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Abstract

Authenticities East and West
March 30 - April 1, 2001

Temptation of Genres
Masako Ono (mono118@aol.com)
English Department, Teikyo University


Northrop Frye is committed to "romance" as the kind of writing which successfully imitates the full cadence of the time-scheme of the world as the Judeo-Christian Scripture reads. By claiming a hegemonic value for romance, Frye does not emphasize the importance of romance as a genre in literary history so much as lends grandeur to Western culture itself, which is reified as the teleologically ordered world. The Judeo-Christian Scripture constitutes, in Frye's system, an ideological underpinning for the idea of order and promise of ultimate salvation the idea that the world is designed in such a way as to consolidate and reveal God's plan. The cult of wholeness, as I call it, assumes that the world moves from the definite beginning toward the definite ending, with which the romance narrative flows. The case is not that literature imitates the real world's movement. The archetype of romance narrative from the paradise lost to the paradise regained remains as an archetype, without finding its prototype in the actual world. A fictional work, which is conceived as a displacement from the original mythic point is nothing but the origin itself, which projects its movement into the "real." When literature was professed to imitate the real world, the real world was born as a putative mythic point. The result is that the Bible is imaged as the founding myth of Western culture, and as the fundamental narrative for all subsequent narratives to be written.

We retrospectively inscribe visions of history in literary works, grounding them on metaphysical premises in Frye's case, the Christian figural history. On the other hand, Japanese critics are inspired to search the origins of "monogatari" by the anthropological desire for the primordialness. They try to legitimize monogatari as a precursor of novel to make monolithic history of Japanese literature continuous from oral poetry through monogatari to novel. Their search for the original foundation of monogatari is more or less initiated by an anthropologist in the earlier twentieth-century, Orikuchi Shinobu. Orikuchi holds a theory that Japanese literature emerged from "norito," which is sacred words uttered by godly beings, invoked by the godly power of emperor, who functions as the supreme transmitter. As time goes on, godly words begin to acquire a historical distance, when monogatari was born. Orikuchi's definition of "mono" of monogatari as "a spirit" and "katari" as "to possess/captivate audience" derives naturally from his theory of sacred origin of monogatari.

A spurious ancientness of such genres as romance and monogatari tempts us toward the original moment of culture or nation-state or some other communities. We are likely to imagine that somewhere as we go back history we could find the mythic moment of culture the existential locus of authentic identity, pre-foreign and with an archaic outlook. The study of pre-modern genres is the study of how to relate to historical alterity, which we are likely to conceive as the determining origin of literary traditions. The metaphysics of genres is activated in defense of cultural identity: romance is authenticated by Frye as the genre which expresses the teleologically-ordered world designed by God; Orikuchi envelopes monogatari in a halo of Japanese royal house, which he posits as the godly descendant. Genres become advocates of essence of literary traditions, original and indigenous. Genres assimilate literary works into traditions, and then, they assume indissociable categories universal and essential.

Having majored in English Literature as a graduate student at the English Department of the University of Tokyo with a focus on English Renaissance poetry, I embarked on the new and exciting field of Comparative Literature when I enrolled in the Ph.D. course of the Department of Comparative Literature at Princeton University in the fall of 1995. Since then, I became fascinated by East/West comparison, especially since it involved my own subjectivity as a Japanese person born and brought up in Japan. I finished my general examinations in the fall of 1997, and began to write my dissertation which deals with The Tale of Genji and The Faerie Queene. I had to leave the United States in the summer of 1999 because of the contract with the university I was working for since 1991. After returning to Tokyo and resuming my former job teaching English and language and literature, I continue to write my thesis, which is committed to the invention of literary tradition and nationalism in Japan and Europe.

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