The Politics of Criticism: The Scientific vs. The Idealist


Shōyō introduces this aesthetic in the highbrow Yomiuri newspaper as part of a serial editorial (1891.5.15 – 6.10).  The piece endorses a “scientific” (kagakuteki) criticism that treats a given text according to the conditions of its composition:

Criticism, therefore, should be in the business of showing where the work’s true aim lies.  If we endeavor
to perform an exegesis of Genji monogatari, let’s make clear how Murasaki’s ideals (risō) and technique [comprise the] body of the work itself.  The same could be said for Bakin, Chikamatsu, and Saikaku.  This also means refraining from qualitative judgments (hōhen uretsu mo sezu).  Morton’s primary meaning in his call for a scientific criticism (kagakuteki hihyō) consists in this.  Individual (i.e. deductive) criticism in a personal mode moves away from this method while inductive criticism approaches it.  It is for this reason I deem legitimate botsu-risō lyricism—that is evaluation of the submerged ideals [such as we find] in dramatic criticism, or, more simply, inductive criticism.[11]

The critic is supposed to address the text by only inferring the writer’s specific ideals (risō), and examining the technique.  But, what does this have to do with submerged, or hidden ideals?

Shōyō’s appeal to an inductive mode of criticism is linked on the one hand with previous arguments he laid out with regard to the shōsetsu in his manifesto, Shōsetsu shinzui, and on the other with a coalescing of power around newly established universities – notably Waseda University (1882) , the private college founded by Shōyō’s political compatriot Ōkuma Shigenobu (1838-1898), and the Imperial University (1886).  Shōyō’s appeal is in fact part and parcel of the new politics surrounding the autonomy of knowledge, which begins to emerge in the 1880’s.  As Atsuko Ueda argues, autonomy implied a realm “independent of politics and political parties.”[12] Shōsetsu shinzui participated in this call for autonomy by deliberately targeting  the host of literary genres and endorsed technologies of thought directly tied to the Kaishintō (Constitutional Reform Party) and Jiyūtō, (Liberal Party), and by marking authorial design (sakusha no ishō) as a departure from the  representation of real events.  For example, in his section addressing the main themes of the novel he writes:

[Characters that deviate from principles of psychology] are like marionettes.  They seem at a quick glance just like a group of real people moving about, but the spell is instantly broken when close inspection reveals the operator and the mechanism.  Similarly, the shōsetsu at once loses its charm if it becomes obvious that the writer is behind each character pulling strings to direct his movements.[13]

An effort is made to link this authorial intent with the Confucian language of zen’aku jasei (“encourage the good, punish vice”), thereby setting up an opposition between reason (dōri) and base desires (retsujō), between “things as they are” and “favoritism:”

By favoritism, I refer to the writer’s attitude toward his creations…For example, a writer may unknowingly become attached to a virtuous and upright character; and as a result, even when the narrative progression calls for the character to act dishonorably, the writer may alter the story line and allow the character to act virtuously.  Similarly, the writer may design the plot so that an evil character is made to take on all the evil deeds…However, virtuous men also have base desires, and evil men too have conscience.[14]

If the shōsetsu is the new space of “emotions, customs, and manners” appropriate for the apolitical writer, then botsu-risō is the critical orientation that is most “reflective” of the national genius.  Ōgai’s intervention coming in the wake of the founding of parliament in 1890 is therefore significant.  “Looking through [Karl Robert Eduard von]Hartmann’s glasses,” Ōgai argues, Shōyō’s historical framework maps right onto Hartmann’s system of concrete idealist aesthetics.

According to Shōyō, for the native (classical) writers, the fate of character A and the fate of character B may by whim or impulse converge – there may be plot but no discriminate reason.  There may be some inert general principle but no living concept.  There is “generality” but no “individuality.”  This so-called group of native writers furnishing inert general principles – this presence of “generalities” – is precisely what Hartmann takes to be the level of category (ruikatsu no i wo torite), and he calls this genre.  When it comes to the mixed-style writers, Shōyō says, “individuality” is present.  Here, Hartmann would include all living things, and respond, “Shouldn’t we call this individual representation?”  When it comes to the humanist writers, the causality of human affairs is clearly copied – but not for the sake of the individual character but rather for its eternal image…For Hartmann, the well-depicted day in the life of a single thing is to respond to the demands of its manifold world; he calls this the microcosm.[15]

The key area of application for either critic is this final stage of literary production, the so-called humanist mode of depiction.  Neither Shōyō nor Ōgai believe this type of text yet exists in Japan; however their points of contention center on the meaning of risō, leading them to differing conceptions of realism.  

