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Old 08-06-2019, 08:18 PM   #3
astrangerhere
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Historical and Cultural Context

As asked by issy, here is a very nerdly bit of context, working backwards, for Soseki, his works, and the Japan he was writing in:

I Am a Cat was written in 1905-06 when Soseki was a teacher of English at First National College and English Literature at Tokyo Imperial University. This was his first novel and his first full-time university post in Tokyo.

He studied English in the UK before he became a professor and would have seen and experienced firsthand the clash between Western and Eastern cultures. In 1900 he was sent to England by the Ministry of Education, “to investigate English language pedagogical methods”. This was part of the Meiji restoration that opened Japan to the rest of the world.

Japan was not open to the West at all until 1868, which was one year after Soseki was born. His writing is essentially a lifelong study in culture shock as viewed through a very Eastern mind.

I don't have time to delve into the religious and social systems that would have informed Soseki's life. Sufficed to say, I imagine him going to the UK to study would have felt like an Amish farmer going to LA. In spite of it, he fell in love with the literature of the West, if not the people. His later work is almost always compared favorably with Henry James.

As for I Am a Cat, Soseki scholars view this as a first-time experiment with the unreliable narrator. This is a concept that would not have appeared in Japanese literature in any real ways outside of folk tales. Kawana Sari argues in The Journal of Modern Literature that this novel was the first step towards a signature of Japanese literature - the interior narrative. Much of modern Japanese literature is introspective, first-person, and of varying reliability.

I am sad that many of you don't seem to be enjoying the novel, but I can understand why. I think if I had started with some of the "old" masters of Japanese literature when I first became interested in the language that I would have hit a wall. But I've read a wide range now in both English and Japanese and enjoy seeing the cultural revolutions through the generations of literature.

Last edited by astrangerhere; 08-06-2019 at 09:48 PM.
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