Accepted Paper:

The politics of everyday modernism in Kawabata Yasunari's 1920s writing  


Stephen Dodd (SOAS University of London)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper will analyse how Kawabata and Yokomitsu explore the sense of reality in everyday life though new literary expression, focusing on the senses and perception. It will explore links between cultural life, especially in terms of the emergence of modernism, and political life in 1920s Japan.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper, I intend to explore links between everyday, cultural life, especially in terms of the emergence of modernism, and political life in 1920s Japan. My main concern is with the writings of Kawabata Yasunari (1899-1972), but I will also make reference to the work of Kawabata's contemporary, Yokomitsu Riichi (1898-1947). Such a comparison is useful because it emphasizes the fact that, although all writers of the same generation largely share a common cultural and political zeitgeist, they also have the capacity to respond to their age in different, more personal and individualistic ways. It is precisely through attention to the differences between Kawabata and Yokomitsu that I aim to throw into sharper relief the unique manner of Kawabata's literary engagement with the cultural and political life of Japan during the 1920s.

As is well known, Kawabata and Yokomitsu were founding members of the Neo-Sensationalist group (Shinkankaku-ha), and critics have connected both writers with literary modernism. As its name implies, the group was particularly keen to concentrate on the concept of kankaku (sensation) as a means of fleshing out a modernist world-view. The Kawabata text I will use to explore links between modernism and sensation is his 1924 essay, 'Commentary on new trends among newly emerging authors' ('Shinshin sakka no shin keik├┤ kaisetsu'). I will compare this work with a 1925 essay by Yokomitsu Riichi, entitled 'On Neo-Sensationalism - in response to criticisms of sensory activity and sensory works' ('Shinkankaku-ron: kankaku katsud├┤ to kankakuteki sakubutsu ni taisuru hinan e no gyakusetsu').

Kawabata is generally thought to have had little interest in broader social and political matters, but my argument is that there is indeed a political dimension to his writing. This leads me to conclude that Kawabata made his own contribution to the overall political environment in Japan during the 1920s.

Panel S3a_04
The politics and practice of everyday life in modern Japanese literature (Bungaku-Kara-Nichijyo-o-Tou)