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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Editors' intentions and authors' desires : how junbungaku affects the Akutagawa Prize and Japan's commercial literary world El-Khoury, Masumi Abe


In this thesis I explore the current literary culture of Japan by examining the commercialization and politicization of junbungaku, “pure” literature. In particular, I focus on the most prominent award for new authors, the Akutagawa Prize, which is widely acknowledged as authoritative. My intention is to shed some useful light on the role of publishing company editors as the masterminds of the publishing industry. Chapter One provides an overview of issues surrounding junbungaku and taishū bungaku (“mass-oriented literature”). At present, junbungaku is defined in opposition to taishū bungaku, but ambiguities and boundary issues remain. This survey will enable us to identify the situations where the notion of junbungaku is defended as authoritative and how its relationship with the Akutagawa Prize increases its legitimacy. Chapter Two examines the origin and history of junbungaku, and discusses how the notion has changed over time. I also address questions such as what junbungaku is and how it can be defined, and uncover how junbungaku came under question as the Akutagawa Prize became more successful and began to overshadow junbungaku itself. The ultimate purpose of the Prize is to sell books and magazines; this affects not only literature but to some extent Japanese society as a whole. Chapter Three therefore deals with the Akutagawa Prize and junbungaku as a business. I examine the “Akutagawa Prize industry” led by the editors and Bungeishunju Ltd., including the nomination, selection, and announcement processes; distribution and sales; winning works; and judging. I analyze the process from the viewpoint of the publishing houses and editors. Finally, in the Conclusion I argue that the Akutagawa Prize endangers the very concept of pure literature by tying it to a commercial enterprise, compromising writers by making them dependent upon the financial goals of a corporation, which trains a reading public conditioned to accept the Prize as authoritative to receive the work in particular ways through the process of commercialization and commodification. As a result, “amateurization” is inevitable. I also examine the implications of this project for future research on Japanese literature and on the intersections of Japanese literary culture and commercial literary awards.

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