If the postmodernist ethical onslaught has led to the demise of literature by exposing its political agenda, if all literature is compromised by its entanglement with power, why does literature's subterranean voice still seduce us into reading? Why do the madness and the scandal of transgressive literature, its power to force us to begin anew, its evil, escape the gaze of contemporary literary criticism? Why do we dare not reject ethics and the ethical approach to literature? If the primary task of literary criticism is to correct others' ethical missteps, should we not begin by confronting the seductiveness of ethics, our desire for ethics, the pleasure we take in being ethical? And what is the relationship between ethics and history in the study of literature? What would be the ethical consequences of an erasure of history from literary criticism?
In a series of essays on the writings of Kawabata Yasunari, Murakami Haruki, Karatani Kjin, Furui Yoshikichi, Mishima Yukio, Oe Kenzaburo, Natsume Soseki, and Kobayashi Hideo, Hosea Hirata visits the primal force of the scandalous in an effort to repeat (in the Kierkegaardian sense) the originary scene that initiates the obscure yet insistent poetry that is literature and to confront the questions raised.
[An] intriguing study of modern Japanese literature… Hirata’s collection of essays, some previously published, covers a broad range a broad range of twentieth-century Japanese literature, from Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro (1914) to more contemporary works of fiction by well-known writers such as Yasunari Kawabata, Yukio Mishima, Kenzaburo Oe and Haruki Murakami. Along the way, Hirata also examines the work of an influential writer less well known in the West, Furui Yoshikichi, as well as the critic Kojin Karatani… It is the depth of Hirata’s argument, and the intriguing new readings of some modern classics, that make Discourses of Seduction a powerful addition to the small but growing number of studies of modern Japanese literature.
Hosea Hirata’s collection of essays, Discourses of Seduction, is driven by desire, and it is written in a voice delirious with the attractions of text and words; the essays are also driven by concerns for memory and history and the scandals of desire and pleasure. In the first paragraphs of the book, Hirata makes clear that these forces are united by a burning question, itself infused by matters of seduction: ‘Why do I still read literature?’ His question is given further precision as an inquiry into ‘Why am I still so madly in love with literature?’ …The outline of the project that comprises the introduction is a standalone essay and should be widely read. In all, Hirata’s text takes on the quality of desire itself—tantalizing, at times maddening and elusive, and often satisfying.
- Harvard University Asia Center
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