Whereas Shōyō understands risō as it was originally conceived by Nishi Amane, Ōgai endorses a German Idealist translation, insisting it should be understood as Ideé.  For Ōgai, the emphasis is on a priori aesthetic standards – the beauty engendered from the subjectivity of the writer.  The semblance of beauty found in a particular work has little to do with the presence of details (content) but it has everything to do with its success in “approximating” the Idea.  Thus, for the writer, the experience is wholly reflective as they attain, to paraphrase, a unity of the human and the Unconscious (Unbewussten; 幽幻yūgen, or “obscured spirit”).  For Shōyō, by contrast, the concern is decidedly with the reader, who would supply their own ideas which correspond to the infinite variety of ideas that lay “submerged” within.  He explains by recourse to Shakespeare’s works:

Shakespeare’s works are like a totally impartial (mushin mujō) mirror.  In them everyone’s countenance is
reflected. To put it more clearly, the reflection of any reader’s ideas (risō) can be discovered in his work…In admiring Shakespeare we can of course praise his technique in bringing human nature alive, and we can praise the miracle of his metaphor, his imagination and his conception as something unprecedented and unique.  But it is difficult to accept praise of his ideas as being as great as those of a great philosopher.  We should rather value his work for its submerged ideas (botsu-risō).[16]

The byword for Shōyō is “facts” (kijitsu).  However, as he suggests here, the arrangement of these facts also matters.  Without technique, the writer is unable to bring human nature to life.  Shōyō has already laid out what he feels are the fundamental components of the social: emotions, customs, and manner; however, his description of technique indicates a site of overlap with Ōgai’s position if not a path to resolution for the botsu-risō debate. 

Describing the pitfalls of a deductive mode of criticism, Shōyō contends even knowledgeable critics are prone to “describing a tiger when attempting to explain a cat.”  The reason for this, he explains, is not that Shakespeare’s descriptions faithfully map onto the actual, but that “the work read greatly resembles “creation” in the minds (kokoro-gokoro) of the reader, no matter how it is interpreted.”  Already one can intuit a parallel with Ōgai’s description of the humanist text’s “microcosm.”  “Seen with a disinterested mind,” Shōyō continues, “nature – as nature – seems bent neither to good nor to evil.” 

So, when it comes to a rendering of creation’s acts, one should do so with the principles of the karmic
religion, or with the principles of Christianity [in mind].  What’s more the views of Rō, Sō, Yō, Mō, the Confucianists, the Buddhists, or should I say the philosophies – old and new, east and west—must be adapted so that they precisely apply.  Indeed, creation is that which contains and consists of innumerable constructions.  Truly, one should declare creation’s likeness to be a vast, edgeless space.[17]

Shōyō’s conception of creation (zōka) is unquestionably vague: it is not nature (shizen), but it is all-encompassing; it has agency and principle but no origin.  In fact, Ōgai takes him to task for conceiving for the writer the seemingly absurd task of “creating:”

[For Shōyō] creation is botsu-risō, and the individual who composes this creation-rendering , botsu-riso-
like work is the Genius Poet.  It is here where he identifies Shakespeare as the individual and the body [of the work] as “drama.”  What distinguishes Shakespeare from the likes of Byron and Swift is the former’s lack of ideas (risō) and the latter’s giving them expression.  What makes “drama” more complete than a novel is that the former is devoid of ideas while the latter includes them.  The writer utterly without ideas thinks like a god, a saint, and the virtuouso (shijin).[18]

However, Shōyō insists that “the essence of creation is actually indifference,” the observing of which is akin to beholding “an unfathomable sea.”  What this means for literary production is a division of labor.  If the writer provides the sufficient conditions of literariness outlined in Shōsetsu shinzui, it is up to the critic to provide the necessary rendering in miniature the whole of creation, i.e. describing the arbitrary bounds of the fictional universe that mark it as fiction.  Ōgai counters by pointing out that the writing process as well as the process of critique is fraught with subjectivity and therefore already reflective of submersion.  Nonetheless what is important here is that both endorse a disinterested manner of interaction with the text that diverges with the critic’s imagined role for the common reader.


Conclusion »

[11] Umezawa Nobuo, Nakamura Kan, and Inagaki Tatsurō, eds., Nihon kindai bungaku taikei Vol. 3: Tsubouchi Shōyō shū (Kadogawa Shoten, 1974), p. 446.  Here after TSS.

[12] Ueda, p. 88.

[13] Quoted in Ueda, p. 61.

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Our Literary Orientation at the Shigarami sōshi,” in Ōgai zenshū (Chikuma Shobo, 1995), 23:6.  Here after OZ.

[16] Translated in Bowring, Richard John, Mori Ōgai and the Modernization of Japanese Culture (Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 78.

[17] TSS, p.182.

[18] OZ, p. 18.