The Corporate Anonymous: Media-Based Authorship, Social Networks, and Reader Reception in the Meiji Period

Paper presented at Histories of the Japanese Book: Past Present Future, 2013

Today I will address the production and reception of literature in the Meiji period, in the specific context of coterie and literary journals. My focus is on the performance of authorship within the medium of the magazine – a kind of monthly anthology that juxtaposes a wide variety of writing and other media with each other by virtue of its publication style. I am also interested in the collective space formed by magazines, which facilitated experimental writing and attribution of works in addition to creating a holistic identity for the publication itself. I argue that this holistic identity functioned as a kind of author that bound the individually written pieces together, and indeed, the identities that magazines implicitly and explicitly projected to readers were responded to as such. These, then, were corporate wholes formed by, but not limited to, the individual authorial performances and texts that filled their pages; they were implicit endeavors of collective authorship. Moreover, they encouraged a media-based response to authorship and writing, wherein readers and critics responded to the place of texts within the magazine itself, their physical presence alongside each other. In this presentation, I will explore through several case studies the holistic identities of publications, the influence that this had on readers and critics who responded to both the magazines as wholes as well as the texts published within them, and finally the performance of authorship within magazines, which I argue was profoundly located in the physical medium of the magazine itself and inseparable from its place there. I will examine stated journal intentions, practices of authorship, and reader reception of the magazines and works found therein, engaging them from the perspective of the study of multiple, collective, and social authorship, countering the idea of the singular, Romantic genius author that came to be pervasive from this period on.

The Meiji period saw an explosion in the number and kind of magazines available to readers, thanks in part to the advent of large-scale movable type and a national postal system, ranging from political and economic journals to literary and coterie publications. In particular, literary magazines of all types made an effort to characterize themselves as corporate wholes, publishing mission statements that were often signed collectively or not at all, thus creating a kind of corporate anonymous voice in the publication itself. Moreover, these journals were social spaces, delineating their memberships explicitly and implicitly, and the authorship of pieces found therein is inseparable from those social group identities. One, Garakuta bunko, even made public a membership roster of its associated coterie, Ken’yūsha, including addresses grounded in physical space that were associated with fictional pen names, and delineated how each member was introduced to the group – thus further emphasizing its social network.

Yet it was not necessary for magazines to publish rosters, for they spoke with a collective voice simply by virtue of listing the pseudonyms – or lack thereof – of each writer publishing within a given issue, creating a collective authorial identity for the publication out of the publication of those names. Some went farther and, as Shigarami zōshi did in its first issue, published statements of purpose under the collective pseudonym of all of the writers associated with the given coterie and thus journal itself. In this case, Shigarami zōshi’s first issue carried a mission statement signed S.S.S., or “Shinseisha,” literally “the society of the new voice.” This statement can be interpreted as being written by everyone or by no one; it is what I call the corporate anonymous, the voice of the publication that subsumes the voices of individual writers under a group name, one that is made up of, but more than, the sum of its parts. For here S.S.S. functions as a kind of author in itself, a collective author that speaks for the publication and thus every text that appears within its pages. Shinseisha deliberately uses the word “character” in the title of its preface as a prelude for the issues that will come after, setting up the publication as a site of collective writing with a distinctive “author” resulting from the writers’ efforts in Shigarami zōshi itself, and is careful to portray itself as an organization literally speaking in one voice as S. S. S. It doesn’t list its membership in a roster, nor does it specify its leaders, when articulating the “character” of its magazine. In its portrayal of itself, it is truly an anonymous collective, one in which individual identity may be less important than contributing to the group oeuvre. Shigarami zōshi, then, is a place in which Shinseisha members publish, but more importantly, is a constantly developing, yet cohesive, body of work that they create together at this site of collective authorship. And in fact, S.S.S. was used as an authorial name even outside of this coterie journal: the journal was started with funds earned from the publication of the collective poetry translation project, “Omokage,” which was signed not with the individual authorial names of the writers who contributed to the translation, but rather with S.S.S. itself – a corporate author, both identifiable as an entity, and at the same time anonymous in its hesitance to specify the individual names that make it up.

