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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An artless art : fiction and reality in the work of Shiga Naoya Starrs, Roy


This thesis offers a critical analysis of the work of Shiga Naoya, one of the major creative writers of modern Japan. Shiga is presented primarily as the author of shi- shosetsu ("I-novels"), a distinctively Japanese genre that combines elements of fiction and autobiography. This "blurring" of the lines between fiction and non-fiction is shown to have been particularly disturbing to certain Western critics, and the present thesis attempts to answer these critics, first, by showing the solid basis of the shi-shosetsu in the Japanese literary tradition; second, by showing how the mixture of fiction and reality is an integral part of Shiga's art on both a technical and a thematic level; and, third, by pointing out the parallels to Shiga's practise in some recent literary trends of the West itself. In Chapter 1, Shiga's first published story, "Aru Asa" ("One Morning"), is used as an example of the shi-shosetsu in its simplest and barest form, and thus as an example of everything that certain Western critics dislike about this genre. Some of them, for instance, have accused the story of "triviality". In answer to this charge, I have shown how Shiga, by virtue of his masterful style and his depth of psychological insight, manages to turn even seemingly insignificant material into significant literature. "Aru Asa", in fact, already contains in microcosm the central problem to be explored throughout Shiga's most important later works: namely, the conflict between the protagonist's desire for individual freedom and self-expression on the one hand and, on the other, his longing for peace of mind and communion with others. The solution which Shiga eventually offered to this "problem of the ego" is first adumbrated in the story I consider in Chapter 2, "Kinosaki ni te" (At Kinosaki"). Here the protagonist receives a profound shock to his sense of self— a near fatal accident--but also is given some intimation of the way to ultimate psychic health: through self-surrender and union with nature. On the principle that the best way to define something is often by contrast with its opposite, I have also compared this work with a Tolstoy story, "Three Deaths", in order to bring out more clearly the special qualities of the shi-shosetsu. In the story I deal with in Chapter 3, "Takibi" ("Bonfire the Shiga protagonist is seen to have already attained some degree of union with nature. The narrative progression of the story, in fact, consists simply of a steady deepening of this lyrical, idyllic mood. To show that there are some analogies to Shiga's "naturally plotted" stories in the recent West, I compare "Takibi" with a Hemingway story, "Big Two-Hearted River". I also point out that the affinity between the two authors' use of imagery as "objective correlative" is by no means coincidental, in view of the influence of Japanese poetry on Hemingway through Ezra Pound and the Imagists. In the fourth and final chapter I deal with An'ya Koro (A Dark Night's Passing), which I regard as the culmination of Shiga's art on both a thematic and a technical level. In this work Shiga himself comes to grips with the essential nature of the shi-shosetsu, including the fiction/reality dialectic that is the crucial problem at its core, and it is here also that he relates this technical issue with the thematic issue I see as central to his work: the protagonist's longing for spiritual liberation. In An'ya Koro, in other words, the problem of the man and the problem of the writer some to be seen as ultimately the same problem, and in a way that could obtain only when the man is a writer of shi-shosetsu. I conclude my discussion with what, in my view, Shiga has to offer to the Western reader, as well as an appraisal of what I consider to be the improved climate for the reception of his work in the West.

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