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Title: Meiji, Media, and Modernity: The Politics of Optical Mimesis in Nineteenth-Century Japan
Authors: Wilson, Ron Martin
Advisors: Brodsky, Claudia
Contributors: Comparative Literature Department
Keywords: Japan
visual studies
Subjects: Literature
Asian literature
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Modern Japanese literature, thought to begin in the Meiji period (1868-1912), is understood to be an encounter between Japanese writers and foreign literature during a so-called era of translation, when European literary styles were imported. Yet by presuming that intercultural literary influence is an intramedial affair, the effect of books upon other books, literary historians overlook the older role that European visual media and techniques played in the development of Japan’s literature before and during Meiji. After detailing the contribution of European visual practices and media such as perspective, verisimilitude in portraiture, and photography to Japanese literary realism, I demonstrate how several Meiji literary giants— Masaoka Shiki, Kunikida Doppo, and Natsumei Sôseki, among others—created modern Japanese literature by imaginatively suspending the material boundaries between literature and visual art. By showing their modernist writings’ debt to premodern visual culture, my dissertation not only suggests an earlier periodization for modern Japanese literature; it also better accounts for that literature’s formal and thematic tendencies, especially its keen interest in description and ambivalent embrace of plotful narrative. My project, Meiji, Media, and Modernity: The Politics of Optical Mimesis in Nineteenth-Century Japan, also contributes to a more global understanding of modernity. While arguing that Japanese literature remade itself after the image of the visual arts during Meiji, I link this putatively modern development to an ancient affinity we establish between literature and visual art in Japan (as exemplified by the calligraphed poem’s dual status as written and visual form). If Japanese literature modernized by adopting new artistic strategies in order also to preserve an old rapport between writing and visuality, then Meiji provides a model of modernity as a conservative reaction to Europe’s artistic influence. And by historicizing Meiji’s investment in European visual realism as a national strategy of self-defense (e.g., for accuracy in mapmaking), we show how Japan’s modern artistic resistance to European modernity is grounded in this non-Western nation’s political resistance to European imperialism.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Comparative Literature

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