I’d also like to address magazines that carried anonymous statements of intention, which I think are very similar in effect to the Shigarami zōshi piece regardless of the fact that they are not signed, or are signed by a single editor. It is common to see statements signed by the main editor or editors of the publication, and they serve as representatives of a larger, unarticulated group, conveying a consensus to the reader with the implication that those producing the publication are behind it. These truly testify to the corporate anonymous character of magazines, and again, I characterize them as being written by everyone and no one. They are statements of identity that give a layer of intellectual and social meaning to every text published within the magazine, especially in the first issues that carried such statements, but also in every issue that follows – and their meanings are, in turn, influenced by the entire body of works that the magazine builds up for itself over time in past issues. This combination of statements of purpose, listings of authorial performances within the magazine, reader response in a variety of venues, and a kind of oeuvre for the magazine itself create a rich context of meaning for the texts therein. This includes not only their meanings as works of literature, but also what it means to publish them in that specific venue, their meanings as informed by what is published next to and before them in space and in time, and what it means to perform authorship within this specific intellectual and social space.

One interesting case of both authorial performance and a magazine’s identity is the first issue of Miyako no hana, which carries a statement of purpose written by the editor of the magazine, writing under Kōtei Senjin, speaking for the publication as a whole, as its representative. This same editor publishes within the first issue under another pseudonym, Meikasei, and in the publication information for the magazine, is listed as its official editor under yet another name, his legal name, Nakane Kiyoshi. It demonstrates that the magazine was a flexible space for the performance of identity, and the importance of name as associated with different roles. This same individual could write as the editor – the spokesman – of the magazine with one pseudonym, as a literary author participating in its collective space of pseudonyms using yet another, and also be held legally accountable for the magazine’s publication using his legal name for purposes of copyright and censorship – his identity vis a vis the government and legal infrastructure of Meiji Japan. Although the same historical individual is behind each of these names, there is nothing connecting them explicitly in the magazine, and readers would not necessarily have known that they were all identities being performed by the same writer. This implied lack of division between the editorial office and literary contributors suggests a close relationship among those whose task it is to produce the magazine and those who produce its “content.” With Kōtei speaking for the magazine as a literary writer and also contributing under yet another pseudonym, it is no stretch to see him speaking for the other contributors here as well: he both belongs to this group and presumably selects who and what will be a part of it. Kōtei is a representative of the collective endeavor of Miyako no hana, literally both the editor and a literary writer in the same editorial introduction to the fundamental aims and character of the magazine.

This corporative anonymous provided spaces in which writers could experiment with dynamic practices of writing and authorship, including collective writing, anonymous publication, and the use of multiple and various pseudonyms with which they signed their works. We have already seen that the editor of Miyako no hana did this but one writer in particular, Kitamura Tōkoku, made use of this collective space in order to publish under multiple pseudonyms within individual issues of his coterie magazine, Bungakkai. Even after his death his colleagues published his works posthumously under different pseudonyms within the same issue. Bungakkai also made room for anonymous publication, under the specific name of “Mumei-shi,” or “Mr. No-name.” This is different from a piece simply published without any attribution at all, for it allows for Mr. No-name to gradually build a body of works within that publication and develop a kind of personality for himself as an authorial performance, regardless of whether a single writer or multiple writers were behind the name. Without this explicit attribution, published alongside other pieces as though it were a pseudonym in itself, we would return to the voice of the publication itself, speaking as a collective whole when publishing unattributed pieces such as editorials or reviews, which often did not carry an authorial name at all. At the same time, I don’t want to imply that anonymous writing went completely unquestioned: weirdly, a review in Kokumin no tomo signed “Mr. Anonymous” (Tokumei-shi) spends a significant proportion of its time attempting to tease out the identity of X.Y.Z., the anonymous author of the novel being reviewed, finally deciding on Maruoka Kyūka. Thus, we can see that anonymous writing was both relatively common and yet also questioned at this time, and reviews were still interested in putting a concrete identity to the author regardless of how the work was signed.

