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In Session: Rethinking the Pedagogical Canon of Classical Japanese Literature in the West
2: Subverting the Japanese Classics: The Tale of Genji as Post-Colonial Literature
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Meiji University, Japan
Cultural Studies had greatly impacted Japanese literary studies in the 1990s as scholars explored the integration of Japanese classics into a cultural apparatus that supported the modern nation-state. This paper bridges the fruitful outcomes of Kokumin-kokka-ron (“Nation-State Theory”) with post-colonial studies perspectives by looking at canon formation processes after World War II. I explore the recognition of The Tale of Genji (1006?) as a text attributed with universal values in the postwar period. By examining discourses on The Tale of Genji in Japanese magazines published between 1945 and 1950, I argue that domestic and international Japanese literature scholars canonized The Tale of Genji using a post-colonial framework based on a dichotomy between “ex-colonizer” and “ex-colonized.”
Firstly, I argue that Japanese literary scholar Okazaki Yoshie employed this dichotomy to propose The Tale of Genji’s similarity with Western canonical works, distinguishing Western and Japanese literature from the rest of “the East,” such as China and Korea. Dutch diplomat and scholar Robert Hans van Gulik, however, used the same framework differently to describe The Tale of Genji as a text with universal and essential values. Van Gulik grouped China, Korea, and Japan with “the West,” distinguishing them from other East Asian countries such as Indonesia, which was a Dutch colony from 1609 to 1949.
My analysis of discussions on The Tale of Genji’s canonization exposes the canon’s ambiguous nature: described as having universal and essential values, but actually based on a dichotomic framework that excluded “ex-colonized” countries from the realm of the universal.