SFU English 380: Mutilation and Foreign Relations in the Japanese Novel

A class blog for students of English 380 - "Literature in Translation" - at Simon Fraser University in Autumn 2005.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Individual Presentation: Time Limit Relaxed

In interests of extending one person's request fairly to all, the time limit on the individual presentation assignment is now five minutes minimum and ten minutes maximum.
There will be no effect on grading for your preference of length beyond the five minute minimum.

Burnaby Sabi

Some pictures from local artistic photographer, and SFU Librarian, Norma Marier evoke the sense of accident, flaw and deep time that Japanese have refined to the aesthetic of sabi. The sabi-ness is intensified, in Marier's vision, by their place relative to urban density.

Group Project Criteria

The Group project is designed to be straightforward, enjoyable, and beneficial. Each group will create and maintain a Web Log about one of the course primary texts.

You have now completed the blogger tutorial and have been assigned to a Group.

The manner of approach to, and treatment of, your text is entirely for your Group to decide. This assignment offers you the opportunity to enhance, challenge or re-invent the specific focus of both the lectures and your seminar discussions.

The grading criteria are the scope, originality, inventiveness and literary insight of the accumulated blog entries. Technical proficiency will not be graded, but of course you are free to use any mechanical technique you wish. I will publish all the Groups' blog addesses on the Course blog and you are encouraged to solicit advice & criticism from the whole class throughout the course of the semester. Open collaboration is one great strength of blogging: some scholars, for instance, post parts of articles or even books in the blogosphere for criticism and correction before publication.

Of course, I am available for expert consultation: in person during Office Hours, and online most times.

Because this is a Group project, you will find that synergy will soon animate and enlived the assignment. I offer the suggestion that each Group assign responsibilities to members based on individual proficiencies and preferences. For instance, in principle, only one member need do the mechanics of posting the collaborative entries. There will be one group grade for all members.

I will take a snapshot of your blog on the day of the last seminar of the term and use that for grading: however I will look in regularly throughout the term as a means to, shall we say, encourage you not to leave the whole enterprise until the last minute. The experience of blogging regularly for a couple of months will, I believe, be its own benefit to you down the years.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Group Project: (non-)Technology

I'd just like to reiterate the fact that the Group Project requires no special technical expertise. Blogging requires the same amount of technical expertise as using MS Word and an e-mail programme.

The content of your group blog is the assignment's sole grading criteria - the amount, substance and inventiveness of it. For fun's sake, some may prefer to add bells & whistles, but these will receive no weight in grading.

The byword here, I believe, is enjoyment: it is an opportunity for you to take a creative approach to the academic understanding of one a course text.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Individual Presentations

Your individual presentation assignment is deliver a five-minute presentation based on research into a specific aspect of the Japanese civilisation that interests you and which may illuminate our reading of the course texts. Your final cause is the improvement of our understanding and the increase in our appreciation of the civilisation that produced the literature we are studying. After the presentation you will hand in your research notes to the instructor for consideration in the grading of the assignment.

Update: please feel free to use any types of aid, media or format that you prefer. The only criterion in this regard is effectiveness.
Update 2: again, the specific format of your presentation is for you to decide. If I might offer a recommendation, one effective method would be to use the last minute of your presentation to state your opinion on the connection of your chosen topic to the literature of our period.
Update 3: the five minute time limit will be strictly enforced - from both sides. This is a discipline that will prove effective in many future practical applications.
Update 4: another recommendation is that you use the opportunity to develop your oral presentation skills. Design and incorporate techniques which give your presentation its greatest effectiveness. As always, of course, I am available for consultation ...

The choice of topic is entirely up to you: your only criterion in addition to that of relevancy as stated above is that you find it intriguing.

  1. Select your topic from these given below, or chose your own.
  2. Enter your choice in the comments section of this post.
  • ikebana (flower arrangement)
  • Mito Komon: a Japanese hero
  • tea ceremony
  • Japanese gardens
  • sushi & sake
  • marriage in Japan: then & now
  • karoshi (death by overwork)
  • sumo
  • Rape of Nanking
  • geisha: the flower & willow world
  • the Edo period
  • The Heian Age
  • genji monogatari
  • teen suicides
  • hierarchy in Japan
  • seppuku
  • kanji & calligraphy
  • politics - the Jiminto
  • the ultra-right & ultra-left in Japan
  • racial purity policies
  • caste system: the buraku
  • Japanese World War II militarism
  • anime
  • manga
  • Kyoto
  • Hiroshima & Nagasaki
  • Ameterasu: Japan's creation myth
  • hanami: cherry blossom season
  • colour symbolism in Japan
  • Momotaro & Omusub Kororin: Japanese folk tales
  • [To be Continued]

The Rape of Nanking

As you heard in lecture, our present author, Endo Shusaku, was the first major novelist in Japan to confront the wartime atrocities. His novel The Sea and the Poison is based on the vivisection of captured American airmen in World War II. This question is addressed in Silence where it is fictionally re-written into the Edo period: Endo's novels insist that his Japanese readers address the war crimes issue directly.

