Speakers: Kathryn Favelle (K), Ryan Johnston (R)

Audience: (A)

Date: 19/5/2022

K: Hello and welcome to the National Library of Australia. I’m Kathryn Favelle, Director of Reader Services and thank you for joining us for today’s National Library Fellowship presentation.

The National Library stands on the land of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people. I acknowledge Australia’s First Nations peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of this land and I give my respect to elders past and present and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Today’s presentation is by Dr Ryan Johnston, one of our 2022 National Library of Australia fellows. Our distinguished fellowships program supports researchers to make intensive use of the National Library’s rich and varied collections through residencies of three months. National Library of Australia fellowships are only made possible because of the generous philanthropic support we receive from donors and bequests and Dr Johnston’s fellowship is supported by the Harold S Williams Trust.

Our fellows dive deep into the Library’s collection and through their research they take us all over the world. Recently fellows have explored the history of birdwatching, memory collections and the role children’s creativity plays in humanitarian organisations. Today Dr Johnston is taking us on a very different journey.

Ryan is a scholar of comparative literature focusing on the intercultural exchange between the Anglosphere, western Europe and east Asia. He completed undergraduate and masters degrees in Chinese, French and English, learning Japanese as a doctoral student at the University of Sydney where he now teaches. He’s studied across multiple countries and across these four languages.

In this presentation Ryan considers how the entanglement of Russian and French culture appeared in 20th century Japanese literature. We’re going to go on quite a journey. Please join me in welcoming Dr Ryan Johnston.


R: Well thank you, Kathryn, and thank you to all of the staff at the National Library who have supported me and guided me through my bewilderment across the past 12 weeks as I have been lost in this very rich collection and thank you to the Harold S Williams Trust for supporting this project, the result of – one of the results of which is this talk which is called 'From Paris to Dalian' and here it goes.

So in his 1950 Bungaku nyūmon or introduction to literature the literary critic and translator of French, Kuwabara Takeo, begins with the perennial but seemingly unanswerable question haunting literary studies, just why do we need literature in our lives? Rather than answering the question directly Kuwabara sidesteps it by noting that he’s currently rereading Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina for the fourth time. He writes, every time I have read Anna Karenina it has given me a new delight. Levin’s marriage to Kitty and his resolution to commit suicide by train retracing each description is enjoyable and I hesitated to write this book until I’d finished the entire novel. It is unacceptable to ask things like why is literature necessary. If such an interesting work as this were unnecessary to human life well just what sort of life would that be? Likely anyone who has read this masterpiece would want to respond as I have and Anna Karenina is not alone among the masterpieces of literature.

Kuwabara’s digression from the question of literature’s value, recalls Samuel Johnson’s so-called Recourse to the Stone where Johnson, exasperated that he could not logically refute George Berkeley’s idealism, the idea that nothing exists outside of our perception, [unclear] 3:46 before him while crying I refute it thus.

But the most intriguing aspect of Kuwabara’s response is I think the choice of example. Why should a critic of French literature like Kuwabara, writing in the aftermath of the second world war, choose Tolstoy’s novel as the most obvious proof of the indispensability of literature? Why should this 19th century Russian novel speak to the Francophile Kuwabara’s lived experience as he says in this introduction? Why should Kuwabara devote an entire section of his book to a roundtable discussing Anna Karenina which he deems a novel that he can approach on equal footing with other Japanese people without bringing in the specialist knowledge that he has of French literature? In other words why can it serve as common ground?

Answering this question takes us into the heart of modern Japanese literature where Russian literature in general, and Tolstoy in particular, had unparalleled significance. Russia’s importance for Japanese literature has long been recognised in Japanese studies and has come to even greater prominence in recent years thanks to the interdisciplinary work of scholars such as [Shokanishi] 4:46 and [Olkasalovieva] 4:46 who tried to recover transnational connections at the lingering prejudices of cold war binaries east west, Communist capitalist, to name a few, can often mask.

My project is not trying so much to add to this history of Russo-Japanese literary exchanges as it is trying to broach the issue from a different angle. By looking at how relations between two countries or languages or the porous multiplicity of dialects and ethnicities that we often lump together under these terms are refracted through a third culture, one that might not need to be explicitly present to play a significant role in cultural exchange.

My previous work as Kathryn mentioned has often revolved around the world of Franco-Japanese exchanges. Why would we be interested in someone like Kuwabara for his work on the French novelist, [Dandal] 5:29, or the French philosopher, [Allen] 5:32, and consider his fascination for Anna Karenina to be an intriguing addition that is not necessarily symptomatic of wider issues in the universe of literature between France and Japan? My work at the National Library however asks how that intrusion of Russian literature mediates and is in turn mediated by the idea of French and Japanese literature in Japan during the 20th century. Far from a curiosity the interest in both French and Russian thought among Japanese intellectuals was a widespread phenomenon in the 20th century and an important element in the construction of modern Japanese literature.

So my work at the National Library has encompassed numerous camps, the [Shadow Cabaha where the White Brooch Group] 6:12 which was a collection of writers and artists influenced both by Tolstoy and by the French avant garde alike as well as people like Walt Whitman in English. The pro-Dostoevskianism and anti-Tolstoyism of the poet, Hagiwara Sakutaro, often called the father of free verse in Japanese and the proletarian [Undo] 6:34 or movement for proletarian literature reaching out to left wing figures in the Soviet Union and friends alike. You can see here one instance of how the National Library has a very rich collection of proletarian literature.

This is a proletarian [subaroku] 6:44 which is a board game. The National Library probably has a [subaroku] for every event in Japanese history as I found out and this was bundled with the magazine which you can see in the centre and on the bottom right, [Tunkazena] 7:02 or avant garde [tonka] 7:02 writing from 1929, 1930. So I won’t be talking about these today but this is just an example of some of the other parts of this project and this phenomenon.

My talk today focuses more on the ways these eclectic combinations of French and Russian thought existed from the rise of militarism in the 1930s through the tumultuous post-war years looking at how 19th century French aesthetics were marshalled to revise the initial resumption of Russian literature in Japan.

