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Yeats and the art of ancestral recall : twilight, modernity, and Irish-Japanese interculturality Somers, Seán Gary Adam


This dissertation examines the processes through which the works of W. B. Yeats, as representative of Irish folklore generally, became absorbed into Japanese modernism. The Celtic Twilight, as one example, had enormous appeal to Japanese literary figures, including Akutagawa Ryûnosuke, Yanagita Kunio, and Tanizaki Jun'ichirô, particularly in his famed essay, In 'ei raison [In Praise of Shadows]. Such authors were intrigued by Yeats's evocations of the ancestral as a phantasmal resonance through which cultural memories, and social histories, could be accessed and questioned. Overall, the notion of Keruto [the Celt] to the Japanese imagination provided alternative case studies of European-ness, ones that challenged developing prejudices in Japan at that time. Gaelic languages and cultures, geographically and sociologically marginal, embodied the tensions between an ancestral past and a non-descript fliture in a provocative way. Yeats's poetry and prose, exploring this growing fissure in modernity, made frequent use of what Marilyn Ivy terms the discourses of the vanishing. And, such ancestral vanishings, recognisable in many Japanese texts as both poetic allegory and social reality, draw much of their conceptualization from Irish examples. Previous readings of Yeats's connections to Japan have focused on a sense of his bungling reinvention of no drama: an Orientalist example of mishandled Asian-European unidirectional discourse. However, by considering the intercultural dialogue taking place, I wish to offer more complex readings, ones that account for the enormous scholarly activity between Ireland and Japan at that time. Yeats's no (a term he rarely used himself) can best be understood in comparison to his Japanese contemporaries. For example, Yeats's drama, in terms of style and content, influenced the works of Izumi Kyôka's neo-nô [kindai no]. As in Yeats, the ancestral is invoked, and interrogated, through the chronotopic performance of neo-nô. Cultural memory, engaged through performative necromancy, becomes a dynamic twilight [tasogare], through which recovery and re-narratavisation is possible. I contend throughout that a fresh sense of a shared world literature between Ireland and Japan was not the result of isolated translations, nor Orientalist/Occidentalist dabblings. Intercultural artistic networks consciously developed between scholars and poets, ones that facilitated the exchange of knowledge during an historical period of rapid transition. At stake for Ireland and Japan were contentious, problematic issues. These include the construction of cultural identity, the ethics of translation, anachronism as strategy, and the crisis of heritage in the face of modernisation. Intercultural textuality, however, provided a method for investigating the dissolution of cultural memory into the nebulous, vanishing traces of the ancestral twilight.

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