Constructing the “Author” in Meiji Japan


A review of Editing Identity: Literary Anthologies and the Construction of the Author in Meiji Japan, by Molly Des Jardin.

Molly Des Jardin’s dissertation provides a series of intriguing and provocative answers to Michel Foucault’s famous question “What is an author?” Des Jardin’s primary focus is on the emergence of collections of (allegedly) “complete works” (zenshū) during the 1890s and early 1900s – though as the dissertation shows, the claim to completeness actually conceals a complicated set of ideological and social interests that influence the production process. Tracing the works that make up various zenshū back to the contexts in which they originally appeared (usually relatively small-scale literary and coterie magazines), and paying careful attention to the subtle shifts in context and reception involved in a piece’s inclusion (or otherwise) in a given anthology, the dissertation reveals the distortions thereby introduced, showing how the zenshū invents the idea of a coherent and self-evident “author” for a given body of literary work.

Throughout, Des Jardin is careful to distinguish between the “writer” (the historical individual responsible for writing the work), on the one hand, and the “author” on the other. The latter is, in her view, a carefully constructed identity that often has very little to do with the individual writer him or herself. Though Des Jardin does not remark on this, it is perhaps no coincidence that almost all of the dissertation’s chosen case studies center on figures such as Ihara Saikaku (1642-1693), Higuchi Ichiyō (1872-1896), and Kitamura Tōkoku (1868-1894), who were all deceased at the time their first zenshū appeared, a status that must have made the editors’ fashioning of new authorial identities rather easier. Des Jardin uses these case studies to show that the Romantic understanding of the author as “as individual genius who creates in solitude” (p. 14) fits poorly with a great deal of Meiji literary production, if indeed it applies at all. The zenshū fashions a fictively stable and coherent author; thus, the author does not create a body of work, but rather the other way around. Given that the zenshū today tends more often than not to be the main point of access for reading a given writer’s oeuvre, this is a cogent and important observation; as Des Jardin puts it, zenshū have “undeniable consequences for the ways in which literature can be read, questioned, and discussed” (p. 2).

The dissertation consists of five main chapters, each revealing a different set of distortions at work in the Meiji construction of authorial identity. Chapter 2, “The Names of the Author,” considers the importance of literary pen names for the performance of subtly different authorial identities, something the zenshū tends to flatten out (if not erase completely). Taking up the case of Mori Rintarō (1862-1922), better known by his main pen name Ōgai, Des Jardin explores the functions and specific resonances of his different pen names, arguing that the later imposition of a single, stable pen name on this writer also imposes an artificially homogenous identity, and disregards the specific discursive role a pen name plays at the site of original publication. Each writerly appellation “acquires its meaning at the site of writing” and can “accumulate additional meaning” (p. 35); tying together the works of Mori Rintarō’s various pen names under the expedient of “Mori Ōgai” is thus a “convenient anachronism…that obscures entirely his multiple authorial identities” (p. 35). Concluding the chapter with a discussion of the importance of collective authorship (kyōcho) among the Ken’yūsha coterie, Des Jardin argues that “[a]uthorship is a kind of performance at the site where that authorial name and text are linked: always in a context, whether that be a publishing venue or unpublished manuscript, circulated or not, and never the product and reflection of solitary individual genius” (p. 52).

Chapter 3, “Literary Circles and Corporate Authorship,” foregrounds literary and coterie journals of the 1880s and 1890s. In particular, Des Jardin draws attention to the idea of authorship as collective rather than individual endeavor, an understanding that underpinned a great deal of creative and critical work in these journals. Focusing on inter-journal reviews of literary works, she makes the intriguing observation that such reviews often did not mention the name of the author whose work was being addressed. Instead, priority was given to the name of the journal in which the work appeared. This prioritizing of journal over individual writer shows the importance of literary journals as an “holistic identity…the performance of authorship shifts from the act of the individual writer to a collaborative act between writers, editors, and publishers” (pp. 55-56). The individually-focused zenshū, by contrast, erases this important context, changing it to one in which authorship is not collaborative and where one named individual is identified as responsible for a “bound, delimited body of works” (p. 58). To perform this function, anthologies must “invent an author…to be held responsible for the works after the fact” (p. 58). As an example of this phenomenon, Des Jardin points to the reception of Higuchi Natsuko (better known as Ichiyō); the publication in 1897 of the first collected edition of her works, Ichiyō zenshū, fundamentally changed Ichiyō’s image from a living, contemporary “writer” of short stories into an essentialized “author,” to be interpreted through the primary context of this “recently invented, clearly delineated oeuvre” (p. 90).
Chapter 4, “Social Provenance and the Invention of Saikaku,” explores the deployment of the Genroku-era (1688-1704) author Ihara Saikaku by the Ken’yūsha coterie as a means of buttressing the group’s claims to contemporary literary authority. As Des Jardin notes, the first collected edition of Saikaku’s works, the 1894 Kōtei Saikaku zenshū, was unusual among anthologies for going into considerable detail regarding who exactly possessed the materials on which the collection was based. Many of these Saikaku materials were held by Ken’yūsha members, and so she coins the term “social provenance” (p. 110) to describe how detailing ownership of the materials on which the collection was based enabled rhetorical claims to possession of Saikaku in the contemporary literary world. What is often interpreted as a “rediscovery” of Saikaku was, therefore, “not a rediscovery, but a true discovery of Saikaku as an author of prose fiction, one who did not previously exist with such an authorial identity or even the authorial name of Ihara Saikaku” (p. 112). The Ken’yūsha group’s prominent role in editing Saikaku zenshū allowed for a comprehensive refashioning of “Saikaku” according to their own particular set of interests; this involved, most notably, stabilizing his multiple identities under the single pen name of Saikaku, labelling his work as “realist,” and excluding Saikaku’s haikai poetry. By so doing, Des Jardin argues, the Ken’yūsha fashioned “the ‘complete’ works of an author named “Ihara Saikaku,” one who has been created out of whole cloth as a prose fiction writer who simply had a reputation as a poetic master” (p. 127).