When we talk of translation we generally think of how text in one language is received in another, how a text starts in language A and through a variety of modifications and compromises is received as something else in language B. But reception which can but doesn’t necessarily need to include translation generally involves more moving parts as the idea of a foreign literature can remain half exposed, half submerged in its new landscape, reorientating the intellectual field of its host culture while determining how other foreign works are received.

The method I have been using in my project is triangulation, a venerable method in comparative literature that can be deployed in multiple ways. It can be a comparison between two things, two writers of text, for instance, by way of a shared ground, a common interest or source that makes them mutually intelligible. As when we compare or when one might compare Shakespeare in the [bunacru] 8:17 writer, Chikamatsu, by looking at their shared interest in the concept of impossible love, however difficult it might be to find that concept exactly the same in both cultures.

You could also refer to a process of transmission where for instance Japanese art is received in France as Japonisme and then moves from France to Russia before making its way back to Japan and in that case of course there’s a chronological order, something starts in one place and moves here and is received in a third place at a later time.

The triangulation I’m interested in as part of my project at the National Library however treats the three different parts of the triangulation as active and contemporaneous so that it’s not a question of what came first but how the ideas of French, Russian and Japanese literature continued to serve different but interdependent roles in the development of Japanese literature in the 20th century.

But of course some background is needed to determine where the problem comes from. Imperial expansion from the 18th century meant that Japan and Russia became neighbours, Russia expanded east across Siberia and Japan expanded among other things north. You can see here one instance of this so this is [Kondojuzo] 9:27 who was an explorer who went up to the island of Iturup or Etorofu in Japanese in the Sea of Okhotsk and he found that there was a Russian sign calming it and he tossed it into the sea and erected a new one saying that this is [Binehom] 9:42 Etorofu or it’s essentially Japanese island. This was in 1902 so it’s just before the hostilities – the representation is from 1902 so just before the Russo-Japanese war broke out. You can see the linguistic element to this competition from the beginning.

But when Japan was forcibly opened to the world from its period of Sakoku or national isolation in 1854 the [unclear] 10:07 Russian culture seemed very far away. Before air travel and the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railroad in 1916 travelling between Moscow or St Petersburg and Japan generally entailed first sailing to Europe and then travelling by rail to Russia, meaning that Paris or Rome or Munich was more accessible than the capital of Japan’s ostensibly nearest European neighbour. Of course Russia was not seen as quite as European as the powers of central and western Europe. In his zeal to learn about western science and technology the major government, the government that comes into being with the major restoration in 1868 until the Taisho period, 1911, the major government judged Russia backwards relative to other European countries in terms of military and technological prowess which they were most interested in.

The Japanese Government invited few Russians to work in Japan, the British, German, Americans and the French were the most employed and only eight Japanese went in this early period to study in Russia as part of the government’s attempt to acquire foreign knowledge. By contrast 107 went to Great Britain ‘though interestingly only 14 went to France so you can see that even though France has achieved great cultural prestige at this time it’s not seen as quite as important at least in terms of military and technology as say Britain or America or Germany which is why those two languages become the most spoken in Japan at this time. Yet as the government deemphasised Russia, Russian literature became inescapable in the archipelago.

The process began in earnest in the 1880s. Futabatei Shimei, a student of Russian at the Tokyo School of Foreign Studies, now the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, translated [Tigen] 11:42, the first modern novel in Japanese, Ukigumo or The Drifting Cloud as an exercise in translating Russian. So he would write first in Russian then translate his own work into Japanese.

Tokutomi Sohō and his brother, Tokutomi Roka [Forenkindiro] 11:58 published essays on Tolstoy in the newspaper, [Kokoreno Tomo] 12:00 ‘though at the beginning of this process neither of them had read much of anything by Tolstoy and yet they would go on to visit Tolstoy at his estate in Russia in Yasnaya Polyana on separate trips in the first decade of the 20th century.

[Konishi Masataro] 12:15, a young orthodox priest, sent to study in Russia befriended Tolstoy and the two collaborated on a translation of Laozi’s Tao Te Ching or the classic on virtue and the way which both [Konishi] and Tolstoy saw as a correlate in east Asian thought, classical east Asian thought of Tolstoyism. [Konishi] was later instrumental in popularising Tolstoy in Japan. In 1892 [Wichedaroan] 12:38 published a translation of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment as Tsumi To Batsu which was the first translation of a Dostoevsky into Japanese.

But among all Russian writers, and there are more important ones here that I’m not mentioning including Chekhov notably, among all of them Tolstoy was the most influential. By the early 1890s Tolstoy is so famous that hardly any Japanese intellectual was unaware of his work. Yet few Japanese even among Tolstoy’s most vociferous advocates had read much of Tolstoy. Given the scarcity of Japanese able to read Russian most Japanese intellectuals relied on English translations to access Tolstoy and if English translations did not exist or were in short supply Japanese intellectuals relied on English criticism of Tolstoy to obtain a rough idea of the Russian author.

To understand the significance of Tolstoy and Russian literature and Russia itself in modern Japan, Japanese intellectuals needed to bring in other literatures for comparison. This comparison is already present in some of the English appraisals that the Japanese writers are looking at, especially in 1880s and ‘90s. Matthew Arnold’s essay on Leo Tolstoy – Count Leo Tolstoy is possibly the most influential and there Arnold writes that, there used to be a great spirit animating novels in France with Flaubert and Madame Bovary notably but that died out and somehow it’s alive and well now in Russia. So this comparison with France is already present in these English criticisms they’re already reading.

There’s also a sense among Japanese writers that just as Russia used France as a model as you might know from modernisation from the 18th century on so Japan was using Russia or at least Japanese writers were using Russia as their own model. Russia was essentially Japan’s friends in this exchange but what’s different is that the Russians were also considered belated modern and therefore the Japanese could learn from this belated process in modernisation as they learnt from Russia.

Because they’re interested in Tolstoy as a sort of an ethical thinker more than a novelist there’s this emphasis on Tolstoy as a very contradictory figure who has great ideals but has a propensity for sin, that he’s very lustful among other things.

