UCLA International Institute
Asia Institute

Advancing collaborative, interdisciplinary research on Asia worldwide


Sensibilities of Transformation: The Linguistic Turn in East Asian Literature Studies

Michael Bourdaghs, Assistant Professor, EALC, University of California, Los Angeles

Project description:

The decade between the mid- 1970s and the mid- 1980s saw a revolution in the study of modem Japanese literature. A new generation of scholars arose in revolt against the largely positivistic methodologies that had dominated postwar scholarship. Works such as Maeda Ai's The Establishment of the Modem Reader (Kindai dokusha no seiritsu, 1973), Kamei Hideo's Transformations of Sensibility (Kansei no henkaku, 1983), Noguchi Takehiko's The Japanese Language in Fiction (Shosetsu no Nihongo, 1980), and Karatani Kojin's Origins of Modern Japanese Literature (Kindai Nihon bungaku no kigen, 1980), began the process of challenging orthodox interpretations, often introducing new methodologies in the process.

These new methodologies frequently arose out of an engagement with linguistics. Noguchi, for example, adapted concepts from such figures as Saussure, Benveniste, and Jakobson, using their semiotic and structuralist approaches to provide strikingly original readings of the canon of modem Japanese literature. Kamei, on the other hand, was explicitly critical of Japanese borrowings from Western structuralist linguistics. He instead explored phenomenological linguistics and rhetorical analysis techniques developed within the discipline of Japanese linguistics (kokugogaku), especially the language process theory that Tokieda Motoki formulated in the 1930s and 40s as the first major non-Western critique of Saussurean linguistics. This approach insisted on the priority of parole over langue and conceptualized language not as a set of stable laws but rather as a creative and unending process of becoming. And at the same time that literary scholars in 1970s and 80s Japan were turning to linguistics, linguists who specialized in Japanese, such as S.Y. Kuroda, were turning their attention to literature. Kuroda and other linguists studied the unprecedented grammatical and rhetorical forms that had been invented by modem novelists to produce effects such as indirect reported discourse. The period of this "linguistic turn" in Japan saw much creative crossing of disciplinary boundaries between linguistic and literary studies, crossings that occurred in both directions - as demonstrated, for example, by the fact that Noguchi's abovementioned work was published as part of a major series of scholarly works on linguistics.

By the early 1990s, it was clear that the new scholarship had carried the day within Japan. Moreover, it increasingly began to hold sway in American Japan Studies as well. The new scholarship was introduced in such pathbreaking studies by American scholars as Edward Fowler's The Rhetoric of Confession (U California P: 1988), influenced by Kuroda and Noguchi, and James Fujii's Complicit Fictions (U California P: 1993), influenced by Karatani, Maeda, and Kamei. The English translation of Karatani's Origins (transl. ed. Brett de Bary, Duke UP: 1993), and the forthcoming translations of Kamei's Transformations (transl. ed. Michael Bourdaghs, forthcoming from U Michigan Center for Japanese Studies Publications) and an anthology of Maeda's work (transl. ed. James Fujii, forthcoming from Duke UP) demonstrate the continuing impact of this change in America. Moreover, the new trends in Japanese literary studies have begun to have an impact on Korean and Chinese literature studies, as well.

With a quarter century of history behind this trend, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the impact of this new scholarship, both in terms of the new possibilities it created and the shortcomings it was unable to overcome. The current project carries out a critical reassessment of this linguistic turn in the study of Japanese literature, and includes the participation of some of the most influential figures in the new scholarship, from both Japan and the United States. It also explores new developments in contemporary scholarship that have grown out of the earlier linguistic turn.

In particular, the current project aims to introduce interdisciplinary and comparative perspectives to interrogate the new scholarship. By including the perspective of linguists, it aims to open a much-needed critical inquiry into the validity of the borrowings literary scholars have made from that discipline. The project is designed to stimulate dialogue between linguists and literature scholars, in particular to identify the distortions linguistic methodologies underwent as they were translated into tools of literary analysis - distortions that produced both new creative possibilities and problematic blind spots. Another question that will be raised is the relationship between the linguistic turn and historical actuality: did the new scholarship with its close focus on textuality erase problems of historical specificity?

