Institutionalizing Saikaku: Social Provenance and Literary Legitimization

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Although 17th-century author Ihara Saikaku is now considered an essential figure in Japanese literary history, his complete works were first published as a single collection only in 1894. Collector and advocate Awashima Kangetsu and his influential literary colleagues were instrumental in advocating for Saikaku as an author with a place in a then-forming "Japanese literature" through associating of their names and personalities with him. This activity makes visible the functioning of the interconnected worlds of writing, publishing, collecting, and reading at this dynamic moment in Japanese history.

In this paper, I will take up the history and process of collecting, anthologizing, and promoting Saikaku as a legitimate author with a place in both the history of Japanese literature as well as in current literary trends and experimentation. My focus is on the transformation of Saikaku, via archival methods and literary discourse, into a kind of institution unto himself, and the placement of him into a still contested institution of legitimate national literature. In other words, I ask how and why this poet and writer was unearthed at this moment in time, re-circulated and re-branded as a novelist on par with those of the past and present, and ultimately associated explicitly with prominent collectors and well-known writers of mid-Meiji period in the first typeset anthology of his works.

While I will focus primarily on Saikaku’s first anthology as a prime example of archival principles at work in literary activity, I consider this example as an avenue for developing a more robust framework of analysis based on those archival principles. In particular, I would like to explore the ways in which provenance, a fundamental concept in archival science and practice, can be adapted for and applied to literary analysis and the study of book history.

First, however, I would like to introduce a brief timeline of what is often called the re-discovery of Saikaku in the early and mid Meiji period, broken into three parts. They are collecting – largely conducted during the late Meiji 10s (the mid 1880s) – followed by a period of reprinting and then quickly a variety of adaptations of his style in works by young prominent authors. This occurred in the early Meiji 20s, or approximately 1887-1890. Finally, from 1894 (Meiji 26) onward, I consider this activity to be largely “Saikaku promotion”: while the former activities continued, this is the year in which his first anthology was published, and was accompanied and followed by discourse involving Saikaku’s works, his place in Japanese literature, the legitimacy of his style as applied to current works, and his influence on writers of the day. This period leads into what we might consider more formal literary criticism and canonization, which is beyond the scope of my topic today.

The first period of Saikaku’s promotion at this time consisted of collecting, of digging up old publications in used bookstores and literally hunting for them, waiting day after day in bookshops for a proprietor to offer up the right edition or to suggest visiting a certain other shop. It was a period of social interaction between collectors, as well; as Miyazaki Sanmai describes in a talk given decades later, he spent his time haunting bookstores alongside writers Ozaki Kōyō and Kōda Rohan, who had in turn been introduced to Saikaku by prominent collector Awashima Kangetsu. Tellingly, he informs his audience that antiquarian book collecting as a hobby was significantly more difficult than its current form: an amateur club with its own monthly magazine. Thus, we can understand why the collectors of the late Meiji 10s could feel a deep physical, emotional connection to the copies of Saikaku’s works that they managed to discover and purchase, bringing home to secret away in their “book boxes.” Throughout his talk, in fact, Sanmai dwells on the physicality of the books as well as the experience of searching for them: he depicts the districts in which he searched, the appearance and prices of all of the editions that he finds, and taking meandering walks with his literary acquaintances.

Sanmai, of course, was not the only collector of Saikaku’s works, and not every fan could afford to purchase the original editions from the 17th century. Thus, we encounter handwritten circulation in the days before commercialized, typeset versions were available. From collector Awashima Kangetsu, Saikaku’s works circulate to Kōyō and Rohan, who are able to make their own hand-copied manuscripts. Even Kangetsu has a layer of mediation between himself and his interest in Saikaku: he discovered the writer not in a bookshop, but through a mention in the works of another, later Edo-period writer. Thus, he, as well as Kōyō and Rohan, have several layers of personal and emotional investment in their collecting and reading, not to mention varying physical and spatial experiences with the texts themselves.

