5/20 Jue Hou

PhD Candidate, Social Thought & Comparative Literature

“Tenkō and the Invention of the Quotidian Subject: Parapolitics and the I-Novel Form from Kobayashi Takiji to Nakano Shigeharu

Time: Friday, May 20, 3-5pm CT

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Friends and family assemble to mourn Kobayashi Takiji (1903-1933) after his death by torture at the hands of the Tokkō police.

Nakano Shigeharu (1902-1979) and family.

Abstract: This chapter probes the intersection between the I-novel (shishōsetsu) and Japan’s proletarian literature, especially at the latter’s moment of crisis during what was known as “tenkō,” or the (largely coerced) renunciation of the left by Japanese intellectuals in the 1930s. A turning point marked by intense political setbacks and ideological shifts, the turbulent decade witnessed an unexpected convergence between Japanese Marxism and the I-novel form, which the former had previously condemned for its preoccupation with quotidian life and, supposedly, disinterest in public politics. Tracing the shifting image of the “seikatsusha,” or the quotidian “agent of living,” from Kobayashi Takiji’s Tō seikatsusha (Life of a Party Member, 1933) to Nakano Shigeharu’s “Mura no ie” (“House in the Village”, 1935), I examine how Japan’s radically changing political conditions enabled and, indeed, necessitated alternative ways of thinking and acting through literature. Rather than merely a strategic “retreat” from overtly political themes, I argue, the I-novel form’s shift back-and-forth between personal interiority and public politics (or its increasing inaccessibility) makes possible new modes of resistance through constructing the parapolitical figure of the seikatsusha who inhabits a sphere of excess that defies inclusion in the realm of politics. Beginning with Kobayashi’s attempt to re-appropriate the “reactionary” I-novel by engaging the quotidian seikatsusha only to stage its radical erasure in the service of the revolutionary end, I then examine Nakano’s radically different approach to everyday life. This in effect signals a reorientation of the Japanese Marxist movement whose indulgence in its own theoretical integrity, as Yoshimoto Takaaki argues, had heretofore translated into failures to confront Japan’s ancien régime in the face at ground level. How does the rise of the I-novel, in the form of “tenkō literature,” shed light on this moment of sea change? How might one bring into dialogue the history of a literary form and that of political ruptures? What epistemological possibilities do the I-novel’s (para-)political quotidian subject open up for the Japanese left and for our own era? These are among the questions that I seek to address.

Presenter: Jue Hou is a joint degree PhD Candidate in Social Thought and Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on East Asian and European literary modernisms and modernity. He is writing a dissertation on the “I-novel” and global confessional literature with a focus on the period between the late 1920s and the early postwar years.

Discussant: Danlin Zhang is a third-year PhD student in EALC. His research explores the entanglement between modern Japanese literature, Western science and imperialism. He is also interested in modern Japanese poetry and popular culture.


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