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Drama as a Literary Genre in Modern Japan

Drama as a Literary Genre in Modern Japan

Colloquium with Cody Poulton, Japanese Literature and Theatre, University of Victoria.

Monday, February 09, 2009
3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Faculty Center
Sequoia Room
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Drama emerged as a literary genre during a crucial period in Japan’s modernization when concepts of “literature” (bungaku) and literary genres in Japan began to be formulated. There is no question that Japan possessed a rich tradition of written works for the theatre before the Meiji era, or that kabuki in particular was a powerful focus for popular cultural expression; but it was not until the 1880s that a number of critics, including Suematsu Kenchô and Toyama Masakazu, in part drawing on the theories of Aristotle, sought to raise drama to a new and “respectable” literary status. The Society for Theatre Reform attempted to use the stage as a sphere for promoting the public program of “civilization and enlightenment.” At the same time, writers like Kitamura Tôkoku, Tsubouchi Shôyô and Mori Ôgai, were especially active in formulating sophisticated theories of drama as well as writing plays. The stage continued to attract the energies of many of Japan’s most talented writers well into the 1920s. Why then has drama been neglected by modern literary theorists and historians as an object of serious study? Drawing upon the ideas of such critics as Maeda Ai and György Lukacs, my lecture will suggest that the most crucial factor in drama’s fall from literary stardom had to do with the loss of a public space for cultural discourse and the attendant rise of a privatized consciousness for which fiction seemed a better form of expression.Details to be announced.

Cody Poulton is a Professor of Japanese theatre and literature and Chair of the Department of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Victoria, Canada. A translator of kabuki as well as of many contemporary Japanese playwrights, including Kara Jûrô, Betsuyaku Minoru, Yamazaki Masakazu, Hirata Oriza and others, he is the author of Spirits of Another Sort: the plays of Izumi Kyôka (Michigan Monographs in Japanese Studies, 2001) and A Beggar’s Art: scripting modernity in Japanese drama (University of Hawaii Press, forthcoming). He is currently working with Mitsuya Mori and J. Thomas Rimer on the editing of The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Drama.

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