A comparative component is also crucial to the project. Much of the new scholarship was self-consciously involved in the overarching project of the critique of modernity, locating elements of resistance to hegemonic Western modernity within Japanese culture and the Japanese language itself. Much of the work of the new scholars, such as Kamei and Noguchi (and in English, Fowler and Fujii), focuses closely on the details of the Japanese language and explores how its resources can be used to construct different forms of subjectivity. Such an approach always risks veering into a form of cultural essentialism. Hence, the linguistic turn could be implicitly (and sometimes was explicitly) complicit with nationalist assertions of a unique, ahistorical, and homogeneous Japanese cultural tradition that was somehow innocent of the violence that has characterized modernity around the globe. In some cases, the new scholarship also failed to examine how the very notion of a Japanese national tradition, represented by the national language, was itself a modern invention. These tendencies necessarily call into question the relevance of the new scholarship and its methodologies outside of Japan: does the problematic raised in this linguistic turn have some general relevance and usefulness, even for those who are not specialists in Japanese literature? Moreover, the language analyzed by the scholars in the linguistic turn sometimes reflected a presumption that male speaking voices provided a neutral standard, thereby effacing the relevance of gender to language. The present project includes scholars who will explicitly attempt to cross boundaries, be the national or gender. By exploring the relevance of the new scholarship in dealing with texts produced in different places and by different sorts of speakers, they will both explore new pathways opened by the linguistic turn and call into question the purported homogeneity of Japan and the Japanese language.

The project consists mainly of three stages:

1) Translation of several previously untranslated, now-classic essays of linguistic and literary theory originally published in the 1960s, 70s and 80s by central figures in the new scholarship.

2) A major conference on the UCLA campus in April '02, featuring papers reflecting on the new scholarship, its impact, and its future possibilities. In addition, a proposal will be submitted to the Association for Asian Studies for a panel on a similar topic to be held at the AAS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, in April '02.

3) The publication of a volume combining the newly translated essays and the papers presented at the conference and AAS panel.

1). Typically, theoretical works by Japanese literary scholars are translated into English only when they touch directly on Japanese literary works, since that fits the conventional framework of Japan Studies lines maintained by academic publishing houses. This project will allow us to present selections from sophisticated methodological studies, works that would ordinarily fall through the cracks in Japan Studies. The new translations will be during the 2001-2 academic year. Three will be produced by UCLA graduate students, hired with funds requested in this application ($1500 of the total requested for the 2001-2 academic year). Other conference participants, who will not be remunerated for their labor, will translate the remaining essays. Translations will be completed by the end of 200 1, so that they can be distributed to participants well in advance of the conference, helping to build a common groundwork that will contribute to the coherence of the conference and subsequent published volume. A tentative list of six essays to be translated is appended to this application.

2). The conference itself is currently well along in the planning stages and is now scheduled for April 19-20, 2001. A tentative schedule is appended to this application. The UCLA Center for Japanese Studies has pledged up to $ 10,000 in support of the conference, and the Department of East Asian Languages &, Cultures has also pledged up to $2000 in support of it. The current application for CIRA co-sponsorship is to cover expenses that would not be covered under the support received from those two sources: for translation of essays (see 1 above) as well as of conference papers presented in Japanese; for photocopying and postal expenses involved in producing the translations and conference volume manuscript; for one lunch for conference participants (the remaining lunch and dinners will be covered by Center for Japanese Studies support); and for transportation and lodging expenses for one conference participant traveling from East Asia (Susie Jie Kim) and for mileage and lodging expenses for two discussants from Southern California universities (To be determined). Airfare and lodging expenses for two participants traveling from East Asia (Joseph Essertier and Jennifer Lee) will be covered by EALC support; the transportation and lodging expenses for the remaining participants as well as conference room charges will come from Center for Japanese Studies support.

Kamei Hideo (who will be invited to UCLA as a Visiting Professor in Spring '02) has agreed to present the keynote address at the conference. Brett de Bary (Cornell), the translation editor of Karatani's Origins, has agreed to present a paper, as has Kono Kensuke (Nihon University), one of the most exciting young scholars in the field of literary studies in Japan. In addition, a wide range of younger as well as established scholars from numerous American universities have also agreed to participate. Besides the keynote address, a total of twelve papers will be presented at the conference.

