Memorial Archives and the Creation of the Author: The Case of Kitamura Tōkoku

Paper presented at the Association for Asian Studies Conference, March 2013

In 1894, a limited compilation of pieces by poet and essayist Kitamura Tōkoku appeared shortly after his death by suicide. This small anthology, The Works of Tōkoku – the first of its kind that brought together works by a contemporary, literary Meiji writer immediately after his death – was followed in 1902 by a larger anthology, The Complete Works of Tōkoku. The history of The Works and Complete Works of Tōkoku raises the question of the role that anthologies played in mourning the dead, and played a crucial role in his posthumous reconfiguration as an author, while serving a double function as memorial objects for a social and literary group mourning the death of its most prominent member.

Despite his young age of 26, at his death Tōkoku was a major figure in the first Romantic movement in Japan, and had long been active as a poet and critic. His activities as a literary writer and critic started with his involvement in the women-oriented Jogaku zasshi magazine and continued to the periodical that he helped to found, Bungakkai. It was his colleagues from the Bungakkai coterie who hastily collected his published works in 1894, and then painstakingly unearthed “new” works from his papers for the 1902 edition.

After Tōkoku’s death, his body of work should theoretically remain static. Yet this is far from the case: Tōkoku’s Complete Works contains a large number of previously unpublished pieces. The representation of Tōkoku as an author himself, achieved through eulogy-like prefaces, is also solidified into the image of a martyr, a symbolic suffering poet. The Complete Works of Tōkoku played a significant role by determining, through preservation, the possibilities of interpretation for not just this author, but for Japanese literature itself more broadly.

In addition to a purely literary function, this anthology also served as a site of group mourning and remembrance in the wake of a traumatic death. Its 28-page preface, in which several major literary figures focus on mourning their friend’s passing and giving meaning to his life just as much as they comment on his works themselves, testifies to the cathartic and commemorative function of the anthology. As an object, this book is remarkable in comparison to later anthologies that have a certain distance from their subjects; here we find editors remembering and honoring a young writer who had just died, and with whom they were personally acquainted. Thus it is impacted by its temporal closeness to the writer himself, and to the traumatic event of his sudden death.

The prefaces from The Complete Works of Tōkoku also reference numerous other figures in the literary and publishing worlds who were close to both the author and the editors, outlining both the literary field and the social network that surrounded the author. Through emphasizing personal experiences as well as social and professional connections, this anthology ultimately serves to construct a picture of a literary field with a distinct membership that both includes and is partly defined by the individual being anthologized. This presentation will explore the social function of anthologies as well as the archival, and investigate the ways in which Tōkoku’s first two anthologies worked to construct his posthumous authorial identity through these functions.

With anthologies of contemporary authors’ “complete works” – here, a Meiji author, in the 1890s – we might expect that the anthologies would contain a collection of recently published works that had not yet gone out of print, but this is far from the case. A key factor here is that Tōkoku’s works appeared in ephemeral publications – magazines – and often in those that were coterie journals with lower circulation and fewer readers. His “complete” anthology played a more literal role than the editors may have anticipated: it would become the new access point for Tōkoku’s works, and through this become an authoritative source that established a core group of works that would be able to persist where ephemera could not.

The editors of Tōkoku’s 1902 anthology of Complete Works are explicit in preservation being a motivating factor for their project that aimed to compile as much of Tōkoku’s work as possible. Editor Hoshino Tenchi writes in his preface that “it has been a long time since the single volume Works of Tōkoku was created and published, and it has gone out of print,” thus endangering a large collection of reprinted essays. In the case of the 1902 Complete Works, pieces published in magazines are not the only ephemeral sources reprinted for both contemporary access and posterity. His anthology contains his diary and a number of unpublished pieces that were uncovered in his study by his surviving colleagues and deemed suitable for inclusion in the collection. Tōkoku’s body of work here has been expanded to include unpublished, unfinished manuscripts found in his study after his death, which are published posthumously alongside other pieces that had already been completed and appeared in print, as though publication had always been intended but not yet achieved. Although this is an extreme case, it prompts us to ask whether there is ever a situation in which the oeuvre is not being actively constructed, invented by editors and publishers rather than the writer himself.