What happens is that Tolstoy’s 1904 essay, Bethink Yourselves, occasions a new wave of enthusiasm for him as an ethical thinker, one that would make Tolstoy become the most translated author in Japan with the Tolstoy mania in Japan being, in [Shokanishi’s] 15:09 words, remarkable not only within the Japanese context but also on the relative scale. A denouncement of the Russo-Japanese Bethink Yourselves led to a new sort of interest in Tolstoy’s work. Quoting from the gospel of Mark Tolstoy exhorts Japanese and Russians alike, bethink yourselves, to reflect on the senseless killing and ultranationalism of the war as a means of bringing about a transnational order based on mutual peace and understanding. The word here, bethink yourselves, is a translation of [metenurate un] 15:36, the command to perform metanoia.

In calling upon Japanese and Russians alike to cease fighting Tolstoy teases out the multifaceted meanings of metanoia. As [van Juliong] 15:59 has noted, this command, often translated into English as repent, has wider meaning than merely doing penance including a change of heart or a corrective restatement or revision. In other words Tolstoy wished not merely for repentance for the Russo-Japanese war with all the human failure and the frailty that the war brought to the forefront as a chance for both Japanese and Russians to convert to a new and better way of life.

Now in Japanese the command, bethink yourselves, or the command to perform metanoia appears as kuiaratame in the Japanese translation that appeared in The [Hamingshinboon] 16:26 in the same year in 1904. [Kwe aratame] 16:29 means [unclear] 16:29 repent but as Tolstoy’s idea, metanoia, became more famous it would be understood not only as [kwe aratame] not only as repent but also [zange] 16:41 which is the term used for translating confession as when Tolstoy [unclear] 16:41, My Confession, appeared in Japanese in 1902 or when Jean Jacques Cousteau’s confessions were translated as [Zange Oroku] 16:49 in 1891 or when St Augustine’s confessions were translated as [Zange Oroku] in 1924 ‘though these would generally come to be translated as Kokuhaku which is another way of saying confession. So there's a lot of debate over what is the best translation of metanoia into Japanese and it’s this tension between [kwe aratame] and [Zange].

Metanoia would transcend Christianity itself as Japanese Tolstoyans received from Tolstoy an active imagination and expectation that they had adopted a universal religion for future human progress. Several Japanese writers such as a [Kinoshita Nawe] 17:22 would go on to write confessions or [Zange] in imitation of Tolstoy and the ethical dimension of Tolstoyan humanism would influence writers like Kurata Hyakuzō whose play, The Priest and His Disciples makes the medieval Buddhist [Pureline Figasheneron] 17:34 into an exemplar of Tolstoyan humanism. So it’s not just that Tolstoyanism supplants [unclear] 17:41 in Japan, these people who are very enthusiastic about Tolstoyanism go back and try to find in Japanese intellectual history people who can foreshadow the emergence of Tolstoyanism.

Yet the spread of Tolstoyanism in Japan and Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese war did not mean an end to the antagonism between the two countries. Indeed the popularity of Russian literature and Russian anarchism spread outside of official discourses. The Treaty of Portsmith gave Japan the South Manchurian Railway and this is a map of the Russo-Japanese war and you can see here this area is where they get these railway which is the southern portion of the [Eastern Shing Railway] 18:23 that Russia, following its signing of the Sino-Russian Secret Treaty in 1896 had constructed in Manchuria between 1897 and 1902 as a way to have access via Siberia to the warm water port of Dalian or [Dyron] 18:35 in Japanese.

Aside from giving Japan a foothold on the continent which they had long desired control of the South Manchurian Railway eventually put Japan into a strange political triangulation with France and the Soviet Union or first with Russia and later with the Soviet Union. Japan’s incursions into the Asian continent with the first Sino-Japanese war in 1894 and the Russo-Japanese war in 1904-1905 for instance they were generally met by proposals to deepen ties with France. France as I’ve said held great prestige and cultural influence in Japan during the [Meijiun] 19:08, especially the Taisho periods but that didn’t stop the militarist government from banning works like Madame Bovary in the 1930s on account of their decadence. It was thought that the French were more receptive to Japanese art and culture than were other western countries.

Yet the Japanese government was unwilling to invest in cultural projects, spending far less per year on enhancing Japan’s cultural image abroad than did major European powers like France or Spain or Italy. So this idea of soft power that we often associate with Japan at this time didn’t quite exist in the same way at this period. So the task for funding this initiative of deepening ties with France fell to the South Manchurian Railway.

The result was FranceJapon, a French language review dedicated both to communicating information or more accurately propaganda about Manchuria as well as information on Japanese art, history and literature. This meant that the magazine was of two minds, it spread propaganda – the writer, Komatsu Kiyoshi, will later say that the magazine was one of the reasons that the British considered the head of Japanese propaganda to be in Paris in the 1930s – and FranceJapon did consider itself a rival of the magazine, USSR [unclear] 20:17, a multilingual Soviet magazine that was launched early in the ‘30s and was famous for its use of photo montage to stylishly spread Soviet propaganda.

FranceJapon couldn’t quite match the Soviet magazine in [scale] 20:31 but it could try to outpace it culturally by trying to convince the French public that Japan really is displaced into the Pacific Ocean. Early issues, particularly the one-year anniversary issue which you can see here on the screen so it starts in 1934 and this is the 1935 celebratory one-year issue, declare that France and Japan were eminently compatible countries, bound through their love of peace and justice. That Japan is the correlate to France in east Asia with the proof being that the course of Louis XIV flourished at the same time as the Genroku, a period of great cultural activity at the end of 18th century when Chikamatsu for instance was writing. That Cardinal Richelieu is essentially the great daimyo, Oda Nobunaga and that Napoleon is no other than the French version of Nobunaga successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

You can see there’s a very imperial focus here, they’re focusing on people who expanded France and expanded Japan in order to say that they’re basically the same thing.

