Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Ki-Sho-Ten-Ketsu: Western Novel Comparison?

On the question during lecture about whether any Western novels display similarities to the ki-sho-ten-ketsu form, and whether Joyce's Ulysses qualifies:
  • At the time, my mind went blank in regards to comparative book, a consequence of my deliberate discipline of maintaining a solid mental firewall during our class against any Western analogues to Japanese patterns of thought, principles of æsthetics, or cultural forms. Out of class, however, I quickly recalled that Proust's A la Recherche de Temps Perdu, which I had read as an undergraduate, came to my mind as was first reading Genji some years ago. Indeed, if you think about the ki-sho-ten-ketsu literary form, as I detailed it in lecture, in contradistinction to Western forms, and should you be familiar with Proust, you will realise that his great work's wide reputation for meandering, indirection and shapelessness matches the formal character of Genji. Alas for my posterity, I have since discovered that my elders have already made very much this same discovery ....
  • The suggestion of Joyce's Ulysses was a creditable attempt, especially off-the-cuff. However, as I affirmed at the time, Joyce is almost the anti-Shikibu & Ulysses almost the anti-Genji. Ulysses is determinedly the most Western of all stolid Western attempts by a Western writer to resolutely write a Western novel that encapuslates all Western novel-ness. Joyce's book -- & even more so his ultimate work Finnegans Wake -- unabashedly demands that the reader bring as much knowledge of Western history, culture & literature as possible to the text. (Indeed, even the non-Western elements in Joyce are the kind of "knowledge" that a parochial Westerner has of the non-West.) In other words, Ulysses & Finnegans Wake alike are excessively "writer-responsible" (vide John Hinds, 1987) surpassed only by William Blake's impenetrable Prophetic Books - Blake being the ne plus ultra of writer-responsible authors. Lack of understanding of Joyce, then, is considered by Jocyeans (& certainly by Joyce) a failure of the reader.

I will deal in a seperate post with the nature of ki-sho-ten-ketsu in literary applications, and in terms of its "reader-responsible" nature.


Maja B. said...

Ulysses...unabashedly demands that the reader bring as much knowledge of Western history, culture & literature as possible to the text.

since when is this synonymous with "writer-responsible"?

Dr. S.A. Ogden said...

I could be misunderstanding the nomenclature: I know them from their quotations rather them Hinds' original article. I'll read that tomorrow & follow up here.

My point on its own terms is that ki-sho-ten-ketsu places the responsibility of meaning and, indeed, of the entire literary experience on the reader. The writer is not responsible for a fixed response on content, sign-to-signifier recognition, or, again, meaning. There will, however, be a shared æsthetic framwork.
In Joyce, & modernism generally, the writer's responsibility -- and in fact the measure of his worth as an artist -- is in how much he can precisely encode into his text. The reader does not have the responsibility of creation (or, pace Coleridge, sub-creation) or, in a primary sense, organisation.
But, as I say, I may have Hinds' terms wrongly understood: I'll check & reply.