The 1894 Works of Tōkoku must be raised here as a precursor, an example of a genre of miniature archives that was popular at the time and persists to this day. It was created almost immediately after Tōkoku’s death on May 16, 1894 – published in October of the same year – and was specifically compiled for his surviving friends to enjoy reading. As a pre-publication advertisement puts it, “it would be a pity if the collection of Mr. Tōkoku’s manuscripts were to be scattered and lost” – but also because “his friends [...] look forward to reading it with pleasure.” It explicitly connects the ideas of preservation and mourning, and being able to know a writer through an archive of his or her manuscripts. In other words, it attempts to construct an authorial identity through a body of work that feels more private and hidden from the public than the works readers would have encountered before the writer’s death.

The Works of Tōkoku begins to shape Tōkoku’s posthumous identity as an author in yet another way, which raises questions about whether this type of collecting can truly be considered an “archival” act at all. While it works to preserve writings that might otherwise be lost, it does so in a way that removes basic context. The writer Kitamura Montarō used a large number of pseudonyms (including “Tōkoku” and its alternate pronunciation, “Sukiya”) over the course of his short lifetime and several of them appeared regularly in Bungakkai. The manuscripts found after his death may not have had “Tōkoku” attached to them, or even any pseudonym at all. It is telling that immediately after his death, the editors of Bungakkai magazine published several of his works there posthumously, and these did not uniformly carry the “Tōkoku” pseudonym. Yet the anthology’s title as well as its contents carry only one pseudonym: that of “Tōkoku,” chosen “because it is the best known” by editor Hoshino Tenchi. While this choice was a necessary one – listing a dozen of Tōkoku’s pseudonyms in the title would have been unwieldy – it was also a crucial step in creating a single authorial identity for a writer who had previously had many.

Thus, we must ask: whose archive is The Works of Tōkoku, and the later Complete Works? With the erasure of multiple authorial names in favor of a uniform but anachronistic context, we lose a great deal, and in particular the unique circumstances of both writing and publishing. Especially in the case of unpublished manuscripts, there is no way to know how Kitamura Montarō would have chosen an authorial name, if any, if he ever decided to make them public. Here, rather than preserving the uncertainty along with the content, Tenchi makes the practical decision to erase authorial variations in favor of a single, consistent, and convenient name.

This name is carried forward into the 1902 Complete Works of Tōkoku and there is no reference in any of its 28 pages of prefaces to “Tōkoku” being chosen from multiple authorial names for the anthology. The choice of a single name for works that were originally published with many pseudonyms is no longer justified or explained. Tōkoku has become “Tōkoku,” and his authorial name is no longer an open question.

The active construction of an authorial identity for Tōkoku is not limited to his name. If his body of works is to contain unpublished, unfinished manuscripts of all kinds, as it does in the Complete Works, its contents, and thus the contents that define Tōkoku as an author, are an open question until editors make their decisions about the anthology’s composition. In this case, multiple individuals have made choices about what to “discover” among Tōkoku’s papers, what constitutes a work that is worthy of publishing posthumously, and what to leave buried or lost. Shimazaki Tōson begins his preface by recounting a scene to the reader:

I took and collected Mr. Kitamura Tōkoku’s tossed out works on scrap paper, piled high, from his study, preserving them in a corner of my bookshelf. One day I took them down from the shelf, dusted them off, and went to read them. I recalled my departed friend so vividly that it was as if he appeared before my eyes, and I fell into feelings of reminiscence that I could not bear. [...] Mr. Tōkoku put great effort into plays. Looking at the scrap paper strewn about his study, there were quite a few that are attempts at a play that didn’t pan out. And he left his boxes full of verse, these too a great number of unfinished pieces.

