Apr 11, 2011

Soseki Natsume, on the Ridge between Eastern and Western Culture

I wrote "Modern Japanese is mixture of the traditional Japanese "やまとことば", classical Chinese, and European languages." in a previous journal.

Soseki Natsume "夏目漱石", who is thought to be one of the most important novelist in modern Japanese literature (I think of him as the greatest intellectual in modern Japan), symbolizes modern Japan.

He was born just in the period of transition from the Edo era, pre-modern times to the Meiji era, modern times. He was grown up in the environment of pre-modern Japan and got modern westernized education.

When he was a child, he learned classical Chinese "漢文" (kanbun) as usual intellectuals did in pre-modern times. And then he learned English literature in Tokyo University and became a scholar of English literature.

He wrote in the preface of the book "A Theory of Literature 文学論(Bungaku ron)" as follows.


I know that I don't have deep knowledge of classical Chinese, but I am confident that I can enjoy it deeply. My knowledge of English must not be deep, but I think that it is inferior to one of classical Chinese. My preferences of classical Chinese and English are so far, because their characters are definitely different. We cannot include Literature in classical Chinese and one in English language in the same category.

When he stayed in London to study English literature, he realized that he couldn't accept Western culture symbolized by English literature. But he knew that Japanese people must accept Western modern culture and technology at that time.

After he came back from London, he quit a proffer of English literature at Tokyo University and began to write the Western styles of novels in Japanese language.

When he was writing his last novel "Light and Darkness 明暗(Mei An)" (this novel is a typical psychological novel), he wrote this novel in the morning and classical Chinese poetries in the afternoon just for fun. He analyzed the mind of modern Japanese people by writing a Western style novel for his readers, and enjoyed Eastern traditional culture for himself.

His intelligence is quite complicated and contradictory between Eastern pre-modern and Western modern culture. He felt affinity with Eastern pre-modern culture, but tried to struggle with Western modern culture.

This contradiction made his novel and thought deeper and richer. Intellectuals born in non-Western world sympathize with Soseki Natsume’s life and novels, because they share the destiny to struggle with Western modern culture.

No comments:

Post a Comment