The review conveyed the message that France and Japan were spiritually if not geographically neighbours, especially through its publicity for the South Manchurian Railway. Each issue of the review contained an ad imploring French readers [speaks French] 21:45, only 15 days by train from Paris to Dalian by the Trans-Siberian. That the Trans-Siberian was Soviet-owned and indeed anything related to the intermediate countries was omitted.

Early iterations of the ad featured a variety of scenes of Manchurian life. You can see those here in the centre and on the left.

Later ones tended to focus merely on the South Manchurian Railway’s fastest train, Asia, which you can see on the right. But in Manchuria or rather the people of modern Manchuria thereafter fall out of focus as the connection between France and the Japanese empire’s emphasised by way of the railway’s most technologically advanced train, the Asia Express or the [Agioago] 22:27.

The Asia Express signified not only Japan’s technological modernity but a geopolitical space apart from the two countries’ various commitments and conflicts in central and eastern Europe, Russia and northeast Asia.

You can see here Manchuria is in purple with China in yellow, replica of China in yellow, the Soviet Union in green and the empire of Japan in red.

Hence the magazine tried to convince the French public of three things, that Japan’s pre-major period was culturally rich and interpretable according to western models, that Japan’s present was full of technological advancement and that France and Japan had a bond that stretched from Dalian to Paris cutting through, if not erasing, the Soviet Union.

All of these aims worked together. If Japan’s art, culture and religion embodied the best aspects of European culture then of course Japan could create a modern state as good as any other. If Japan really was the spiritual cousin of France then of course the Soviet Union was just an accidental barrier between the two countries, a barrier that the Manchurian Railway and the [Agioago] had finally broken through.

Aside from this quaint, perhaps crude content, the review did play a valuable role in translating Japanese literature into French with the novelist Andre Gide being perhaps the most famous of FranceJapon’s readers. The reason for this cultural side is largely down to its editor, [Matsuo Kuninoskay] 23:49, a translator who befriended French intellectuals including Gide and the Marxist, [Rene Montblanc] 23:56. [Matsuo] attempted the balance the magazine’s propaganda with information on contemporary art movements and contemporary is very important here. Modern Japanese literature, [hicube] 24:07 by French writers such as [Julian Vocans] 24:08 and the state of modern Japanese Buddhism.

This meant that alongside statistics concerning Manchuria’s population and industrial output readers like Gide could have been introduced to translations of work such as [speaks Japanese] 24:25 and essays by the eminent literary critic, [Achuikan] on the field of contemporary Japanese literature and this is a translation of an article that [Kikuchi] 24:32 wrote in Japanese and he keeps mentioning Russian literature as a benchmark for showing how important French literature has become which probably was lost. This importance of Russia was probably lost on the contemporary French audience.

This then was a call not for celebrations of the imperial past but for attention to the state of modern literature in Japan and [Matsuo] suggested in several of his essays that France needed to pay attention not only to what’s going on in Paris but to literary movements in the contemporary world, to New York, Moscow and Tokyo, the suggestion being that France and Japan might have had a compatible history but that the current state of the Japanese empire was more in line with that of other rising powers.

The contemporaneity of the Soviet Union remained an issue for Japanese intellectuals who were opposed to or not entirely prepared to embrace Communism or at least Soviet Communism. Literary critic and translator of French Kobayashi Hideo proposed a way of dealing with the Soviet Union and Japan when he visited the city of Harbin and Manchukuo, the puppet state that the Japanese had erected in Manchuria in 1934 and Harbin is up towards the Soviet border in 1938.

He writes as I strolled along Chinese streets, one of the main streets in Harbin, I picked out the names of the various characters I found in the Russian novels I admired when I was younger in the faces of the beggar, the driver, the cabaret girl and the hotel boy. I did not do this intentionally, it was simply impossible for me not to play this childish game of association as I looked around or I have written a childish game of association but I did not find it a childish game in the slightest. As an old man dressed in an overcoat squeezed 10 [cen] 26:12 or 10 yen out of me I clapped his shoulder then in my heart I whispered oi, I actually know your type of person well, you know, Chekhov writes about a man just like you and I’ve read that work over and over.

Although some people might laugh and chalk this up to a literary person’s sentimentality just what sort of world is left if you take away the sentimentality? You can see a foreshadowing of what [Koabara] 26:31 would say 12 years later.

Moreoever even if you take a bureaucrat who knows the ins and outs of current Russian politics would that person have a better understanding of the Russian people than someone who has devoured Russian literature like I have? I highly doubt it.

In other words Kobayashi does not need to learn about Russia or go to the Soviet Union, he doesn’t need to learn the Russian language either to learn about the rising power because everything that anyone needs to know is already contained in 19th century Russian literature. This is a claim for the purity of literature able to furnish direct access into the multiplicity of a foreign culture. It’s a very [centralist] 27:10 claim but it’s in line I think with what [Matsuo] is doing with FranceJapon.

The problem with Japan, Kobayashi says, is that it has not exported its literature to the degree that a foreigner visiting Tokyo can have the same experience as Kobayashi did in Harbin. I won’t read this quote out but Kobayashi says that the task of modern Japanese literature is to write and have translated a work that will make it so that foreigners can visit Ginza in Tokyo and they can do the same thing, they can see in Japanese faces the names of people from Japanese novels so that they can already know the Japanese spirit in this very [centralist] sense.

What this means then is that Kobayashi erases the Soviet Union and current geopolitical problems by claiming that the actual state of the USSR is less important than the presentation of its essential characteristics in literature. This power of literature to supersede brute reality was a constant concern of Kobayashi’s during the war years and it finds its expression here in his recollection of his travels in the Russian part of the Japanese puppet state.

But he had already purchased the issue a few years earlier in 1936 when he engaged in a literary debate with the Christian writer, Masamune Hakucho. The debate concerned the relation between a literary work and the writer’s real life or lived experience, his [gesakatsu] 28:31. The example, Masamune and Kobayashi debated was Tolstoy’s death so as you might know Tolstoy famously left his house in secret in 1910, took a train and died at a train station.

