UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The deep music of tradition in the works of Kōda Rohan Cleary, Richard James


Rising to prominence on a wave of nationalistic reaction to two decades of intense Western influence, Koda Rohan (1867-1947) re-discovered the Japanese past in the form of the Genroku period (1688-1703) poets Saikaku and Basho, and led the way to a literary flowering in the 1890's. As this bloom faded and the tides of modernization continued to rise capturing literary circles in its currents, Rohan placed himself against the flow, dedicated to the vital task of preserving the values of the East Asian tradition. It is for this reason his work is valuable today: in his writing the voice of tradition speaks with great depth, breadth and beauty. This thesis explores the character of Rohan's writing by examining three of his novels. In the first work considered the focus is on the iridividual. The second treats the individual within the framework of society. The last is concerned with the shared cultural experience known as history. The introduction attempts to place the writer and his work in historical perspective. In recognition that the life was admired as much as the creations of his pen, the first chapter is a biographical sketch. Chapter Two suggests an approach to the writing itself, noting salient points of style, influences, and development. Attention is focused on Rohan's use of traditional poetic devices, the commanding rhythm of his prose, and the underlying qualities of his narrative voice. Analyzing thematic and stylistic features, the third, fourth, and fifth;.chapters treat three representative works of fiction. Chapter Three deals with Taidokuro ("Encounter With A Skull"), an early work. The analysis shows how classical forms and materials were employed in an innovative, powerful, and, at times, humorous fashion in a piece of writing dealing with the problem of attachment and suffering due to human passion. In Chapter Four the discussion of Goju no To ("The Five-Storied Pagoda"), the work which won Rohan an enduring reputation, centers around its portrayal of the energies of the individual and society in opposition. In bold, vigorous language the novel dramatizes the conflicting ideals of individual aspiration and social harmony, while suggesting a resolution represented by the balance and majesty of the pagoda. Chapter Five examines Rohan's view of history as expressed in his novel Renkanki ("Record of Linked Rings"). A late work, it is constructed with a series of biographical portraits of historical figures in tenth-century Heian Japan. Rohan's regeneration of the past reveals his vision of the fabric of history as woven by the threads of karma and recorded in the songs of poets. The conclusion is devoted to observations on difficulties in reappraising Rohan's work and reflections on his place in the history of Japanese literature.

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