Sirens of the Western Shore: Westernesque Women and Translation in Modern Japanese Literature
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Indra Levy introduces a new archetype in the study of modern Japanese literature: the "Westernesque femme fatale," an alluring figure who is ethnically Japanese but evokes the West in her physical appearance, lifestyle, behavior, and, most important, her use of language. She played conspicuous roles in landmark works of modern Japanese fiction and theater.
Levy traces the lineage of the Westernesque femme fatale from her first appearance in the vernacularist fiction of the late 1880s to her development in Naturalist fiction of the mid-1900s and, finally, to her spectacular embodiment by the modern Japanese actress in the early 1910s with the advent of Naturalist theater. In all cases the Westernesque femme fatale both attracts and confounds the self-consciously modern male intellectual through a convention-defying use of language.
What does this sirenlike figure reveal about the central concerns of modern Japanese literature? Levy proposes that the Westernesque femme fatale be viewed as the hallmark of an "intertextual" exoticism that prizes the strange beauty of modern Western writing.
By illuminating the exoticist impulses that gave rise to this archetype, Levy offers a new understanding of the relationships between vernacular style and translation, original and imitation, and writing and performance within a cross-cultural context. A seamless blend of narrative, performance, translation, and gender studies, this work will have a profound impact on the critical discourse on this formative period of modern Japanese literature.
A major impetus behind modern women’s education was to establish a certain kind of equivalency between Japanese women and their female counterparts in the advanced nations of Europe. An even bolder logic of correspondence guided Inoue Kaoru’s strategy for securing the revision of the unequal treaties by demonstrating how European—and thus civilized and deserving of equal status—the Japanese could be. Under his leadership, in 886, the government built the Rokumeikan, a sumptuous Western-style ballroom, to serve as center stage for Inoue’s diplomatic strategy.
In haste did I return home. (28) In fact, the poet’s struggle to both overcome and fulﬁll his worldly desires constitutes the main subject of “Shōshijin. ” His sense of indignation is further compounded when he receives a letter from a cousin who has just graduated from college, whose “account of the journey home and of his rejoicing parents was written with such pride as to painfully torment the breast of one such as myself, who had long since taken to contemptus mundi. ” (29) The pathetic contrast he makes with a cousin whose elite education promises a bright future precipitates a desperate attempt at self-legitimation: But then did I reconsider my own case.
In that era of chaos, I had no idea how one should go about writing. Rohan’s way of writing and Kōyō’s way of writing were utterly diﬀerent. Even for writing in the translation style, there was the diﬀerence between [Morita] Shiken and [Mori] Ōgai. Then again, there was also the free vernacular style of Futabatei’s Ukigumo. And there was the historical novel of Bimyō, which took the vernacular for the narrative passages, and the written style for the spoken parts. As a literary apprentice in the midst of all this, I just wrote as much as I could while listening to the various theories of the great writers.
By 886 he had translated a work by Nikolai Gogol (title unknown), and by March of the same year he had translated part of Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Children. From Tsubouchi Shōyō’s recollections of these translations, we know that both of them were written in a vernacular style. Ukigumo was published in installments over a two-year period from July 887 [ 34 ] F O R E I G N L E T T E R S , T H E V E R N AC U L A R , A N D M E I J I S C H O O LG I R L S through August 889. In the meantime, Futabatei also debuted as a literary translator with the serialized publication of Aibiki (Turgenev’s “The Rendezvous” from A Sportsman’s Notebook).
There is no way Okaku could know what kind of disposition Takagi might have. Supposing that her wish were granted and she became Takagi’s wife, only to discover that he had an evil disposition—what would this lady do then? This would surely damage her. Doesn’t she realize? Or rather, is it just that she doesn’t think of her own future? And before she used to say quite haughty things. But this is about all that she has at the bottom of her heart. Can this lead to the raising of women’s status? While she had the status of being called a schoolgirl, it seems that she was a slave to men.