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Ames, Catherine (2018) A Festival of Mysticism : Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, Narrative Form and the Politics of Subject Formation. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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My research is based on the premise that, in form and content, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke’s short stories should be read as a challenge to Taishō (1912–26) conceptions of cultural modernity and nationhood. As artistic and political culture in the Taishō period seemed to polarise into a nativistic Culturalism (kyōyōshugi) on the one hand and a strident Proletarianism on the other, Akutagawa was increasingly viewed as an apolitical aesthete, a vision further entrenched after his totemic suicide in 1927. I aim to rescind this view of Akutagawa and, by focusing on the narrative and ideological connections which give coherence to his works between 1920 and 1927, I focus on those aspects of Akutagawa’s work which, far from being outwith the political domain, may be seen to be fiercely critical of the Taishō ideological settlement as it was taking shape. I argue that Akutagawa was a writer who was acutely aware of the tensions which existed within Taishō society, of the burgeoning state and the development of an increasingly national subjectivity. I argue that Akutagawa was keenly interested in those narratives being produced, disseminated and naturalised in the 1910s and 20s and in their power to conscript the newly formed reading public to an ever narrower range of behaviours. Moreover, I aim to reveal Akutagawa’s preoccupation with the complicity which existed between seemingly incongruous types of narrative form and the politics of subject formation. In particular we will explore Akutagawa’s collision of the Realist mode with the impulse to mythologise in order to reveal a powerful narrative strategy which was able not only to define subjectivities but was also the means by which hegemonic values were embedded and become unopposable. The study engages with four seminal texts: ‘Butōkai’ (‘The Ball’, 1920), ‘Momotarō’ (‘The Peach Boy, 1924), ‘Uma no ashi’ (‘Horselegs’, 1925) and ‘Seihō no hito’ (The Man from the West’, 1927) to explore the role of literature in the nation-building process.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Stephen Dodd
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 03 Mar 2020 14:15

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