Here, Tōson seems to be both reading into Tōkoku’s manuscripts these characteristics that he uses to define his friend’s essential character, and also perhaps reading the melancholy, idealistic themes he finds in the works back into Tōkoku’s identity as an author and as a man. His thoughts quickly turn to mourning:

I can never forget him … my close friend for whom my feelings run so deep. [...] Every time I look through my departed friend’s notes, I cannot bear thinking of the suffering of today’s poets.

For anyone familiar with the circumstances of Tōkoku’s life and death, Tōson’s allusion to suffering poets could not but suggest but Tōkoku’s own suffering as a sensitive idealist – as just the sort of man that the prefaces endeavor to portray. Tōson here sets up this association and also readers’ expectations of what they will find in the Complete Works; perhaps they too will find their thoughts turning to the painful nobility of poets that Tōson paints so vividly in his account of preserving, collecting, reprinting, and re-reading.

In Tōson’s care in preserving and sorting through Tōkoku’s posthumous scraps, then, there is a significant amount of both culling and organization that takes place, and this is of course a necessary step in bringing the manuscripts to print without Tōkoku to oversee the process. However, there is no recognition of the highly subjective process that takes place before his “scrap paper” can become verse, plays, or novels. Instead, these unfinished pieces that now fill the pages of the Complete Works were simply waiting to be discovered; in this preface, they are completely transparent. Tōson would have had to make judgments about genre as well, but as he describes the pieces, they had already manifested themselves as poetry or snippets of a play before he even took them down from his bookshelf. His portrayal of this process gives the impression that Tōkoku’s work was a raw archive that Tōson conveyed to the reader without any intervention other than making it accessible. Through compiling selections of unpublished work that even included Tōkoku’s diary, Tōkoku’s colleagues were able to construct a vision of him that both reflected and accommodated their memories of him.

Both of Tōkoku’s first anthologies vividly paint him as a socially-connected author and emphasize the collaborative nature of the anthology’s compilation. We can see the editors engaging in an establishment of social cohesion by identifying and reinforcing the composition of the literary group that Tōkoku had led, and to which they belonged as prominent members. The editors and those who contributed prefaces are engaged in creating a specific, authorized “site” of remembrance together, one that marks their shared trauma and loss.

An outstanding feature of all of the prefaces included within the Complete Works is their focus on recalling not just what sort of person Tōkoku was and the individuals’ sadness at his loss, but on his social nature and the specific times and places that they interacted with him. In particular, all bring up the last experiences they had with Tōkoku before his death while reflecting both on his character and on their own losses. There is a profound emphasis on personal, direct knowledge of Tōkoku that both gives the prefaces’ writers a kind of authority with which to speak about him, and also directs readers’ attention to an author defined by his friends’ experiences of loss. Tōkoku here is defined as an essential member of the Bungakkai coterie as he is simultaneously included in its ranks, and in this act, the members of the literary group shape their own identities within it as well. By providing a context for mourning and remembering Tōkoku through recalling their experiences and their firsthand knowledge of him, and doing so together as a set of collective prefaces within the same volume, they establish themselves as the legitimate heirs of Tōkoku, the owners of his memory. Through collective remembering of Tōkoku, the members of Bungakkai around the time of his death and after reiterate their allegiance to a group that is privileged to collectively remember him in both a personal and professional way. This act of remembrance is a complex series of associations that simultaneously defines Tōkoku and his colleagues, the legitimate membership of the Bungakkai coterie, and the place of those who occupy it.

