Bundan Snark: Writing and Fighting in Modern Japan

Workshop Conference, University of Iowa, May 10-11, 2014

This workshop conference, which will result in an edited volume, will examine key instances in modern Japanese literary history (nineteenth through twenty-first centuries) in which personal arguments changed the face of the literary establishment (bundan) by pushing one author or faction to the periphery in favor of another. Among other questions, we will explore how elegant, scathing authorial attacks, often published in magazines or otherwise aired in public—what we are calling “snark”—affect literary genres and rhetoric. We argue that fights have had as much, if not more, influence in defining Japanese literature as alliances.

Although the term bundan is often taken to have a specific definition, to indicate the control of Japanese letters by various coteries and factions in the prewar period, the word has always been amorphous and continues to be used in a looser sense to indicate the Japanese literary establishment in general. For good reason, we argue: although the Japanese publishing industry is one of the largest in the world, the terms under which one achieves literary recognition—through prizes, book contracts, and other forms--continue to be surprisingly personal. Writers today continue to gain access to publication through contacts with literary circles and the good offices of literary mentors.

Traditional histories of modern Japanese literature have emphasized the groups that have held sway in turn: the aesthetes of the Shirakaba School, the politically engaged rabble-rousers of the proletariat movement, the autobiographical writers of the Third Generation of Postwar Writers, and so on. We seek to restore an understanding of the maelstrom of literary-history-as-it-was-lived by approaching the faults that conventional narrative elides: the moments at which coteries were formed or fell to pieces, literary movements were yet inchoate or recently fallen by the wayside, and individual ambitions collided, sending those involved in separate directions. Time and again, we find, decisions that have serious consequences for the trajectory of culture are based in seemingly petty spats and shallow disagreements between individuals. Some literary fights may be genuinely petty, but our project focuses on disagreements with deeper subtexts, in which political and aesthetic schisms that cannot be voiced openly are papered over with the personal. Snark is a way of approaching individual opinions and voices that are taken for granted or dismissed by standard accounts of larger cultural shifts.

This event is sponsored by the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies (CAPS) at the University of Iowa, with additional funding from the Division of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures (DWLLC). For more information, please contact Kendall Heitzman at kendall-heitzman@uiowa.edu.

All conference sessions will be in University Campus Center (UCC) 2390, the Executive Boardroom, on the second floor of UCC on the north side. UCC is an easy walk from the Sheraton.


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Saturday, May 10th
9:00 AM

Opening Remarks

Kendall Heitzman, University of Iowa

Executive Boardroom at University Campus Center (UCC) 2390

9:00 AM - 9:15 AM

9:15 AM

Panel 1

Alejandro Morales Rama, Sophia University
Susanna Fessler, State University of New York - Albany
Alisa Freedman, University of Oregon

Executive Boardroom at University Campus Center (UCC) 2390

9:15 AM - 11:15 AM

12:45 PM

Panel 2

Jeff E. Long, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania
Sarah Frederick, Boston University
Koji Toba, Waseda University

Executive Boardroom at University Campus Center (UCC) 2390

12:45 PM - 2:45 PM

3:15 PM

Panel 3

Kendall Heitzman, University of Iowa
Nick Kapur, Harvard University
Kyle Ikeda, University of Vermont

Executive Boardroom at University Campus Center (UCC) 2390

3:15 PM - 5:15 PM

Sunday, May 11th
10:00 AM

Working Brunch

Open to Participants Only

Executive Boardroom at University Campus Center (UCC) 2390

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM