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East Asian Humanities Workshop: "An Oriental Writes Back: Mori Ōgai's 'Maihime'" By Professor Jim Reichert

Speaker
Dr. Jim Reichert
Date
Thu May 30th 2024, 4:30 - 6:00pm
Event Sponsor
East Asian Humanities Workshop
Location
East Asia Library, Room 224
Jim Reichert

Please join us for our final session of the East Asian Humanities Workshop for the 2023-2024 academic year! We are excited to invite Professor Jim Reichert, Professor of Japanese Literature from Stanford's Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures to be our closing speaker for spring quarter, 2024! Our discussant for the event will be Yan Chang (EALC PhD, Modern Japanese Literature).  

The event will take place on Thursday, May 30th, 2024, from 4:30-6:00pm in room 224 in the East Asia Library. Following the book talk, we will also be hosting a dinner for all attendees in Knight 102. If you plan on attending, please RSVP by Friday, May 24th.  

 

An Oriental Writes Back: Mori Ōgai's "Maihime"

by Jim Reichert   

Abstract: 

Mori Ōgai's 1890 short story "Maihime" occupies a central position in the canon of modern Japanese literature. It is hailed as a revolutionary work, a representative example of the Japanese romantic movement, and an early harbinger of the I-novel. Critics, both then and now, have marveled at the astounding assurance with which the author seemingly constructed out of whole cloth an effortlessly coherent and emotionally compelling first-person retrospective narrative that recounts the experiences of a young Japanese exchange student in Berlin. At the center of this tale is the protagonist's affair with a young German girl, whom he eventually abandons in order to regain his status back in Japan.

I argue that the narrative can be read as a complex rejoinder to the type of Orientalist narratives that were flooding the markets in the late 19th century. It is especially resonant with Pierre Loti's Madame Chrysanthème, which was one of the best-selling French novels of 1887 and a sensation across Europe. Ōgai himself was stationed in Germany from 1884 until the end of 1888. A voracious reader and consumer of culture, he was undoubtedly aware of Loti's condescending portrait of Japan. I propose, however, that "Maihime" accomplishes far more than simply reversing the Orientalist formula of Loti's novel. Rather, through its content and structure it critiques the limitations and emotional poverty of this way of narrativizing cross-cultural encounters.

 

Professor Reichert is an associate professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Stanford University. His area of specialization is modern Japanese literature, particularly Meiji-Taishô literature. He has written on representations of male-male sexuality in Meiji-era literature, silent Japanese film, 19th-century illustrated books, newspaper novels, and the role of fetishism in the writing of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō. His work has also examined the treatment of male sexuality found in such works as Okamoto Kisen's Sawamura Tanosuke akebono zôshi (1880), Yamada Bimyô's Shintaishika wakashu sugata (1886), Natsume Sôseki's Nowaki (1907) and Mori Ogai's Vita Sexualis (1909). Professor Reichert has recently been wrapping up work on his forthcoming monograph.