Masamune argued that their Japanese critics initially understood Tolstoy’s death as an expression of Tolstoy’s burning desire to get out into the world and to achieve social change, the sort of social change we saw in Bethink Yourselves. The reason was in fact banal, Tolstoy left his house because of fear of his wife. The idea was that Tolstoy’s wife was suffering from hysteria which many people have subsequently commented on the sort of sexism implicit in this characterisation and that Tolstoy could no longer broker living with a woman he felt was opposed to his ideals and he feared what his wife might do to him.

Masamune’s evidence was Tolstoy’s final diary where he meticulously recorded his strained relationship with his wife, acknowledging that this cause of Tolstoy’s flight and death was partly ridiculous Masamune says that in fact in this partly absurd, partly tragic death we find the ultimate expression of Tolstoy’s work and indeed a mirror of all human life. So this veneration of Tolstoy as a flawed figure goes back to that early reception of Tolstoy as an ethical thinker who has great ideals but is very sinful, someone who’s very conflicted and contradictory.

But Kobayashi rejects this identification between Tolstoy, the man and Tolstoy’s works entirely. He begins by quoting a letter from [Gustav Labard Tojorson] 30:02, dated 26 September 1866 in which Flaubert says that his present personality, his present self is actually the result of several disappeared possible selves, that he was a boatman on the Nile, a keeper of slaves at Rome during the Punic wars and perhaps even an emperor of the Orient.

Kobayashi then quotes another letter from Flaubert to [son] 30:22, this time from December 1875 in which Flaubert says that the artist is nothing, the work is everything. In other words these letters from Flaubert allow Kobayashi to say that there’s a barrier between art and real life and that an artist’s self is not a coherent thing so we don’t really have a possibility of reading it into the work.

Now Flaubert’s distinction between the artist and the work arms Kobayashi for the rest of his exchange with Masamune because he takes it as axiomatic that whatever a writer feels or feigns to feel has no bearing on the meaning and value of the content of the literary work. Kobayashi dismisses any attempt to use Tolstoy’s diaries to interpret his flight from home and he spurns any effort to use this flight to interpret Tolstoy’s prose.

Kobayashi points out that Dostoyevsky’s first Russian biographer, Nikolai Strakhov, confided in a letter to Tolstoy that he could not reconcile Dostoyevsky’s novels with the cruelty he felt Dostoyevsky embodied in his private life so Strakhov says that if you read Tolstoy’s works you would think he’s a great ethical thinker, very sagacious man but in fact he was very cruel. Kobayashi himself had written Dostoyevsky [noshogai] 31:30 a life of Dostoyevsky around this time in his career was a crucial turning point in his own work.

Dostoyevsky for Kobayashi, and here Kobayashi cites Andre Gide’s diary where Gide says that he is all of his characters, not just the interesting or the boring ones or the good or the bad ones but all of them. Dostoyevsky for Kobayashi is everywhere in his novels or nowhere, he is equally the saintly father of [Osema] 31:59, of The Brothers Karamazov and the amoral Nikolai Stavrogin of demons. The same is true of Tolstoy and therefore Tolstoy’s private life is of no great concern to literary criticism.

Kobayashi though doesn’t consider this debate to be purely about Russian or French literature or about literature as a universal concept, rather towards the end of the exchange he makes the interpretation of Tolstoy’s final days of immediate concern to contemporary Japanese literature. It is, he says, a rebuke of the naturalist movement that arose around the turn of the century of writers who need literature to deal only with scientifically demonstrable ideas and events and so must crystallise abstract thought in human beings as Masamune does by making Tolstoy’s wife embody Tolstoy’s struggles so they can’t do anything that’s not directly observable and demonstrable and a very scientific way is what Kobayashi is saying.

For Kobayashi’s generation however there is a border between thought and life and he gives us the example of death. For a writer possessed by a demon real life is undoubtedly a fictional country. Making real life a fictional country does not necessarily mean running away or fleeing from real life. Even if one tries to flee real life clings to one’s sides.

I think for instance of how people cannot flee death, the greatest event of real life, no matter how hard they try. If humans did not have the power of ideas they cannot even fear death such as the evidence that humans have the power to turn even death into a fictional thing. In other words this death that is so important for Masamune as Kobayashi says, we can fear death and that’s proof that we have the power of ideas but because we transform into something that’s only possible, it’s not always facing us, it’s something that we don’t think about. That’s proof that we set up a border through our imagination between real life and the world of fiction or the world of intellectual creativity.

By transforming real life into fiction Kobayashi takes aims at the naturalist movement and early enthusiasts of Russian literature like Masamune or another naturalist, [Humazake Torzon] 33:57. Capturing Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky for 19th century French ideas of the autonomy of literature aids Kobayashi in clearing the ground for a different kind of literature in Japanese. Here the power of Tolstoy over modern Japanese literature can be felt keenly as can be viewed the role of French literature in shaping and revising that earlier reception of Russian literature in Japan in the 1890s and in the Russo-Japanese war.

So the NLA’s detailed collection makes it relatively simple to read Kobayashi’s essays in relation to literary and political connections between France and Russia or the Soviet Union or the absence of the Soviet Union and Japan. But the implication of Japanese thought and Russian literature means that the references can often be implicit such as the case for the post-war work of the philosopher, Tanabe Hajime, a leading figure of the so-called Kyoto School of Philosophy, which was a movement that tried to combine western methods, especially taken from German philosophy from German idealism and phenomenology and combine them with Japanese intellectual history, notably Buddhism.

Tanabe’s a difficult figure for Japanese intellectual history. He supported Japanese militarism and espoused a logic of the species that seemed to resonate with the extreme nationalism of the 1930s and the war but in 1945 he repudiated his earlier work by publishing [Zungadore Toshtanotiskaku] 35:17 translated into English as Philosophy as Metanoiatics, the concept of metanoia comes back.

Using metanoia Tanabe’s new philosophy tried to turn his weakness to protest against militarism, his support of the war, and indeed all human weakness into a strength, opening the potential for spiritual death and rebirth just as Tolstoy has suggested the Russo-Japanese war could have done four decades earlier though Tanabe never quite mentions Tolstoy openly, perhaps because Tolstoy was so famous that he didn’t need mentioning, perhaps because Tolstoyanism had been suppressed both by the imperial Japanese government and by the occupying US forces on account of its ties to anarchist and dissident thought.