The issue reached Vancouver this year: in May hundreds of protesters marched to the Japanese consulate to, unsuccessfully, present a petition urging that the Japanese government stop the revision of school textbooks to eliminate mention of the Japanese invasion of China in 1937.

Johns Hopkins magazine has a detailed article on Iris Chang and her study into The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (BasicBooks / HarperCollins, 1997) here.

Terribly, Chang killed herself in 2004, only 36 years of age, after suffering depression, seemingly brought on by her perpetual research into Japanese wartime atrocities: she left unfinished at her death a study into the Bataan death march.

A (grisly) slideshow is available here.

Japanese Gardens

For the classfellow interested in Japanese landscaping, I found a good web page about "Creating Zen Gardens."

Monday, September 19, 2005

On puzzlement

The feelings of puzzlement that many of you have expressed to me over the ideas presented in lecture is not a bug: it's a feature!
The intention is to allow you to encounter a foreign civilisation .... as a foreign civilisation. The (to me unsatisfactory) alternative is to intellectually colonise the other civilisation - to facilely experience that culture as if it were merely an exotic outpost of one's own. The following passage from C.S. Lewis, concerning the reading of old books, applies nicely, mutatis mutandis, to these two alternatives:
There are, I know, those who prefer not to go beyond the impression, however accidental, which an old work makes on a mind that brings to it a purely modern sensibility and modern conceptions: just as there are travellers who carry their resolute Englishry with them all over the Continent, mix only with other English tourists, enjoy all they see for its 'quaintness', and have no wish to realise what those ways of life, those churches, those vineyards, mean to the natives. I have no quarrel with people who approach the past in that spirit. I hope they will pick none with me. But I was writing for the other sort.
Thus, puzzlement is the necessary early consequence of giving Japanese civilisation the dignity of unique identity. Fairly quickly, however, your experiential engagement with Japanese literature will (all too quickly) provide the natural and certain effect of familiarity.

Classfellow on "no-mind"

I received an intriguing email from a classfellow wrestling with the no-mind concept within the Japanese aesthetic. Here is a selection from it - the comparison with problems solved in sleep is very apposite:
When I hear the term “no mind” or “empty mind” my western mind thinks it describes the condition of being disconnected: “out” of one’s mind, lost in daydreams, illusions, or terrifying disorientation. The idea of no mind seems frightening. Yet my understanding is that “no mind” is an approximate translation of an inexpressible experience of deep connection rather than disconnection. Paradoxically “no mind” is connection of self with the world, free of the disjointed, crazed activity of one’s mind separating one from experience. In retrospect, the person describes the experience of “no mind” as without ego, because at the time of the activity there is no awareness of a separate identity. Someone who leaps into traffic to snatch a child from the path of a truck may be manifesting no mind. It is as if one’s ego based self and the activity align completely. The universal and individual merge to such an extent that the individual has a sense of disappearing as a distinct, separate entity. In sport, as you said, it is being in the “zone.” In art, the artist captures the essence of form and experience without their own constructs of how something should look or be. Even in unimpeded thought, such as when a mathematician resolves a problem in a dream. His mind is working without obstacles and free of his own concept of how it should work. Sometimes one senses it in a confidante who listens completely without distractions, judgments, or expectations. One experiences the complete attention of the other, who is not waiting to jump in with their own thoughts or directives of “shoulds,” “coulds,” and “ought to’s.” Rather than “no mind” meaning mindless disconnection it is a term that attempts to describe profound connection with the world.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Japanese Names

An excellent article on Japanese personal names by a creditable scholar here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Lectures: Translation & Japanese Aesthetic

As you have hopefully noticed, I am studiously avoiding the use of Western labels in my introduction and explanation of Japanese aesthetic concepts. This is consistent with two of the course axioms I have presented in lecture and here on the blog: one, that Japan and the West are two distinct civilisations, each with its own exclusive fundamental assumptions; and two, that translation -- even radical translation -- is indeterminate.

Some of you have offered on your own very good labels for some of the concepts: "pastoral" and "symbol" are two examples. And, indeed, some of the elements of the overarching aesthetic seem to have an easy Western description. What I am detailing, with some labouriousness, as "the positive presence of absence" is very temptingly similar to the Euclidic concept of gnomon, popularised by literary scholarship of James Joyce (from "The Sisters" story in his Dubliners) as indicating absence.