Yet putting a concrete identity on the author often involved, rather than a focus on the individual writer, identifying the venue of publication as the primary source of responsibility for the work. Reception of these magazines, just like their authorship, was corporate: they were reviewed as wholes, and their texts reviewed specifically in the context of both the magazine and each other. Responses covered the character of journals as well as included comparative evaluations of the works found within their covers. Of course, some magazine issues begged to be responded to comparatively – one in particular is the literary magazine Bungei kurabu’s famous women’s issue, which was responded to in the Bungakkai journal comparatively. But this issue is special in that it resembles a kind of cohesive anthology with an identifiable topic and genre, that of women’s writing, and it’s understandable even from our perspective today that it could be responded to as a whole whose pieces and writers ought to be compared with each other. Yet this is not the only comparative review of works found within Bungei kurabu; both Bungakkai and the magazine Kokumin no tomo reviewed this publication’s works comparatively despite any lack of cohesion, thematically or otherwise, among them. Rather, the works here are seen as properly contextualized under the umbrella of the publication itself, and their reviews ought to be based in where they were physically published. In fact, the review columns in these magazines were entitled shinbun zasshi, or “newspapers and magazines,” rather than “reviews” – demonstrating the focus that these publications had on the physical medium of the works rather than the works as reified texts themselves, or even texts properly attributed to an individual writer first and foremost.

The literary journal Mesamashigusa even went as far as to place reviews next to each other of works that originally appeared next to each other in their original magazine publication, remarking on that fact as though their physical proximity were of importance to understanding or judging the works themselves as successful or unsuccessful attempts at literature. Even a review of the first edition of Higuchi Ichiyō’s complete works, a standalone anthology, identifies on the placement of stories in it: Mesamashigusa’s review of “Nigorie” begins with a note that it comes first in the anthology, as though that is a particularly relevant piece of information for readers to have. But the physical medium of the work is not limited to placement for Mesamashigusa reviewers: in a review of the story "Meian," they end by wrapping up their judgment of it by referring to its format as a serial, and remarking that that specific literary form is a shortcoming. The story, they conclude, simply doesn’t hang together, and it’s specifically because of its publication in the form of a serial. This implies that if we read a later reprint of the work that combined it into a whole, we may not fully understand why the work is unsuccessful; it is only by reading it in its original format as a fragmented piece that we can comprehend its lack of cohesion and understand why this shortcoming defines its style and form.

There were, of course, reviews of individual works in Meiji publications as well, but even these refer first to the place of publication as essential context, and to the author second – a strategy that may seem foreign to us now. Two reviews of works by Ozaki Kōyō, the leader of Ken’yūsha – the publisher of Garakuta bunko – demonstrate the importance of the medium of publication as well as the overarching identity of the publication in which they appeared. The critic now known as Ishibashi Ningetsu first addresses the work “Fūryū kyō ningyō” first as appearing in the pages of Bunko, the successor to Garakuta bunko, and then goes on to identify Kōyō as the leader of Ken’yūsha – inextricably associated with that magazine by virtue of the coterie’s responsibility for its publication. Thus, Kōyō and his work are contextualized primarily as belonging to a specific magazine with a particular identity as that belonging to Ken’yūsha – itself a group with a cohesive authorial identity, associated with writing that hearkened to the Edo period and Genroku in particular. The importance of “Fūryū kyō ningyō’s” medium does not stop here, however; Ningestu is overall quite critical of this piece, and one specific criticism is that a passage of dialogue spanned multiple issues of Bunko. This criticism of a presumably ridiculously lengthy dialogue demands reader knowledge of the work’s form as a serial, and also of the size of Bunko and the typical length of a serial that would appear within it. Reading a later reprint of “Fūryū kyō ningyō” that binds it as a single, whole work would make this critic’s review significantly more difficult to understand, even if the reader could retrospectively identify long passages of dialogue as potential points of criticism for Ningetsu. For him, the physical form of the work as a serial, and its place in the pages of Bunko as a specific publication with a specific personality and affiliation, are of great importance to judging the work itself.

This is not limited to his review of Kōyō’s work that appeared in a coterie magazine that might be expected to have its own distinctive character; Ningetsu, later in the same year, reviewed “Irozange,” the work that launched Kōyō’s career, and which was the first volume in the series of short novels, Shincho hyakushū. Ningetsu spends the entire first section of his review introducing readers to the series, including its format right down to its size and physical characteristics – it’s several times the length of Kokumin no tomo, where this review was published, and had fine covers and gold lettering. Thus, we can see that this series has a prestigious air, and Ningetsu’s response to Kōyō’s work here is accordingly more serious than the piece that attacked his coterie publication; overall, his response is also more favorable. In the end, it’s as though Ningetsu is reviewing the first installment of Shincho hyakushū foremost, and “Irozange” as Kōyō’s work second.