I won’t be talking about [Zungadore Toshtanotiskaku] too much today but I will note that in his final years Tanabe would find that this concept of [Zange], Philosophy as Metanoiatics is best expressed in the work of the French symbolist poets, [Stephan Malama] 36:12 and Paul Valéry among others. Tanabe’s reconciliation of [Zange] and symbolism has received relatively little attention but his attribution of Tolstoy and Metanoiatics, two of French symbolism’s leading figures is arresting. The reason is that Tolstoy had excoriated [Malama] and Shakespeare and many people including himself in his 1897 essay, What is Art? Tolstoy objects to [Malama’s] obscurity, his commitment to pure poetry and his refusal to be easily understood, in Tolstoy’s words, by the vulgar crowd.

Tolstoy attacks [Sharbunder] 36:48, the forerunner of the symbolists for the same reason, criticising [unclear] 36:52 evil and very low feelings in his superfluous premeditated obscurity.

Tanabe himself had a very low opinion of France early in his career, writing during a January 1924 visit to Paris that France displayed the extremes of post-war decadence and that really Japan was very Teutonic in nature and it should as it did grow closer to Germany instead.

Yet Tanabe’s encounter with Tolstoy and metanoia reconciled him to French symbolist poetry just as his reading of symbolist poetry tries to make peace between Tolstoy and the poets he scorned. There’s also a great [valeration] 37:30 of French literature in Japan at this time because the French had a resistance during the war and the idea is if you studied French literature maybe you can understand why the French resisted in a way that Japanese intellectuals didn’t.

Tanabe’s first move in reconciling symbolism in Tolstoy and metanoia is in his reading of the book of Jeremiah. Tanabe writes that if a prophet is unable to affect the people’s actions, if he’s unable to communicate God’s word effectively and cause the people to change course, he must confess Kokuhaku, his powerlessness before God. This, Tanabe argues, means that the true prophet must engage himself, he must deny his value relative to God and towards the people because he was unable to fulfil his duty.

In doing so however the prophet stands as an exemplar for the people. Tanabe writes, before the prophet can admonish the people he must first judge himself and perform [Zange] and through his [Zange], his metanoia, he must lay the foundations for the people’s [Zange]. Simply by confessing his powerlessness purely through casting off his self he can harmonise relations between God and the people.

In other words as long as he preserves himself he cannot act as a mediator between God and the people but by negating himself and consciously offering himself up as a sacrifice he can carry through his contradictory dialectical existence.

This is very typical of the way that Tanabe writes. I had thought that Tanabe wasn’t studied because he was engaged in militarism and he’s very controversial but it turns out according to many of my Japanese friends that nobody understands what he was saying.

But after this part Tanabe quotes the very line from the gospel of Matthew as Tolstoy had in Bethink Yourselves and gives the same translation in Japanese [speaks Japanese] 39:15 or repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.

Ad elsewhere though Tanabe understands this translation of the command to perform metanoia, Bethink Yourselves, as [kuiaratame] 39:30 as a command to negate the self, not really to repent in order to be reborn through the mediating process of God’s love. This is a significant step in Tanabe’s presentation of [Zange] for it indicates his direct intervention in the Tolstoyan discourse that exploded during the Russo-Japanese war and it reveals his attention to mark [Zange] not merely as a Christian or a Buddhist concept but as part of a universal religion on par with what the followers of Tolstoy in Japan had found or thought they had found four years earlier.

This example binds Tanabe’s work in [Zange], though, to his final interest in some of his poetry which he would research up to his death. Tanabe finds that the difficulty of symbolist poetry, the fact that it tries to communicate the idiosyncratic vision of the poet through its centric symbols makes it embody the process of metanoia and [Zange]. It brings to the fore the limitations, the failures of human communication and understanding, not least because the symbols of a symbolist poem generally sit uneasily in relation to the rest of the poem. So he’s talking in this quote about if we try to analyse a symbolist poem by just focusing on the symbols, the images then we neglect to pay attention to the combination of sounds that gives meaning in the poem and therefore we can’t look at one without negating the other.

This is compounded by the fact that as Edmund Wilson pointed out in his seminal study of symbolism already in 1931 in Axel’s Castle that symbols and a symbolist poem don’t quite function in the same way that we think of them so that for instance if we see a cross we can recognise that it symbolises Christianity and that’s true, regardless of whether we agree but a symbolist poem endows a symbol with meaning through the poem itself so it takes something and gives it a new meaning.

Example would be [Malame’s Liverige Livizas unclear] 41:20 where we have a swan trapped in ice and we can generally deduce that the swan trapped in ice in that poem signifies the throes of [unclear] 41:27 inspiration but that’s open to debate but the image of a swan has no conventional connection to this idea of poetic inspiration, it does more to an idea of spiritual captivity as it does in [unclear] 41:37 the swan and it’s only by traversing the unapproachable poem that we can arrive at such a conclusion. This is Tolstoy’s complaint, that the symbolists are very narcissistic and they don’t want to communicate clearly to the public.

But Tanabe sees this tension between literal and semiotic meaning of an image or a linguistic sign as the meaning – and the meaning of symbolist poet endows [unclear] 41:59 poem as exemplary of [Zange]. The symbol cannot fulfil either its conventional role or its specific role and the point perfectly can neither be fully understood by the public nor fully communicate the poet’s idea and therefore like the prophet it fails and yet through its failure it attains a higher meaning as significant of the necessity of [Zange]. So Tanabe came to think that whatever you might think a symbolist poem is about it’s really about repentance.

Tanabe’s combination of French symbolism and Russian literature in response to the second world war finds its correlate in the novelist, journalist, poet and translator from French, Hotta Yoshie’s 1968 semi-autobiographical novel, and this will be my final example, [speaks Japanese] 42:41 or Portrait of Poets as Young Men which follows an unnamed youth as he navigates the repressive atmosphere of Tokyo following the February 26 incident of 1936, an attempted coup by extremists in the military seeking to give the Emperor absolute power. In other words Hotta approaches the problem from the other side, of the persecuted, not a supporter of militarism like Tanabe.