Although publishing the names of those who wrote most of the prefaces to the 1894 and 1902 Tōkoku anthologies clearly delineates a group of those authorized to speak about and remember him, and to collaborate in shaping his memory, they also work to exclude others from that group. The final preface to the Complete Works gives us crucial information about not just who helped to construct the book but who was even allowed to. Editor Hoshino Tenchi tells us that “as soon as they had heard about this book, a number of strangers sent in writings and endeavored to add a biography of Tōkoku as well.” Rather than framing this as an outpouring of support for the memory of a shared, departed friend, Tenchi keeps them at a distance: they are an unnamed, unknown mass of individuals (hitobito) who happened to hear about the project, sending in unsolicited materials that would be inappropriate for inclusion in the book. Tenchi even goes on to dismiss the idea of a biographical sketch as “ostentatious.” There is a need to keep the group of those authorized to collect and present him to a core set of legitimate Bungakkai members. They are the ones who enjoy the status of being familiar with both Tōkoku and Bungakkai itself, as opposed to the unsolicited contributors – michi, or unknown strangers.

Tōkoku is to be represented in the 1902 Complete Works of Tōkoku by his own diary: his journal is included in the anthology and Hoshino Tenchi finds that it can stand for the author just as well, if not better than, any kind of short biography written by another. He recounts, “rather than trying to write some ostentatious biographical sketch, the very diary and informal notes written in the gentleman’s own hand [...] ought to convey his life and character.” Tōkoku is able to tell his own story from beyond the grave, possibly without intending for any of these writings to become public, more eloquently than those who researched his life or even his close friends.

Yet that does not stop some of his friends from recalling what sort of man Tōkoku was in their prefaces, some at great length, and preparing readers for an encounter with his works with a certain preconceived image in mind. Of course, many readers, especially those already familiar with Tōkoku before his death, would approach the 1902 Complete Works with an important fact in mind: Kitamura Tōkoku died unexpectedly and tragically by suicide at age 26. The circumstances of his death surely colored the perspectives of some readers before opening the covers of the anthology, but those who read the prefaces would have found a Tōkoku completely defined by this death read back into his melancholy character and actions at the end of his life.

In his preface, Hirata Tokuboku sees a suffering, lonely figure as he remembers his friend, one that is inseparable from the suffering and loneliness he himself feels at Tōkoku’s absence:

Mr. Sen’u, Mr. Kitamura Tōkoku, the sound of his noble spirit is in my ears even now. His figure in a lone struggle is still in my eyes. That is the strangeness of death. I cannot truly believe that he is gone. What is this silence, the tragedy of a death like his? What is this loneliness, the harshness of a death like his? And the dwindling feeling of him still overflows in my eyes. The sorrowful feeling of him overflows in my eyes. This is the strangeness of death. I cannot truly believe that he is gone.

A reader cannot help but see the entirety of the Complete Works as a site of mourning and loss after reading Tokuboku’s words, which are representative of the prefaces on the whole.

Shimazaki Tōson, meanwhile, provides a detailed recounting of Tōkoku’s numerous changes of residence in the last years before his death, and that in each he took no enjoyment, even attempting to keep a mountain goat as entertainment. In the end,

He found happiness in renting a home near a temple in Kōzu, [yet] with the sound of tears this dream of a butterfly was destroyed and he once again came up to the capital; he returned to the old hall at Shiba Park, and there he never woke again from his illness. Oh, he rises up before my eyes as the memories come [back] ...

Tōkoku, here, has become one with his young and terrible death, forever succumbing to suffering and depression. He has been transformed in his anthology, by both the paratext and by an equation of his life with his works, into a character in his own tragic story. Here, his historical self begins to disappear as his identity as an author and artist is brought to the fore, as though his life were lived by Tōkoku rather than Kitamura Montarō. The historical narrative of his life does not begin until it resonates with the editor’s ideas about how he ought to be remembered in perpetuity.

The Tōkoku in the 1902 Complete Works is profoundly separated from his historical identity, both due to prefaces that attempt to establish an authorial identity interconnected with themes of tragedy in his life and due to the contents of the anthology itself. The anthology serves as an object of memory, but through its memorialization of its subject, plays an active role in constructing him as an author for posterity, and preserving a specific oeuvre that would otherwise be so ephemeral as to soon become inaccessible. Ultimately, these anthologies established Tōkoku as both an author and historical personage, conflating the two, and reified him through the lens of mourning and a tragic life and death.