My general objection to this is that once this type of translation is done, then Japan disappears: it is just one more Western colony. Terms like gnomon and lacuna and pastoral have very powerful cultural -- or, better, civilisational -- history, meaning and resonance; none of which apply to Japan. There is superficial similarity but if the concept is pegged to a Western idea then the meaning in Japan is obliterated.

Better to sustain a fresh and open approach and hope for some moment of "no-nous" which will give the thrill of perceiving the literary material with a Japanese sensibility for just a flash: a precious, precious flash.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Japan Election News

An informative AP report here on the current national election in Japan gives helpful information on the country's unique political situation.

Update: This article also has some insightful information on the contemporary political system in Japan. But in light of the headline - "Koizumi Win in Japan Hurts 2-Party System" - and consider what it reveals about the writer's attitude toward the people of Japan (as represented by their collective democratic decision.)

Saturday, September 10, 2005

無心 or "No-nous"

The positive presence of absence in the Japanese aesthetic extends to mind. In martial arts, the term used is mushin [ 無心 ]: in English "no-nous." [A strict translation of the kanji is "vacant heart" - "heart" in this sense approximating nous in English: i.e. OED: Considered as the centre of vital functions: the seat of life; the vital part or principle; hence in some phrases = life."]
The following from Albert M. Craig's The Heritage of Japanese Civilisation is an excellent precis of the larger concept.

The Arts and Zen Buddhism

Zen Buddhism in Japan developed a theory of art that influenced every department of high medieval culture. Put simply, the theory is that intuitive action is better than conscious, purposive action. The best painter is one so skilled that he no longer needs to think of technique but paints as a natural act. Substitute a sword for a brush, and the same theory applies: a warrior who has to stop to consider his next move is at a
disadvantage in battle. To this emphasis on direct, intuitive action is added the Zen distinction between the deluded mind and the "original mind." The latter is also referred to as the "no mind," or the mind in the enlightened state. The highest intuitive action proceeds from such a state of being. This theory was applied, in time, to the performance of the actor, to the skill of the potter, to archery, to flower arrangement, and to the tea ceremony. Compare the following two passages, on by Seami (1363-1443), the author of many No plays, and the other by Takuan Soho (1573-1645), a famous Zen master of the early Tokugawa era.

1. Sometimes spectators of the No say: "The moments of 'no-action' are the most enjoyable." This is an art which the actor keeps secret. Dancing and singing, movements and the diffrent types of miming are all acts performed by the body. Moments of "no-action" occur in between. When we examine why such movements without actions are enjoyable, we find that it is due to the underlying spiritual strength of the actor which unremittingly holds the attention. He does not relax the tension when the dancing or singing come to an end or at intervals between the dialogue and the different types of miming, but maintains an unwavering inner strength. This feeling of inner strength will faintly reveal itself and bring enjoyment. However, it is undesirable for the actor to permit this inner strength to become obvious to the audience. If it is obvious, it becomes and act, and is no longer “no-action." The actions before and after an interval of “no-action” must be linked by entering the state of mindlessness in which one conceals even from oneself one’s intent, This, then, is the faculty of moving audiences, by linking all the artistic powers with one mind.

2. Where should a swordsman fix his mind? If he puts his mind on the physical movement of his opponent, it will be seized by the movement; if he places it on the sword of his opponent, it will be arrested by the sword; if he focuses his mind on the thought of striking his opponent, it will be carried away by the very thought; if the mind stays on his own sword, it will be captured by his sword; if he centers it on the thought of not being killed by his opponent, his mind will be overtaken by this very thought; if he keeps his mind firmly on his own or on his opponent’s posture, likewise, it will be blocked by them. Thus the mind should not be fixed anywhere.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Course Syllabus

Course Syllabus & Information

Sei Shonagon - Pillow Book
September 6th & 8th
September 13th & 15th
Endo Shusako - Silence
September 20th & 22nd
September 27th & 29th
Mishima Yukio - Temple of the Golden Pavilion
October 4th & 6th
October 11th & 13th
Yoshimoto Banana - Asleep
October 18th & 20th
October 25th & 27th
Murakami Haruki - Norwegian Wood
November 1st & 3rd
November 8th & 10th
Enchi Fumiko - Masks

November 15th & 17th
November 22nd & 24th
November 29th & December 1st

The recommended texts for the course will be discussed throughout the term and should be read before and after the Mid-Term assignment.
See support material available on Library Reserve.

Assignment Deadlines: Nb. There is a 3% per day late penalty for assignments, documented medical or bereavement leave excepted.

