This essay focuses on perception and the senses in Japanese literary modernism and specifically in the so-called new sensationist (shinkankakuha) writers, especially Kawabata Yasunari (1899–1972) and Yokomitsu Riichi (1898–1947). The critical debates that unfolded around their modernist journal Bungei jidai (Literary Age) (1924–27) were preoccupied with attempts to explain and philosophically anchor notions of sensation and perception. This did not mean an overwhelming concern with the body and its senses: on the contrary, in these texts perception emerges as somehow purified and reduced to vision, that most decorporealized of the senses. Indeed, the fragmented style, the distorted temporalities, and the deinteriorized subjects of Kawabata and Yokomitsu owe a lot to the visual, and especially to the technologized visuality of film. Paradoxically, however, this fractured cinematic aesthetics was grafted onto older visions of wholeness, some of them ideologically vulnerable. Cutting through literary studies, film, and intellectual history, domains normally kept apart, the essay traces those motifs in Kawabata and Yokomitsu that speak not of modernist rupture but of a deeper continuity with the powerful vitalist ideas from the turn of the century, such as the urge to dissolve subject-object dichotomies into an “Eastern monism” or a mystical life force and the animistic figuring of technology. New sensationism emerges as a discursive field shot through with tensions and nonsynchronicities. A supposedly avant-garde engagement with urban exteriority from its very beginnings contained an ambiguous spiritualism.
Irena Hayter; Figures of the Visual: Japanese Modernism, Technology, Vitalism. positions 1 May 2017; 25 (2): 293–322. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-3852237
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