Dostoevsky, rather than Tolstoy, serves as the motor of his ethics, based on a fusion of symbolist aesthetics and 19th century Russian fiction ‘though I did find in the National Library in Hotta’s diaries that he considered Tolstoy [unclear] 43:18 [Zange] to be the greatest work ever written.

So Dostoevsky has several roles in the book but he appears intriguingly in dialogue with another symbolist poet, Arthur Rimbaud. Rimbaud had famously only written poetry up until the age of 20. He quit writing poetry in 1873, he never publishes again and he leaves France and famously works among other things as an arms dealer in North Africa.

The two, Rimbaud and Dostoevsky, appear in the youth’s conversation with the so-called [Seshunasense] 43:47 who’s modelled on yet another novelist and translator of French, Hori Tatsuo, who if you’re a [Gibley] 43:53 fan you might know of The Wind Rises fame. His story is the basis of that film.

The youth feels keenly embarrassed by his inability to engage tactfully with [Seshunasense] on the discussion of French literature and worries that he keeps insulting the literary establishment of which [Seshunasense] is part. Then he thinks - just as he was beginning to think that today he had to reply well he noticed that turning around the edge of the hedge of [boxford] 44:18 trees that were just ahead his eyes seemingly flashing, truly flashing, one of the special higher police, the almost secret police, the military police looked back and turned the corner. The dark light of his eyes pinned down the youth’s heart. They recalled the dazzling eyes of [unclear] 44:32, burning with murderous intent in the darkness of the back street of Prince Myshkin’s Petersburg. So this is an illusion to Dostoevsky’s The Idiot in which Prince Myshkin, an epileptic, comes back from the sanatorium in Switzerland into St Petersburg on a train – sorry, the novel.

Rimbaud and Dostoevsky are the same, aren’t they? Rimbaud departs and Dostoevsky comes in. They’re the same, aren’t they? Said the youth, absentmindedly. Mm? What’s that? Said [Seshunasense], raising his thick eyebrows as if surprised.

The novel leaves the statement as a mystery for quite a while. Clearly it indicates the youth’s attempt to work through his amateur love of Russian literature and the French symbolism he is studying at university and it is a response both to his failure to engage in dialogue properly with the literary authority that [Seshunasense] represents as well as to the threat of the special police who keep imprisoning his friends and [unclear] 45:26 with the youth himself in the novel for left wing.

Going out rather than coming in determines the youth’s actions. The reconciliation of these two impulses will allow the youth to achieve a balanced approach to the oppressive atmosphere of the war. Such at least is the reading that the novel offers later. The youth withdraws into his room, he reads three translations of The Idiot, in English, French and Japanese and as he finishes reading it we get to this passage.

The angel, Prince Myshkin, cannot live in the realm of humans and can only be returned once again to the foreign, to the other worldly Swiss insane asylum. The idiot of the title is indeed an idiot, a moron, a fool. Idiot [unclear] 46:05 might have something of a nice ring to it but it is impossible for the angel as a human not to be a moron or a fool. Just so, Prince Myshkin boarded the train and came in but [unclear] 46:19 supposedly free [world] 46:19 of poems and departed and what's worse he even departed from [unclear] 46:23 in which it was born. That is the meaning of what the youth said to [Seshunasense] but saying such a thing in a few words is of course impossible.

Rimbaud’s youthful departure from poetry [unclear] 46:35 withdrawal from Japan and Japanese militarism either through exile or social withdrawal and possibly even though exiled that Hotta would himself undergo when he went to Shanghai and worked with Chinese nationalists after the war. The coming of Dostoevsky and Myshkin suggests on the contrary a messianic intervention from abroad hence the confusion in this passage between Gaikoku, a foreign country and [Giki] 46:59, another world.

But what’s most interesting is how the foreignness of Russian is transfigured. In many ways Russian literature is furthest from the youth as anything in the book. It is after all written in the language that the youth and Hotta do not read and describes a society that has been replaced by the Soviet Union. Yet this foreignness allows Russia to come closer to the youth than any other language or culture can to speak to [unclear] 47:24 the oppression and enemy that the youth feels in militarised Tokyo, again thinking of how the early reception of Russian literature focused on that idea that the Russians actually were closest to the Japanese spiritually.

We can see this in the use of foreign languages in the novel and here we have an extract that appears at the very start of the book as an epigraph from [Valenz lasila pa da su la tois] 47:48 and one on the bottom here is from Dostoevsky’s White Knights, 1848 short story. These are the first three lines translated into Japanese.

As you can see the quotations in French are generally followed by a translation just as if they were translated and in the novel they often are by the youth himself. Quotations from Russian literature on the other hand always only appear in Japanese. There’s only the Russian here ‘though we do have this note here that this was translated by [Yunikawa Masal] 48:16 but later translations or later extracts from Russians don’t have this note.

Needless to say this is due firstly to Hotta not speaking Russian, he simply could not insert the original Russian without asking a reliable third party to help him. Neither could the youth in the novel yet regardless of the reason the effect is the [nativisation] 48:37 of Russian. English and French in the novel always face both ways, toward their place and language of origin and in translation towards Japan. They always seemed to offer an escape route, not only out of the Japanese language but also the anxious and later war-torn Japanese landscape.

Russian ‘though appears little differently from the surrounding Japanese, it is almost as if as we say with Kobayashi and Kuwabara that Russian forms a new common ground in Japan or as if it were territory claimed for the Japanese language as [kondotuzo] 49:09, a temporarily claimed [iterov] 49:09 as [iterovu] 49:09 ‘though it doesn’t say an outpost of the Japanese empire as in the title slide but it comes in and changes the topography of the Japanese landscape in Tokyo itself. Indeed even though the youth has an English, French and a Japanese translation of The Idiot midway through the novel we can only get the Japanese translation of the book leaving it unmarked unlike the French which always stands again as an escape route, a foreign language leading to a foreign land.

