction of Shoyo’s theories: it has been held as an opinion by some critics (hihyōka) from both Japan and China that a few of such [fine] literary products had already appeared.

    11. A New Debate: The foundation for a thorough reform of Japanese fiction Shinseisha was constituted at a point of Meiji’s cultural life when magazines had begun to play a major role as media for spreading the ‘new’ tendencies in the world of literature, but is worth noting that, unlike many literary reviews on the new proposals, in his early essays both ōgai and Shōyō deliberately choose not to deal with criticism of one single piece of work, they tend to construct a theory of literature as a whole. It has also to be noted that, in discussing early literary theories Meiji intellectuals display a strong tendency to employ terms clearly derived from the Classical tradition in a somewhat broader sense. The extent to which an innovation in the concept of fiction is promoted by Meiji’s prominent critics at this stage is not easily determined. After the publication of ‘Shigarami-zoshi’ is discontinued, ōgai has to move to the front, and upon his return he resumes his activity founding the magazine ‘Mesamashikusa’. At this stage of his career ōgai becomes famous for the forums (gappyô) he organized and hosts – mostly at his house in the Kanda quarter, the Kanchôrô – with many important writers and intellectuals of the period. The first of these very particular reviews, ‘Sannin Jōgō(‘The blabbering of three people’), serialized from March 1896 on, has become famous for the appraisal of Higuchi Ichiyō (1872-1896),which earned her a firmer reputation as a writer. Also, ōgai’s criticism towards the Naturalist School becomes sharper.

    12. Towards a clear definition of “Historical Fiction” By the time that the Meiji literati had begun a process of re-evaluating classical fiction, centuries of devoted study had identified “fictional” past events with real ones, even though fictionalized history does not obey the rules of historiography. Revaluation estabilishing the primacy of classical masterpieces such as Genji Monogatari was primarily lead by the twelfth-century writers. The conscience of a “superiority” of fiction based on historical truth and records grows when criticism of the Japanese “Naturalist” School becomes sharper.

    13. Towards a clear definition of Japanese “Historical Fiction” – Pt. II • Mori Ōgai, Rekishi sono mama to Rekishibanare 歴史そのままと歴史離れ(History as it is and History Ignored) [January 1915]: 《There has been considerable discussion, even among my friends, as to whether or not my recent works that make use of actual historical figures can be considered as fiction. At a time when there has been no shortage of scholars who, under the aegis of an authoritarian ethic, insist that novels should be written in some particular fashion or other, rendering a judgment becomes rather difficult. I myself recognize in the works I have written considerable differences in the degree to which I have taken an objective point of view about my own material. (...) The kind of work I am now writing does differ from the fiction of other writers. I have not in my recent historical works indulged in the free adaptation and rejection of historical fact common to this type of composition. (...) Why? My motives are simple. In studying historical records, I came to revere the reality that was evidenced in them. Any wanton change seemed distasteful to me. This is one of my motives. Secondly, if contemporary authors can write about life “just as it is” and find it satisfactory, then they ought to appreciate a similar treatment of the past。》

    14. An attempt at definition: • Given the complexity of Japan’s long tradition of writing fiction, even Japanese modern literature that sprung out after the reform of fiction that occurred in Meiji Japan needs to be assessed not only by the usual criteria applied – plot, characters, setting, theme, and tone – but also by cultural considerations. More specifically, it has to be noted that even the “new” concept of Historical fiction that Meiji writers promoted, although influenced by Western models, encompasses that traditional conception in East Asian poetics which included history as a major constituent of “Literature” ( Bun 文). Great Modern writers such as Ogai or Rohan relied heavily on Chinese historiography’s style and contents for creating their own late historical fiction.