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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Makino Shinichi, Sakaguchi Ango, and Oda Sakunosuke: Modern Japanese Literature as a Joke

  • Author(s): Fargo, Matthew Thomas
  • Advisor(s): Tansman, Alan M
  • et al.

This paper undertakes a survey the creation and reception of Japanese comedic literature in the period leading up to World War 2. Much of the analysis is conducted through the lens of Henri Bergson, and explores the power dynamics of humor. Particular attention is paid to the ways that writers during this period made literature itself the object of their comedies. In the process of scrutinizing how a medium like writing can make light of itself, the essay also examines how critical analysis of humor can be turned into its own form of comedy. The work of Japanese folk scholar Yanagita Kunio is central to this discussion, both because his research into the roots of Japanese humor provides some of the earliest work on the subject, and also because it serves as an exemplary piece of work that is self conscious of the ways that comedy refuses serious analysis.

By focusing on a distinctly anti-establishment coterie of authors, known as the burai-ha, or "ne'er do well" school, issues of canonization are brought into question. This leads to a discussing of how humorous literature can pose a threat to the very idea of serious literature, and the role of literary critics. Particular attention is paid to historical context, and the militarization of Japan as a background for these authors' parodies.

The analyses of these texts also involves a great deal of critical introspection on the part of the author, as questions arise about how to justly approach a text whose sole wish seems to be to avoid seriously analysis. Finally, the role of translation in conveying humor between different languages and eras is illuminated, in order to echo how the texts themselves are problematizing the analysis of humorous literature. Ultimately, the paper aspires to be an embodiment of the sort of critical approach to humor to which its texts allude.

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