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Japan's "last man" : overcoming a "crisis of ideas" Polakoff, Gregory Ivan

Abstract

Due to Mori Ogai's importance not only as a writer, but as one of Japan's leading medical researchers and cultural critics, his works have always been under the scrutiny of scholars. This is especially true with respect to the fiction composed during a short segment of his career-from 1909 to 1912-which Richard Bowring has labelled Mori Ogai's "literature of ideas." Ogai's "literature of ideas" depicts an enormous and heterogeneous array of ideas from a variety of humanistic and scientific disciplines, and is expressed in a variety of genres and literary styles. They represent Mori Ogai's keen interest in a variety of Western literary and philosophical discourses, such as Naturalism, the Bildungsroman, and the cultural criticism of such thinkers as Nietzsche and Ibsen. Although the importance of Mori Ogai's reception of Friedrich Nietzsche's ideas has been discussed to a limited degree in several studies, I intend to demonstrate that Nietzsche's ideas actually constitute a significant influence on the manner in which Ogai fine-tuned the structure, style, and content of his "literature of ideas." I believe that Ogai's "literature of ideas" is a definitive response to its author's disapproval of the outright "imitation" of Western ideas, which he perceived dominated Japan's modernization process. In addition, he was very wary of the consequences of imitating a discourse which he believed was characterized by a paradoxical union of optimistic and nihilistic ideologies. Although Mori Ogai expressed envy at the progress-oriented nature of Western ideas and the philosophies of inspiring and forward-looking thinkers such as Plato and Goethe, he was also deeply disturbed by the gradual manifestation of pessimistic thought subsequent to the Renaissance-a phenomenon which he feared could be replicated in Japan. I will argue that Nietzsche's notion of continuous self-development as depicted in Zarathustra is at the core of Ogai's "literature of ideas," the primary purpose of which is to depict Ogai's anxiety about Japan's modernization, and to posit a perspective which might help the Japanese intelligentsia to "overcome" the many obstacles which Ogai perceived as inherent components in this process.

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