2000/02/23

Miscellaneous Works:解説・評論・講義:Recent Scholarship

published in American Literature 64.4 (Dec 199)
*Gendai-Geijutsu no Epokku Eroiku (Gertrude Stein in Paris). By Hisao Kanaseki.Tokyo: Seidosha. 1991. 350 pp. \2,400 ($17.00).

*Shiroi Kujira no Naka e (A Sailing into "Moby-Dick"). By Hideyo Sengoku. Tokyo: Nan’undo. 1991. 270 pp. \3,500 ($26.00).

*Bitoku no Kyowakoku (Republican America: Biography and Autobiography). By Koji Oi. Tokyo: Kaibunsha. 1991. 200 pp. Paper, \1,648 ($12.20).

*Gendai Amerika Bungaku (Contemporary American Novel). By Tateo Imamura.Tokyo: Kenkyuusha. 1991. 244 pp. Paper, \1,800 ($13.30).

*Amerika Bungaku no Hiro (Heroes in American Literature). Ed. Yoshiaki Koshikawa. Tokyo: Seibido. 1991. Paper, \2,800 ($20.70).

The year 1991 saw the publication in Japan of two significant books on individual authors, one on Stein, the other on Melville. Hisao Kanaseki's book Gertrude Stein in Paris, winner of the 1991 Yomiuri Literary Prize, is less a rigorously academic achievement than an amazingly readable entertainment that focuses not only on Stein's texts but also on the social ambience of Modernists in Paris chatting at her party every Saturday. Of course, a number of books have already centered around Paris in the 1920s, but what distinguishes Kanaseki's is the metaliterary style he employs for representing the highly intelligent and radically humorous atmosphere of Stein and her friends. Several well-known episodes are skillfully reconstructed by Kanaseki, who enjoys weaving a fabulous tapestry of biographical fragments, pseudo-dialogues, literary gossip, pastiche-parodies, and critical insights as if he were editing a special "bonus" issue of an imaginary Gertrude Stein Fan Magazine. Deeply erudite in the field of American poetry, Indian culture, and modernist arts in particular, Kanaseki dared to play the literary journalist here. And his strategy appeals to a wide audience, whether Steinian or non-Steinian, chiefly because his own "avant-garde" politics of editing the book successfully repeated and recuperated the avant-garde atmosphere of Stein's salon, in which she "edited" a multigeneric space of modernist arts, inducing composers like Erik Satie to write poems and poets like Jean Cocteau to draw pictures, experimenting herself in incorporating Baroque or Blues into her novels. Kanaseki's purpose, I imagine, was to re-edit and remix in the 1990s the multigeneric atmosphere that Stein had edited in the 1920s.

While Kanaseki, former president of the American Literature Society of Japan, is an established figure (now in his seventies), Hideyo Sengoku belongs to the younger generation (now in his forties), very active as an Amricanist and a literary critic of contemporary Japanese literature. It is notable, though, that Sengoku shares with Kanaseki excellent editorial sensibility. His A Sailing into "Moby-Dick" comprises not merely eight chapters rereading or, to be more precise, deconstructing texts like The Confidence-Man, Moby-Dick, Mardi, and "Hawthorne and His Mosses," along with short stories, Pierre, and Billy Budd, but also a minutely constructed chronology of Melville the author, as well as a very useful summary of the plots of his major works. Sengoku's book is characterized by his familiarity with poststructuralist theories that challenge F. O. Matthiessen's canonization of the "American Renaissance," as well as by his pedagogic interest in inviting more students into the Melvillian World. In shaping the book this way, the author shows us that his theory does not contradict his pedagogy. The reason is very simple. Sengoku's deep empathy with Melville caused his acute understanding of postmodern theories, not vice versa. Take a glance at chapter two, "The Anatomy of the White Whale," which focuses on the speech act of Captain Ahab, and on the way "Moby-Dick"―as a linguistic construction, not as a huge entity―comes to agitate most of the crew of the Pequod. Of course, since the publication in 1978 of Faith Pullen's epoch-making anthology New Perspectives on Melville, the postmodern mode of rereading Melville has been popularized. But Sengoku's essay on Moby-Dick, mentioned above, was originally published in 1975, when he was merely twenty-two years old, and when, in the United States, Jonathan Culler's Structuralist Poetics had just been published as one of the first systematic introductions to French structuralism. In the mid-seventies, Sengoku lived in the postmodern coincidence between the idiosyncratic textuality of Melville and the rise of (post)structuralist critical theory. Therefore, we are naturally convinced by his original idea that Melville wrote not a trilogy of Mardi, Moby-Dick, Pierre, and The Confidence-Man, which can be read as another version of Moby-Dick, or "Moby-Dick turned inside out" as the author calls chapter one, with the hero "Cosmopolitan" as another Ahab who is as capable of controlling the "speech act" as the captain of Pequod. From this perspective, Sengoku developed his metaliterary approach and made it applicable to other works by Melville, and even to postmodern Japanese writers like Nobuo Kojima, Haruki Murakami, and Jugi Hisama.

Other books I will review devote various chapters to various writers. Koji Oi's Republican America, the last of his trilogy―previous works are The Fate of Frontier (1985) and The Gilded Age Revisited (1988), both from Kaibunsha Publishers―is a very ambitious, comprehensive, and stimulating book. The author, probably inspired by New Historicist trends, tries to reread a number of biographies and autobiographies―ranging from Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Francis Parkman to Henry Adams, Carry Nation, and Jane Adams―as narrative representations of Republican ideology. Tateo Imamura's Contemporary American Novel, the third book by one of the most productive Hemingway scholars in Japan, focuses on the way the discourse of "adolescence" has been foregrounded by novelists like J. D. Salinger, Bernard Malamud, Truman Capote, Raymond Carver, John Irving, Jay McInerny, Mary Morris, Jayne Anne Phillips, and Bobbie Ann Mason. I was especially impressed by three chapters on Raymond Federman, whose works, Imamura says, testify to how his Holocaust experience gets metamorphosed into linguistic experiments in the context of postwar America.

Finally, Yoshiaki Koshikawa's edited collection of twenty-one provocative essays, Heroes in American Literature, starts by revolutionizing the concept of "hero" itself, as is typically seen in the editor's own redefinition of Hester Prynne not as an ordinary heroine but as a female "hero" in the absence of anyone deserving the name of "masculine hero" in The Scarlet Letter. Other attractive essays included in the book are Kazuko Takemura's article on James Fenimore Cooper, in which she reexamines his hero as reflecting the nationalist ideology of American expansionism; Kazuyoshi Ohata's reading of Henry James, in which he blames the Jamesian "meditative" hero for disturbing the tradition of the Romantic hero from Ahab to Gatsby; and Hiroko Washizu's analysis of Thomas Pynchon, in which she concludes her metafictional reading of V. by stating that the greatest hero in this encyclopedic novel turns out to be the reader who has finished reading it.

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