Lost in a World of Books: Reading and Identity in Pre-War Japan
Article first published online: 27 JUN 2007
Volume 4, Issue 4, pages 1183–1207, July 2007
How to Cite
Townsend, S. C. (2007), Lost in a World of Books: Reading and Identity in Pre-War Japan. Literature Compass, 4: 1183–1207. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00479.x
- Issue published online: 27 JUN 2007
- Article first published online: 27 JUN 2007
- Literature Compass 4/4 (2007): 1183–1207, 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00479.x
This paper forms part of a Literature Compass cluster on Modern Book History. The full cluster is made up of the following articles:
‘Between Then and Now: Modern Book History’, Kate Longworth, Literature Compass 4 (2007), 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00474.x.
‘Ezra Pound's Cantos: A Compact History of Twentieth-Century Authorship, Publishing and Editing’, Mark Byron, Literature Compass 4 (2007), 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00475.x.
‘ “The Making of the Book”: Roy Fisher, the Circle Press and the Poetics of Book Art’, Matthew Sperling, Literature Compass 4 (2007), 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00476.x.
‘Bakhtinian “Journalization” and the Mid-Victorian Literary Marketplace’, Dallas Liddle, Literature Compass 4 (2007), 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00477.x.
‘Manuscript in Print: The Materiality of Alternative Comics’, Emma Tinker, Literature Compass 4 (2007), 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00478.x.
‘Lost in a World of Books: Reading and Identity in Pre-War Japan’, Susan C. Townsend, Literature Compass 4 (2007), 10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00479.x.
This article considers the rapidly changing readership patterns in Japan during the late Meiji (1868–1912) and particularly the Taishō (1912–26) period, generally considered a brief interlude of cultural flowing and democratic promise. Paramount among the evidence is the autobiography of the Japanese philosopher Miki Kiyoshi (1897–1945), also an important source for historians of so-called ‘Taishō democracy’. Miki's Wanderings through the World of Books (Dokusho Henreki), published in 1941, documents the social, cultural and political impact of Russian and Western European literature and philosophy upon a select and privileged group of young Japanese men and women born around the 1890s. Miki's lesser known, posthumously published confessional The Unspoken Philosophy (Katararezaru Tetsugaku) (1919), however, reveals the full emotional impact of Japan's encounter with foreign culture. Other essays and commentaries which Miki published in the mid-1930s provide clues to the question of why the ‘Taishō generation’ failed to stem the rising tide of militarism in the 1930s. Through a detailed consideration of my translations of these Japanese texts, I argue that the acute anxiety and identity crisis which Miki's generation experienced before the Pacific War was a symptom of their immersion in and internalisation of Western European thought and culture.