1. Mid term paper, two thousand words: due October 20th at midnight in the Instructor's Department mailbox. Assignment sheet with suggested topics will be handed out in lecture on October 6th. Criteria will include literary analysis, engagement with course themes and writing mechanics.
2. Group e-text project: in collaboration with the Course Instructor, create a web log dedicated to a distinct topic the works from the course reading list. Groups set & assignment sheet handed out September 22nd. Seminar time will be set aside throughout the term to work with the Instructor on this project
3. Individual class presentation: schedule and assignment sheet handed out in seminar. A five minute presentation on one of a choice of topics to be blogged, with five minutes more for class response. Five minutes is a firm limit: the Instructor will blow the whistle ....
4. Final Paper, three thousand five hundred words: due December 1st at midnight in the Instructor's Department mailbox.

Course Approach

The course is working toward an understanding of and appreciation for the Japanese novel. Lectures will posit Samuel Huntingdon's "Clash of Civilisations" thesis as the basis for the relationship between Japan and the West. Strong emphasis will be given to the Japanese aesthetic and some work will be done on translation theory, based on Sakai Naoki's book, on Course Reserve.

Course requirement weighting:
10% Course participation
10% Seminar presentation
20% Group blogging project
20% Mid-term paper (approx. 2000 words)
40% Final Paper (approx. 3500 words)

Nb: “Participation requires both participation in seminar and attendance and punctuality at lecture and seminar."

Instructor Contact:

Office Hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 13:30 – 14:20 in rm 6094. Also ogden@sfu.ca and http://japanesenovel.blogspot.com. Use campus mail accounts only for email contact, please.

Getting an "A" on an English Paper

An excellent article here with practical advice from Jack Lynch at Rutgers University.

Japan and Racial Purity

On the question of Japan's civilisation homogeneity, the BBC ran an important series published online here with a valuable link list of related articles. The article supports the statement from lecture this week that 99% of people in Japan are ethnically pure Japanese and non-ethnic Japanese are denied citizenship even when born in Japan.

One especially helpful edition is here. Click on the slideshow within this article for a useful sample of opinion on immigration from ordinary Japanese.

These articles are relevant to our understanding of the need for civilisation translation and the difficulty presented by the necessary indeterminacy of radical translation.

Second Lecture

Thursday's lecture introduced three important concepts in the Japanese aesthetic:

  • mono no aware
  • ki sho ten ketsu
  • wabi sabi

You were presented with a history of Japan that laid out a framework for understanding how the country's unique characteristic came about. Additionally, you were introduced to translation theory, and specifically the need for civilisation translation and its organic integration -- strongly, in case of the Japanese civilisation -- with language translation.

The history and the theory were the background for understanding the aesthetic: recalling from the opening lecture that aesthetic in Japan extends to politics, religion, athletics, language and human relationships,

Perhaps the essential concept to ingrain in yourselves is the heavy -- almost primary - responsibility that the Japanese put on the reader in literature (as too the hearer in speech.) This is mapped on the ten -- "turning" -- in the ki sho ten ketsu method of literary construction: the reader is required to draw on common civilisation heritage to connect the seemingly (but only seemingly) discrete ten element to the ki and sho which preceded it. We saw how in haiku the ketsu is actually absent forcing the reader to complete the poem mentally and thereby create its meaning.

We will need this sensibility firmly in mind to more properly appreciate the literature experienced in our course.

Tuesday's lecture will detail wabi sabi and turn to engage the makura no soshi closely.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Pillow Book = Commonplace Book

I stated in lecture that Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book was a Japanese version of what is called in the West a commonplace book. Click on this link for an excellent treatment of their history and form in the West.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

First Reading

As stated in lecture, the first book in the course is Makura no Soshi [ 枕草子 ] - Pillow Tales by Sei Shonagon [ 清少納言] circa 1000 AD. You should be read to section 59 by Thursdays's lecture.

Following up on my comment that "Sei Shonagon" is not the author's name as we understand people's names, "shonagaon"[ 少納言 ] is Heian Japanese for "[minor] councillor" - in other words, an honorific way to designate her court function - and "Sei" [ 清 ] is an alternative way to read the name of the clan-family into which she was born: specifically "Kiyohara" [ 清原 ].

This is similar to the name "Genji" - Gen [ 源 ] is an alternative way to read the kanji for "Minamoto" and ji [ 氏 ] is a kanji for "family." As we will hear, "Genji"'s father, the Emperor, decided for political reasons (mainly one of his mothers-in-law playing Agrippina) to make him a commoner and thus bestowed on him the honourary surname "Minamoto" customary in such occasions.

Course Outline

Click on this link for the course outline off the English Department home page.

Note that the title of this post (and many future) is also a hot link to the url mentioned in the post,

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Welcome to "The Japanese Novel"

Welcome to English 380 at Simon Fraser University: "Mutilations & Foreign Relations: The Japanese Novel."