There will be four panels. The first panel, 'The Politics and Practice of the Linguistic Turn,' will address the use of linguistics by scholars involved in the linguistics turn. The panel will be chaired by Shoichi Iwasaki (UCLA), and will feature two discussants, one a specialist in linguistics, the other a specialist in literature (TBA). A letter of invitation to present a paper on this panel has been issued to a well-known scholar of Japanese linguistics. In addition, Tomiko Yoda (Duke) will critique the nationalist ideological tenor of Tokieda school Japanese linguistics and its impact on recent scholarship in Japan, while Norma Field (Chicago) will explore the use of linguistics analysis in 1970s and 80s scholarship on the early Meiji novel Ukigumo, looking in particular at the danger that the move toward textuality might blind scholars to questions of historicity.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the new scholarship was its rediscovery of early Meiji writing, in particular the highly experimental novels and literary criticism produced in the 1880s and 1890s. Earlier scholarship tended to ignore or dismiss these works as half-baked failures, but the new scholarship saw in them remarkable attempts to construct multiple new linguistic and rhetorical forms capable of representing subjective interiority, the central issue of debate among writers and critics in Meiji. The second panel in the conference will present recent scholarship that builds on this rediscovery of Meiji. It will feature papers by Kono, Joseph Essertier (UCLA), and Guohe Zheng (Ball State), each focused on a different aspect of Meiji literature and criticism. Essertier's paper, for example, will use a sociolinguistic approach to examine the political stakes of the mid-Meiji debates over language reform and the rise of literature as a component of modern knowledge, focusing in particular on the important novelist and theorist Mori Ogai.

The third panel, featuring papers by de Bary, Charles Shiro Inouye (Tufts) and Atsuko Ueda (Illinois), will take up another issue central to the new scholarship: the construction of modern subjectivities. Each will review recent literary scholarship in light of the modes of subjectivity that characterize it. Inoue and de Bary will focus on the rise of visuality as the dominant sense in modem subjectivities and knowledges, while Ueda's paper will connect the recent postcolonial criticism of Komori Yoichi, perhaps the most influential literary scholar in Japan today and a former student of Kamei's, to his earlier work in structuralist textual analysis.

The final panel contains the strongest comparative element. Each of the three papers employs concepts and ideas from the new scholarship to cross boundaries that scholars in 1970s and 80s Japan were unable or unwilling to problematize. Susie Jie Kim (UCLA) will use methodologies developed to locate the linguistic and rhetorical structures that produce subjectivity in Meiji literature to read early twentieth century Korean fiction, thereby calling into question the degree to which the new methodologies were inherently dependent on the Japanese language. Jennifer Kim (UCLA) will use ideas about the relationship between intertextuality and the construction of historical memory that Kamei developed in the 1970s to explore the problem of historical trauma in the works of two late twentieth century writers, one Japanese and the other South Korean. Leslie Winston (Connecticut College) will bring the often-neglected question of gender into her readings of subjectivity in works by Meiji women writers, thereby undermining the assumption of a single homogeneous Japanese language.

In addition to the UCLA conference, Bourdaghs will organize a proposal for a panel on this topic for the Association for Asian Studies Annual Meeting to be held in Washington, DC on April 4-7, '02. Bourdaghs will chair the panel, and Kamei Hideo has agreed to act as discussant. The panel will include both papers unique to it and papers that will also be presented at the April conference.

3). A volume combining the new translations (see 1 above) and conference and AAS panel papers (see 2 above) will be submitted for publication by late 2002. Conference papers presented in Japanese will be translated into English by UCLA graduate students, using CIRA funds requested for the second year of this research project ($1800 total). Conference discussants, both literary and linguistics specialists, will be invited to contribute summaries of their discussions to the volume, as well. Bourdaghs will contribute an introductory essay providing a survey of the new scholarship and situating it vis-a-vis its various historical and intellectual contexts. One of the benefits of this project is the publication opportunity it will provide to younger scholars, in particular graduate students from UCLA. Students who have not yet advanced to candidacy will participate as translators, while more advanced graduate students will contribute original papers for publication. The structure of the project should also contribute to EALC's relatively new graduate track in East Asian Comparative and Cultural Studies. Since the conference participants have not been finalized, we have not yet contacted academic journals or presses about publication of the volume, but will do so in early summer '01, once the final list of participants and translations has been finalized. Publication as part of ISOP's Asia Pacific Monograph Series is also a possibility.