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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The man in the chair : the plot twist as literary fetish in early Edogawa Ranpo Klafka, Katarina Lacy


In the history of crime-and-mystery fiction in Japan, few are as influential as Edogawa Ranpo (1894-1965). Despite this, Ranpo is often left out of discussions on crime-and-mystery fiction as a global genre; further, when he is discussed, his more orthodox detective fiction tends to be the focus of study. By examining four of Ranpo’s non/pseudo-detective early narratives, this thesis seeks to expand and nuance academic understanding of his significance in both the broader context of crime-and-mystery fiction and that of late Taishō (1912-1926) and early Shōwa (1926-1989) Japan. In critiquing tendencies to sum up Ranpo as an Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) facsimile, I propose innovation as a mediating factor between the analytic categories of “imitation” and “inspiration.” Exploring Ranpo’s sociohistorical background and positioning him within the nascence of ero-guro nansensu (“erotic-grotesque nonsense”), I elucidate how Ranpo at once influenced and was influenced by ero-guro sensibilities. Most crucially, I consolidate the concept of the literary fetish. Drawing on previous academic theorizations of the fetish, which position its critical aspect as an implicit, paradoxical, and inherently epistemological duality—the simultaneous recognition and disavowal of knowledge—I reformulate the fetish as a narrative device, arguing that, in these four stories, Ranpo elevates the plot twist to a literary fetish. Sensational and often sensual, the plot twists of these narratives occupy the climactic position in their narratives, and the climax they express cannot be satisfactorily resolved. Instead, the plot twist foregrounds questions of subjectivity, reality, and Truth, speaking to ero-guro sensibilities and to Ranpo’s contemporary sociopolitical flux. It is through intertextual analysis of Ranpo and Poe’s respective plot twists that I address their complicated history of identification, ultimately locating in those twists the strongest case for Ranpo’s distinction from Poe. And it is through intertextual analysis of Ranpo’s own works, and close examination of his plot twists, that I suggest narratives like these—which I term “mystery-plays” for the way that they play with mystery—most seductively encourage his readers to think critically of what they have read, of their world, and of themselves.

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