These reviews reveal two fundamental characteristics of response to texts: they are primarily based in physical medium as well as place of publication. Here, works ought to be reviewed in physical proximity to each other, and in the context of the magazine, book series, or publisher, rather than foremost in the context of the authorial name or even genre, as we might expect from reviews now. This demonstrates how different the response was to works of literature published in the Meiji period was, compared to our current expectations. This is not limited to magazines; even reviews of books always list the publisher prominently, right next to the author’s name, if any name is given at all. The publisher and medium are of paramount importance, and thus I argue that authorship is performed within a medium itself, rather than as something independent of it – a far cry from the Romantic concept of the reified, lone genius author whose work stems from, and is contextualized by, the individual writer first and last.

I’d like to end with a mention of responses to magazines as wholes, which didn’t necessarily even include mention of individual works or authors, unlike the reviews I just discussed. Bungakkai, a Romantic coterie magazine, began its first issue with a lengthy statement of purpose, and interestingly, spent the next two issues publishing reviews of itself on special colored paper, drawing the reader’s attention to them. These reviews engaged the magazine as a whole, largely, and responded to Bungakkai itself as a cohesive publication with its own holistic identity – again, the corporate anonymous with its own character and personality, rather than the sum of its individual texts or authors. We can see, furthermore, that this kind of response was encouraged and welcomed, as implied by Bungakkai’s republishing of these reviews within its own pages, prominently attracting readers’ attention to them; there is no inclusion of single reviews of individual works, if they existed at all, reflecting an emphasis on the collective nature of the publication as the voice of a specific group, the Bungakkai coterie. Furthermore, this group was associated as a whole with the first Romantic movement in Japan – thus with its own character as a group as well as the publisher of a magazine that represented it.

Yet Bungakkai was not the only magazine whose first issue was reviewed as a collective whole: although it does not respond to the magazine’s statement of intent specifically, a review in Kokumin no tomo responds to Miyako no hana as a whole rather than the individual works published in the first issue, and compares it to a current coterie magazine, Garakuta bunko, remarking that it is a worthy competitor. Garakuta bunko issues, too, were reviewed as magazines in themselves rather than with a focus on individual works; one issue, again reviewed by Kokumin no tomo, is referred to as bric-a-brac in an antiques store, a quirky collection of pieces reminiscent of times gone by – implying its leanings toward imitating Edo literature and speaking of things past in general. Thus, magazines here are seen to have characteristics and personalities of their own beyond the individual works published therein; they are able to be reviewed as wholes and responded to as a kind of anthology of pieces that cohere into a holistic identity as publication and bear an inherent relationship to each other, rather than as simple collections of texts.

The influence of these collective spaces was multiple: they encouraged reading of works comparatively within a publication's holistic identity, facilitated experimental writing and attribution within the safety of a collective space with its own overarching personality, and ultimately grounded authorship in the medium of the journal, with the authorial name following rather than preceding the works associated with it (if there was any name attributed at all). As we have seen, writers experimented with multiple performances of authorship within these magazines and I suspect that this would not be as easy in book format, where the name of the author becomes a more significant aspect of advertising and promotion, and exposure for the book. Instead, the writer can rely on the name of the publication as a consistent author function, and an advertisement for all of the works that it contains each month. Thus, the function of the individual author within the magazine’s text as a whole becomes subsumed into its overall corporate anonymous, and in this collective space the performance of authorship can more easily take the form of pseudonyms, anonymous writing, and collective writing. It gives a kind of flexibility to authorial performance and publication that would not otherwise be possible. Ultimately, the collective space of the coterie and literary magazine in the Meiji period makes possible, and perhaps even encourages, multiple and fluid performances of authorship that characterize the period and which contradict and counter our later notions of authorship as something stable, coherent, and consistent – singular and coextensive with both the individual writer and his or her body of works as a whole. Instead, here we find a body of works that is characterized by the magazine itself, collected monthly for readers under the banner of the magazine’s holistic identity, and individual performances of authorship are inseparably embedded in that physical space – and impossible to understand without taking it into account as the overarching context that gives them meaning.