Jun 4, 2011

Japanese Literature as “Colonial Literature”

I use an SNS called "Dokusho Meter (読書メーター)" (, which means "the reading meter") in order to record the books, which I have read.

Through Dokusho Meter I got a message from a graduate student, who found that I have read some of Michel Foucault's books. She wrote that she was studying English literature and trying to read Foucault’s books.

When I made a reply to her, I wondered if "English literature" was the literature that was written by British (or English) authors or the literature that was written in English language.

In university I took a class on James Joyce's novel "Dubliners", where an old teacher from Ireland taught us. I was deeply impressed with that class and I remember it very clearly. I've liked "Dubliners" until now and sometimes I read it again. (Joyce's novels written after "Dubliners" are too difficult for me.)

By the way, was James Joyce one of the "English literature" authors? He wrote novels in English, but he was born and brought up in Ireland, which was a colony of the UK at that time, and he wrote most his novels in the continental Europe. His works might be categorized into in "English literature", because Ireland was a part of the UK at his age, but Joyce might have thought that his works were "Irish literature".

There is literally works written in English language all over the world. Where does English literature begin and end? I think that "Irish literature" and "American literature" are independent of "English literature". And then the works of Salman Rushdie, V. S. Naipaul and Kazuo Ishiguro are "English literature", aren’t they?

Salman Rushdie was born in India and an ex-Muslim. He went to university in UK and he has British nationality. Now he is living in the USA. Most of his novels are about India, where he was born.

V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad and Tobago, which were colonies of UK at that time. He also went to university in UK. He is Indian descent, and he has British nationality. Now he is living in UK. Most of his works, which were written in English language, are about Trinidad and Tobago.

Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Japan and moved to UK in his childhood. He was brought up in UK, and he is a native English speaker. One of his novels is about Japan, but he doesn’t seem to be concern with Japan well.

If there were not three of them in "English literature", it would be much poorer than now.

Since English is a universal language, some of authors and works of English literature might have complicated descents. But when I think about it carefully, I find the same thing in "Japanese literature". There is "Zainichi literature" ("Zainichi" means people that were born and live in Japan, and have Korean nationality.) and Japanese literally works that were written by non Japanese native speakers, for example Hideo Levy and Yang Yi. I am sure that there were literally works, which written in Japanese language in Taiwan and Korea, when they were Japanese colonies, just as Joyce began to write his novels in Ireland, which was British colony at that time.

I watch a TV program that old people have been holding Kukai ("Kukai" is a meeting in which people make Haiku) in Taiwan. I think that it is a case of "Colonial literature" of Japan. Japanese government taught Taiwanese and Korean Japanese language in the colonial age, and many students came to study from Taiwan and Korea, so there must have been Japanese literally works written by Taiwanese and Koreans. Unfortunately I have not found such literally works and studies about them in Korea yet.

The first work of Kazuya Fukuda, one of the most influenced critics in Japan, "Strange Desolation (奇妙な廃墟)" was about French literature written by the authors, who cooperated with Nazi under Vichy Regime. In France they are almost ignored. Japanese literature as a "colonial literature" might be ignored in Korea, but from the stand of the view of studying Japanese literature, it should be studied.
After I retire, I will go to university to study Japanese literature as a "colonial literature".

A postscript:

After I finished writing this journal, I found the works of Rojin (魯迅), one of the greatest author in modern Chinese literature, written in Japanese language.

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