Guide Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings (Weatherhead Books on Asia)

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  4. Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings

In , he published Theory of Literature , a remarkably forward-thinking attempt to understand how and why we read. The text anticipates by decades the ideas and concepts of formalism, structuralism, reader-response theory, and postcolonialism, as well as cognitive approaches to literature that are only now gaining traction. Employing the cutting-edge approaches of contemporary psychology and sociology, Soseki created a model for studying the conscious experience of reading literature as well as a theory for how the process changes over time and across cultures.

Along with Theory of Literature , this volume reproduces a later series of lectures and essays in which Soseki continued to develop his theories. By insisting that literary taste is socially and historically determined, Soseki was able to challenge the superiority of the Western canon, and by grounding his theory in scientific knowledge, he was able to claim a universal validity.

For fans of one of Japan's greatest novelists Kokoro , Kusamakura this volume of his literary criticism offers insights into his fiction as well as some prescient ideas about realism and multiculturalism. Bill Marx, Public Radio International's The World Books An impressive work of remarkable erudition matched by the precision and lucidity with which the complexity of Soseki's thought and of its context are presented. Angela Yu, Monumenta Nipponica A revelation The editors deftly explore Soseki's connection with major currents in Western literary theory, philosophy, and social and natural science For Japan to assume full parity with the West, it was insufficient to merely join the ranks of those nations enjoying imperialist privileges in the otherwise unenlightened East.

There must rather be a complete overturning of the structure of East—West relations itself, such that Japan, which now envisioned itself as the chosen protectorate of Asia, would directly challenge the West for supremacy in the region. In this way, Takeuchi saw the outbreak of the Greater East Asian War as developing logically from the master-slave dynamic that had informed East—West relations from the very beginning of the modern era. While the West was undeniably responsible for shaping the unequal terms of its relations with Asia, Takeuchi nevertheless found Japan to be guilty of simply accepting those terms, desiring nothing more than to occupy the position of superiority otherwise reserved for the West.

It was partially in order to think through the problem of the master-slave relation, in both a specifically historical and a more formal or general sense, that Takeuchi found himself so fascinated by Lu Xun in the first place. For Lu seemed to offer a way out of the endless antagonisms and inversions of this relation, without, however, avoiding the difficulties inherent in all political activity as such.

While he was not blind to the presence of various reactionary elements within China, Takeuchi believed that the country was attempting to steer a course for itself that was distinct from both imitation of the West and a nostalgic clinging to its own past glory. The way of the past belonged to the slave that refused to change with the times, whereas the way of the future, insofar as this future was shaped by the West, represented the desire for mastery that ultimately marked the slave as slave regardless of its outward appearance.

It was thus vital to create a future that went beyond the master-slave dynamic, one that could show the failings of Japanese modernization in its overt dependence upon the West. Interestingly, Takeuchi would find in the West those individuals who recognized the true value of what China was then trying to accomplish. Both of these men had in fact visited China at about the same time, and according to Takeuchi had predicted not only the future emergence of the country as a world power but also the parallel declivity of Japan.


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Clearly Takeuchi was envisioning here a kind of inversion of power relations that would, however, no longer simply repeat the violence between victim and victimizer. At the same time, such release from subjugation was for Takeuchi a necessarily precarious one; it was in no way equivalent to liberation, or emancipation, with its various utopian connotations. Here again Takeuchi took his cue from Preface xiii Lu Xun, whose stories about the Chinese underprivileged steadfastly refused any moment of catharsis in which suffering would magically cease, the characters suddenly rescued by the artifice of a happy ending.

Only in this way was it possible to sustain a kind of negative or critical energy that produced change, internally as well as externally. Throughout his writings, in a great diversity of contexts, Takeuchi can be seen to emphasize the tremendous importance of this energy, for without it, he warned, historical entities fall into decadence.

This transformation was in fact nothing less than revolution, which Takeuchi understood as a kind of moral dictate. He believed that a space must be created and vigilantly maintained in which such critical energy could work itself out, thereby opening the possibility for something like revolution to take place on both an individual and historical level.


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It is in this sense, perhaps, that Takeuchi speaks most clearly to us today, not merely as a postwar thinker or scholar of Chinese literature but rather, more generally, as someone who attempted to respond to the demands of his own time and place through developing this critical energy as fully as possible.

Even in his own scholarship, Takeuchi sought to establish a dialogue between the object of his research and his own contemporary situation so as to allow the former to speak back to the latter, at times pointing out its unwitting mistakes.

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Here Takeuchi betrayed his profound dissatisfaction with the norms governing scholarly writing, with its emphasis on objectivity and critical detachment. Many critics took him to task for this approach, arguing that his readings of Lu Xun spoke more of Takeuchi himself than they did of Lu. Yet Takeuchi remained convinced of the importance of using scholarship as a means to critically address the problems of the present, without however in any way sacrificing the intellectual rigor and integrity necessary for all research.

In reading Takeuchi now, more than a quarter century after his death, we should naturally remark upon his manner of grappling with some of the most difficult historical and theoretical questions besetting the Japanese postwar generation— how to rethink the war, how Japan should shape its relations with China and the West, what is the essence of modernity, etc.

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Work on the manuscript had actually begun the previous year, at which time I was fortunate enough to receive a postdoctoral fellowship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, which allowed me to pursue my research in Tokyo. I am indebted to the two reviewers of the book, one of whom remains anonymous; the other, Michael Bourdaghs, provided me with several excellent comments regarding the improvement of the manuscript.