Chapter 5, “In Memoriam,” highlights the social function of anthologies as sites of mourning for recently-deceased figures in the literary world, and the significant role played by individual editors with an interest in fashioning a specific image for the deceased. The figures under discussion in this chapter, Kitamura Tōkoku and Higuchi Ichiyō, both had an anthology released shortly after their deaths, to be superseded by a later, different anthology, and the tension between the two respective versions for each figure proves a productive angle of analysis. Between the 1894 Tōkoku shū and the 1902 Tōkoku zenshū, she discerns a shift, from an initial desire to preserve and memorialize Tōkoku’s work (particularly his unpublished essays) for a relatively limited social circle, to a later desire to fashion a coherent and publicly-presentable vision of Tōkoku as author. Despite the rhetorical claim of “completeness,” for instance, editor Shimazaki Tōson (1872-1943) apparently selected from Tōkoku’s papers just those pieces that would portray Tōkoku as a “sensitive idealist” and “suffering poet” (p. 160). By re-arranging what they considered to be Tōkoku’s oeuvre, the editors of the 1902 Tōkoku zenshū thus “were able to construct a vision of Tōkoku that both reflected and accommodated their memories of him” (p. 161). The same process is also at work with Higuchi Ichiyō. Des Jardin credits the editor of the 1897 Ichiyō zenshū, Ōhashi Otowa (1869-1901), as having “exerted considerable power [over] Ichiyō’s very identity as an author through his interpretation and presentation of her work to an increasingly large audience” (p. 164). Yet this did not provide a definitive stabilization of Ichiyō’s authorial image. Rather, a subsequent Ichiyō zenshū, published in 1912 and edited by Kōda Rohan (1867-1947), more than doubles the size of her oeuvre, largely through the inclusion for the first time of Ichiyō’s diaries. Des Jardin ascribes this transformation to the influence of 1890s debates over women’s diary literature (joryū nikki bungaku); between 1897 and 1912, Ichiyō thus went from “recently deceased writer whom the readers are expected to mourn” to a “canonized, reified author whose literary reputation is at stake” (p. 182).

The concluding Chapter 6, “Reproducing the Author,” looks at how technological and legal problems involved in the production of zenshū highlight the problematic nature of the rhetorical claim to “completeness.” The chapter focuses on the collected works of two Ken’yūsha writers, Kawakami Bizan (1869-1908) and Ozaki Kōyō (1868-1903). In the case of the 1909 Bizan zenshū, the collection was not even “complete” unto itself; unresolvable issues of copyright meant that the it was actually composed of two sets from differing publishers, Hakubunkan and Shun’yōdō, who worked together to ensure that the resulting volumes had a uniform appearance. Noting that the zenshū omits certain of Bizan’s early publications in less prestigious venues to buttress his posthumous reputation, Des Jardin concludes that this shows the zenshū to be never complete, but only “visually and rhetorically masquerading as such” (p. 210). Similar problems of copyright dogged the 1904 Kōyō zenshū, and here too the fiction of a coherent and self-evident author proves hard to sustain. Kōyō’s pre-eminence in his literary coterie resulted in a number of works produced collaboratively or in which he had an “editing” or “supervisory” role; such collaborative works clearly presented conceptual problems for the Kōyō zenshū, as their inclusion or exclusion follows no consistent pattern. The erasure of publication context also proves problematic for one of Kōyō’s best-known works, Konjiki yasha (The Golden Demon). This had already appeared in newspaper serialization in the Yomiuri shinbun, accompanied along the way by exchanges of letters and banter with the newspaper’s readers. The deletion of such exchanges in the zenshū context fundamentally alters the possibilities for reading Konjiki yasha, and significantly alters our understanding of the “author” who is identified with it; as Des Jardin remarks, when Konjiki yasha is thus presented, “Kōyō’s only context is that of Kōyō” (p. 223).

Des Jardin’s dissertation, which builds on previous work by scholars such as Peter Kornicki, Seki Hajime, and Jonathan Zwicker, therefore sheds a great deal of light on the technological, legal, and ideological issues underpinning the production of the zenshū, a mode of reading rarely problematized in such depth as we see here. In drawing attention to the surprisingly diverse range of ways in which authorial identity was understood from early- to mid-Meiji, it also offers a refreshing alternative to studies of Japanese literature organized around the idea of the individual pre-eminent author. The dissertation can therefore be recommended to scholars interested in publishing history, reception history, canon formation, and the notion of the author in modern literary discourse.

Robert Tuck
Assistant Professor of Japanese
Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures
University of Montana

Primary Sources
Early Meiji literary journals, especially Bungakkai 文学界, Garakuta bunko 我楽多文庫, Mesamashigusa めさまし草, Miyako no hana 都の花, and Iratsume 以良都女.
Various “Complete Works” anthologies, especially Ichiyō zenshū 一葉全集, Tōkoku zenshū 透谷全集, Bizan zenshū 眉山全集, Kōyō zenshū 紅葉全集, and Kōtei Saikaku zenshū 校訂西鶴全集 .

Dissertation Information
University of Michigan. 2012. 254 pp. Primary Advisors: Jonathan Zwicker and Ken K. Ito.

Image: Frontispiece of “Tōkoku zenshū”

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