How Do We Criticize Japanese Literature?

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The question of how to critically approach Japanese literature is one of the biggest challenges facing Japanese critics. In general, modern literature as a whole is charged with attaining a type of non-poetic realism, and Japan is no exception to this. As Shinobu Orikuchi and Yukio Mishima remarked, however, it is difficult for Japanese literature, which has been given the fate of being an “intermixture of prose and poetry,” to have autonomously prosaic language. In fact, the criticism of prose (the novel) became commonplace only after entering the 20th century.

It was only after Ryunosuke Akutagawa that influential Japanese authors began reusing the traditional, poetic forms of expression seen in the monogatari (“tale”) genre, embarking on a “romanticization” of history. Paradoxically, modern Japanese literature created a situation in which unprosaic alternations were needed to realize non-poetic realism. It is impossible to correctly evaluate this phenomenon from the modernist, prose-centric perspective. We must reconsider the history of Japanese écriture to renovate the declining form that is literary realism.