Just as the collection of Saikaku’s prose works followed several social avenues, so did the reprinting of those works in the literary magazines early Meiji 20s. Thus, readers introduced to Saikaku in typeset versions not only experienced different source material, but also a different context, depending on whether they read Saikaku as an appendix to Mori Ogai’s Shigarami zōshi, in Ken’yūsha’s Shōbungaku, or in the youth magazine Shonen’en. These works, of course, were surrounded by an abundance of literary styles, some embracing and even loudly advocating for Saikaku as a model for modern Japanese literature. In fact, Kangetsu went as far as to write in Saikaku’s style under the pseudonym Aikakuken-shi (愛鶴軒子), and both Kōyō and Rohan implicitly and explicitly associated their own writing with that of his.

Thus, not only was Saikaku becoming known among the relatively small literary community through magazines, but he was also being explicitly appropriated by young writers as a model for their styles and an author affiliated with their ideas about modern literature. Saikaku was not only legitimate, he was legitimizing; he was not just a Japanese author, he was an author that could be tied to Rohan and Kōyō, and to the literary group Ken’yusha more broadly.

It was in this context that Saikaku zenshū, the first “complete” anthology of his works, was typeset and published on a more broad commercial scale by the major publisher Hakubunkan. This anthology was part of a larger series, Teikoku bunko, that focused on re-printing early modern literature for a Meiji audience. It stands out from the series, however, in several remarkable ways. From here, I will focus on the anthology itself as a physical object within the context I just outlined, and as a way to understand an element in the institutionalization and legitimization of Ihara Saikaku within a still-developing idea of Japanese literary history at this time.

Although this two-part anthology is part of a larger series containing works from approximately the same time period, it differs from the others, especially the early volumes. These consist of more well-known and popular works from the Edo period, printed on relatively inexpensive paper with a clear typeface and little prefatory material. In other words, these books are for reading. They are not inexpensive enough to be easily accessible to the masses, but they are clearly intended to be for display and pleasure, whether in one’s own home or in one of the new public libraries around Tokyo.

Saikaku’s volumes stand out to the reader immediately in that they contain so much paratextual material: they begin with two prefaces, one a lengthy critique of Saikaku citing historical criticism, and end with a large appendix that reprints in full works on or related to Saikaku, rather than ones written by him. Just as important, this set of works specifies on the title page of each not only which specific edition the source text was taken from, but also the personal collection in which that text is located. Thus, it includes both bibliographical information – and a stress on the text as a physical object located in space and time – as well as a kind of social bibliographic annotation, marking the text’s place in a contemporary network of antiquarian collectors and bibliophiles.

Whether intentionally or not, then, this anthology traces the social path of Saikaku’s texts through the contemporary literary scene: by specifying that the majority of the source material came from Awashima Kangetsu’s private library, it also marks the lineage of Saikaku zenshū as that of Ken’yūsha, rather than that of another collector such as Miyazaki Sanmai (affiliated with Kōda Rohan and Negishi-do).

This connection is solidified and made explicit through the editor and preface authors: none other than Ozaki Kōyō, de facto representative of Ken’yūsha, and Ōhashi Otowa, Hakubunkan publisher and sometimes-contributor to Ken’yūsha’s literary magazines. These affiliations placed Saikaku zenshū squarely within the realm of a specific literary movement and social network at the time of its publication.

This leads me to the concept of social provenance and the ways in which Saikaku was tailored for a newly-forming institution of Japanese literature, as well as being made into an institution himself.

First, I will address the concept of “social provenance” that I am using here. In archival theory, provenance is basically a chain of custody, a record of the origin of an object and of when and to whom it changed hands since its original production. Because an archive is just as concerned with the context of an object as its content – or even more so – this concept plays a key role.