Madge Huntington of the East Asian Institute at Columbia University and Jennifer Crewe of Columbia University Press were both instrumental in the realization of this project, and I would like to record my thanks to them here. The book is dedicated, finally, to M.

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He was born in in Usuda-machi, Nagano Prefecture and died in His early schooling was in Tokyo, but he attended higher school in Osaka before returning to Tokyo to enroll in the Chinese literature department at Tokyo Imperial University in At age twenty-two, Takeuchi first visited mainland China, where he developed what would be a lasting and profound passion for Chinese literature and culture.

After graduation from university, Takeuchi returned to China in and stayed for a period of two years. In Takeuchi resigned from his teaching position at Tokyo Metropolitan University as a sign of protest against the forced ratification of the U. Here Takeuchi was responding in part to certain elements within the Japanese literary world bundan at the time, which typically set forth a very romantic notion Introduction 3 of the writer as an isolated individual, alone with his thoughts, which require unique artistic expression.


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This view of the bundan represents isolation or solitude in strictly psychological terms: the literary thoughts of the writer distance him from others and force him to pursue his craft alone, where he can all the more easily be true to himself and his individual genius. For such an argument leaves untouched the real question of whether it is not thinking as such that helps engender the notion of the subject as solitary, in some decisive sense away or apart from others and so alone with itself.

In effect, Takeuchi has changed levels in his debate with the bundan over the status of thinking; he has brought the discussion down to the more urgent question of form. Thus it is not the content but rather the form of thinking itself that seems complicitous with the traditional notion of the subject as solitary. If thinking is to be freed from its determination as a solitary act, however, the demonstration must begin at the original point of separation between self and other, which separation alone ensures the possibility for thought to be produced.

It is not that expression follows after thinking, but rather that thinking is itself fixed by expression, which then develops that thinking.

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This process is infinitely repeated. Expression, in turn, is 4 Introduction completed by communication, such that thought, expression, and communication are always linked together. Traditionally, the relation among thinking, expression, and communication is conceived in terms of priority and derivation, that is, thinking occurs prior to expression and communication, which are therefore derivative of that thinking. Expression is an expression of thinking in the sense that it belongs to it, or grows out of it; and communication would extend this chain in its belonging to the expression that in turn derives from the prior and original thought.

But if this chain marks a continuum among these three notions, it also points to a radical break between subjective solitude or interiority and the external world beyond it. This break would naturally represent a danger to that subjective solitude were it not for the fact that the relation of priority and derivation serves here to, precisely, patch things up or cover things over, in any case ensuring that the chain that leads out from the subject and its otherwise isolated sphere of thought can always lead back into it as well.

The subject that desires to express its thoughts which is to say: all subjects, since silence is essentially foreign to subjectivity 7 has little choice but to take heed of this worldly contingency and the constant danger that it represents to thinking. It must acknowledge that communication takes place only in a universal element or milieu, one that is for better or worse governed not by itself but by others.

And yet, in the face of this universal exteriority, the subject appears not to be without its defenses. Again, these defenses lie far less in the content of thinking than in the form of thought itself: the unity and self-presence of thought for the subject are after all the very requisites for its solitude.

Thus it is not simply that without this unity and self-presence the subject has no means at its disposal to differentiate itself from the world; rather, much more radically, the subject is that very unity and self-presence to begin with.

Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings

It does not stand behind these things, it is not to be found anywhere else but in that cognitive unity and self-presence, since these traits are essentially constitutive of subjectivity as such. For Takeuchi, the Japanese bundan remains blind to this insight in its more or less unconscious desire to hold on to something like a substrate, which in its underlying selfidentity functions as a ground jiban, konkyo to which inhere its different qualities or properties. Even if writers strip a character naked, they must leave on the final layer of clothing, for the character would disappear if they removed it.

That is to say, the character is not originally present. In this way, of course, it reaffirms what it believes to be its own underlying solitude or isolation. Far from claiming that the outside world is merely an extension of itself, however latent or dormant, the subject paradoxically interprets the possibility of miscommunication and misunderstanding as proof of its interiority.

Nevertheless, these difficulties will at no point come to be confused with the core meaning i. It is this reduction of contingency from an essential to an empirical trait—if we can still use such language—that allows the subject to cut its losses and withdraw back into itself with its communicated thought fundamentally unblemished. Alteration is an empirical accident because it is what befalls the thought in its exposure to the world.

This, of course, presupposes the existence of the thought in an as yet pristine or immaculate state, one that is to be found prior to the appearance of expression and communication, to follow the chain of cognitive articulation being sketched here by Takeuchi. In any case, the alteration of thought in miscommunication must be attributed to an outside: the world in all its senseless randomness. Such a notion of subjectivity is what Takeuchi refers to throughout his works as shukan. On the contrary, thought is altered essentially because alteration takes place at the very origin honrai , or opening, of thought.

The moment that it rises up and takes its stand is necessarily also the moment that it is swept outside of itself, or that this outside comes flooding in and overwhelms the thought in its differentiating movement. In all rigor, this is why activity is not so much defeated by passivity which would imply some type of equality between them as it is inscribed within it, such that activity is from the very beginning—or always already—passive, given over to the world.

To make use of a certain philosophical vocabulary, one could perhaps even say that activity represents the species of which passivity would be the genus, or class. Thought contains within itself the possibility of its miscommunication.