Like Myshkin, Russian literature has come from outside but it has established itself in Japan and acts as a salvific kind of discourse to the militaristic one of the Japanese state. But since like the angelic Myshkin in Dostoevsky’s novel the Russian cannot fully be integrated into Japanese and Japan and keeps getting suppressed. The [flight] 49:55 that the French promises is needed to serve as a counterbalance. French and Russian serve different but interconnected functions in Japanese dissidents’ understanding of themselves and the world during and after the second world war.

So to conclude very quickly modernity in east Asia is often deemed translated modernity. As literary Chinese was displaced as the language of the educated elite a flood of translation of western texts and terms came into Japan and subsequently from there into Korea and China and supplied east Asian intellectuals with a new vocabulary and a new corpus of texts, a canon that was always changing with new translations and new political developments. I think this much is probably pretty uncontroversial.

But it’s not that the west as a grand category displaced literary Chinese, rather different languages fulfil different functions. Nineteenth century Russian literature became so seeped into Japanese as to almost become Japanese. It became an indispensable part of Japanese literary debates, the subject of illusion that was so obvious that it could be grasped by just about any Japanese intellectual and a shared set of authors, ideas and texts that served as a vernacular for Japanese writers and thinkers shattered into various specialities and endowed with different linguistic competencies and indeed with different political allegiances.

It could pull the Japanese writers back into the country even as writing like French pulled them back out. What this reminds us I think is that the world of [unclear] 51:16 literature is not only never given and always created, as we’re probably used to conceding now, but partitioned into the idea of different national literatures, periods and movements, valued for their ability to resist nativisation in the one instance and the value in becoming enmeshed in local dialogues and disputes in the other but always needing each other to have total meaning in their [host] 51:39 culture. Thank you.


K: Thank you, Ryan. We’ve certainly been on a journey today and I have a whole new reading list, there’s a whole world of literature that I have to catch up on. We have time for a few questions so if you would like to ask a question could you please raise your hand and we’ll bring a microphone to you so those who are listening online can hear what your question is. Do we have anyone who would like to kick off or can I pretend I’m Laura Tingle for a moment and take the privilege of the first question? I’m going to do that, I’ve always wanted to be Laura. Ryan, I’m going to go somewhere completely different for you but when we have our researchers come to the Library to do deep research you often come with a list of things that you want to look at and suddenly you find yourself side-tracked and surprised by something that you didn’t expect to find landing on your desk. What was the surprise for you in your 12 weeks here?

R: Thank you. I mean there were many, many different findings and discoveries over the past 12 weeks. I think one of them was interestingly something I didn’t talk about too much today but it was the role of some French intellectuals in this period and they would [bind] 53:05 Japanese and French like in ways that often they weren’t aware of. So for instance with FranceJapon you have Gide and Gide had written on Dostoevsky and Dostoevsky – Gide’s reading of Dostoevsky influences Kobayashi and it influences [Matsuo] and then it subsequently influences Tanabe and Hotta and they don’t all necessarily know that this is the case but they’re all influenced by the same person.

The same is true of [Homeno Lan] 53:33, the pacifist and Nobel Prize Winner who had written extensively on Tolstoy, he is connected both to conservative factions in Japan, he’s connected to [Matsuo] directly and to FranceJapon but also to the proletarian groups that are continuously being supressed and the object of censor by the Japanese state. So I think this fact there were so many French who were actually actively engaged in Japan at this time despite the difficulties in communication, that was something that was very interesting to find.

K: Thank you. Any other questions? We’ve got one down the front here and Matthew will get a microphone.

A: That was fascinating, Ryan. You just mentioned the proletarian literature and I was just thinking in relation to Russian literature which obviously had had a lot of influence beforehand. When there was this resurgence of proletaria kind of literature and thought, was that and how was that, if it was, influenced by what was going on in Russia or Russian literature? Were things being translated to and from? Was there any crossover there because you would imagine that there might be but I mean I don’t know just how much those writers would have had access to Russian equivalent kinds of literature. Would you have any ideas about that?

R: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean I don’t know entirely but let me actually go back to one slide, slide of the books. So with the proletarian movement there - obviously they’re influenced by that earlier reception of 19th century Russian literature of Tolstoy notably but they’re much more engaged with the Soviet Union and you can actually see that in the way that this [Tonka Zena] 55:25 is presented. It’s alluding to the Soviet Union and on the back of this there’s an ad for I think by Lenin or something so you get translations of Lenin, you get translations of Kropotkin, the anarchist and many of these writers try to go to the Soviet Union or they see themselves as active supporters of the Soviet Union. But the most influential at this time on them I would say is probably Lenin from what I’ve seen.

K: Any other questions this afternoon? Well in that case we will wind up for today. Ryan’s research has certainly led him to collections that perhaps we don’t normally associate with the National Library of Australia and if you would like to learn some more about our collections please hop online, look at our guide to collections that’s on our website and see what you might discover. Our website’s also the place where you can go to catch up on fellowship talks that have already happened where you can revisit Ryan’s fellowship talk in a week or two’s time once we get it online and where you will find guides and online resources to help you with your research.

Thank you all for attending today and please join me in thanking Ryan for a really fascinating journey through Japan, Russia and France. Thank you.


Discussions of 20th century Japanese literature are incomplete without considering the reception of modern Russian literature, and considerations of modern Russian literature require discussing the impact of French literature on the Russian Empire’s modernising project.

This fellowship talk, delivered by 2022 National Library of Australia Fellow Dr Ryan Johnson, considers how the entanglement of Russian and French culture appeared in 20th century Japanese literature. Seldom understanding 'French' and 'Russian' in the same sense, Japanese writers constructed competing analogies for how Japanese literature related to the other two.

By working through this dual reception, this talk offers another way of thinking about reception and influence both in modern Japanese literature and world literature generally.

Dr Ryan Johnson is a 2022 National Library of Australia Fellow in Japan Studies, supported by the Harold S. Williams Trust.