Saikaku’s anthology clearly shows an archival impulse on the part of its editors: each work is accompanied by information on its source text. Obviously, this is not a demonstration of provenance in the strict archival sense, as there is no note of whose hands it passed through, nor of the bookseller that the text came from. However, the anthology contains one more crucial piece of information that demonstrates a link between social networks and the construction of literary history that we can make clear using this archival framework.

Is it simply a drive to be as transparent as possible by including the name of each “owner” of the source text by citing whose private collection it was borrowed from? Awashima Kangetsu was not the only active collector of Saikaku’s works, but his library makes up the bulk of the anthology’s content. Here, we can see that he is recognized for his role in contributing the source text for this work, and this is typical of the others included in the two volumes.

Why is this information so important? First, I should note that I have only found this kind of attribution in the Teikoku bunko series, and at that, in only a handful of volumes other than Saikaku zenshū. So the basic question is: why is this information here? What purpose does it serve and to whom?

I hesitate to put the label “average reader” on anyone who may have encountered this book, because I know too little about its audience and reach. I also cannot assume that an average reader would not have some knowledge of the admittedly small and obscure literary world, and thus recognize the names and context involved in Saikaku’s popularity. Rather, we should think from the perspective of those constructing the anthology and what their motives might have been, and what this information tells us about the conditions of its production.

I have already introduced the idea of provenance, but the concept of social provenance is the one that can help us to analyze this kind of information. It is a term that I am using to indicate records – chains of custody – that record a text’s movement and place within a social network. Here, rather than looking temporally to chains of ownership, we are looking spatially at social links that bind and inform the Meiji Saikaku. It also stresses that chain of custody as a physical space, and the texts as physical objects rather than free-floating content. Saikaku zenshū was made from texts purchased and kept in a private library by Awashima Kangetsu, and those texts were passed to influential young authors to hand-copy, read, and incorporate back into their own writing. Hence, “reading” Saikaku is not an intellectual exercise here: it is a tactile one, grounded in physical, social, and economic context.

The social provenance included within Saikaku zenshū, which takes the form of Kōyō’s preface as well as the attribution of private collectors, gives us a window onto the construction of both the anthology itself as well as the process of literary legitimacy. However, it also does more than that, for the anthology’s contemporaries. It highlights the current figures involved in its construction, asserting their own importance and legitimacy within the literary world, and firmly ties Saikaku and his attendant style, criticism, and history to the members of the literary coterie that made the anthology possible and marked it explicitly with their own names.

When we look at this anthology now, we can see the archival principles clearly at work. Yet the social context – its social provenance, social chain of custody and attempted ownership – is lost without a careful consideration of the literary world of the Meiji 20s and discourse on what is legitimate, both in modern literature and the history of national literature. It may seem obscure at this point, but this is crucial in not only understanding the construction of the anthology, but also considering its reception at the time it was published.

When I say in my title that I am talking about the “institutionalization” of Saikaku, I am referring to this context, or rather two separate but interlocked contexts. One, of course, is the context of the social network and specific people – and their collecting activities – that made Saikaku himself an institution as an author with a specific genealogy and history of criticism associated with him. The second is the placement of Saikaku within the larger institution of Japanese literature, within the literature of the early modern (or kinsei) period collected in the Teikoku bunko series. The editors made the case for Saikaku’s legitimacy within both of these contexts and used both their own social recognition as well as the names of prominent historical critics to do so.

Saikaku as an institution does not simply include a coherent body of works, although constructing that is exactly what Saikaku zenshū sets out to do. It is a name – one single name, and not even one widely known before Kangetsu and Sanmai’s collecting period (according to Sanmai) – that encompasses criticism and relationships across time with prominent writers, including Kyokutei Bakin. It is not simply that those writers analyzed Saikaku, thus lending their legitimacy to him: Saikaku zenshū itself includes, in full, those works of criticism. Some are located in the preface, quoted in full, but longer pieces such as Genroku taiheiki are reprinted in their entirety – in the same format as Saikaku’s works – as an appendix to the second volume. Thus, this is not simply the complete works of a writer that has gained a second period of popularity. It is an attempt to turn Saikaku into an author: one of prose fiction, rather than the haikai poetry he was previously known for, and one whose identity encompasses and is legitimized by a social, literary chain of custody that critiques over time help to solidify.

I want to stress that this literary social provenance is not something that ends with the purchase of a text at a used bookstore and the reprinting of historical criticism as recent as Bakin’s. Rather, the contemporary editors and collectors actively engage with that genealogy in their prefaces and in the explicit association of private collections with Saikaku’s works. They bring Saikaku to life as a legitimate author, a literary institution with relevance to the current scene, and they do so by placing themselves squarely at the living end of that genealogy. Kangetsu is not simply the owner of the source text: he is the living person who brands the text with his name. Kōyō and Otowa, in their prefaces, create a contextual line between Bakin’s criticism of Saikaku and their own evaluation. When they take into account the historical critiques, they are not only providing evidence to support his legitimacy as an author in the pantheon of Japanese national literature: they also tie themselves to that history as its living continuation. In other words, the Saikaku they create in these volumes is the living Meiji Saikaku, the Japanese novelist owned and adapted by the members of the Ken’yūsha literary coterie.

At this point, I would like to step away from the example of Saikaku zenshū to talk more specifically about the idea of social provenance as I have applied in my analysis, and about the adaptation of archival concepts to literary studies more generally. The word “archive” is often used in a loose way that, to be honest, frustrates professional archivists, who apply it in an extremely specific sense in their work. An archive is not simply a collection of objects: the work of archivists is the context, rather than the content, of those objects, and to look at the objects as unique, rather than simply variations containing the same content. Thus the focus is on how the object was created, when, why, by whom, and the context of its history – thus, provenance’s importance in the field.

While provenance encompasses the path of ownership of an object temporally, from its original creation to the present, the kind of social provenance that I am working through here is more synchronic, more spatial. And it is this aspect of it that makes social provenance of an object so fragile and yet so crucial. It forces us to examine a text’s context at a specific point in time in order to understand its meaning. While the content of a text may remain technically the same between different printings or different times, the changing and quickly forgotten social context of its production and reception precludes any kind of fixed meaning.

In other words, Saikaku zenshū is not simply Saikaku zenshū. It is a Meiji Ihara Saikaku, one who is more or less Awashima Kangetsu’s private library. Kangetsu introduced Kōyō, an editor, and Rohan, an influential figure who published two articles on Saikaku. These two writers then began to experiment with what they interpreted as Saikaku’s writing style in order to create a new, modern Japanese literature. And in the end, Kōyō edits and writes the preface to a book based on Kangetsu’s collection.

These social relationships, then, are crucial to thinking about canonization and popularization – not to mention whether a work or author is commercially marketed at a given moment in history. However, it is, unlike the more strict archival meaning of provenance, more ephemeral: social relationships are not written in stone, are often not written down at all, and must be inferred. I use Saikaku zenshū as my example because these relationships – the collector and the editor – are made so transparent and so explicit. But this kind of work only highlights the pieces that are missing in other anthologies of this time, as well as reprints of other Edo works and what was becoming “classic” literature.

Thus, I stress social provenance as an avenue for further literary analysis that can lead us to understand better the context that produced these works, and perhaps shed light on their meaning that we can understand in no other way. If a work or an author is lost to us – outside the canon, outside the realm of fame – it is particularly difficult yet especially necessary to think of social provenance in our process of unearthing and analyzing. It can support both questions of why a work was published and its reception, but is also useful in asking why a work or author is or is not in what has become the canon for a period or style. Once outside the social milieu of production and consumption, this context becomes lost, but it is not impossible to recover.

This concept is not unfamiliar to the field of book history, but I have not yet heard it defined as a concept in its own right that needs to be defined, critiqued, and applied in a robust way. I have only begun to think this term through, and I welcome your feedback on the concept and my use of it here and in the future, in my analysis of other literary anthologies written in this period.