Anachronistic Selves: Personal Ambiguity in Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro

Topics: Japan, Suicide, Tokyo Pages: 5 (1887 words) Published: July 20, 2013
Balete Candice Lauren Garcia
22 April, 2013
Anachronistic Selves: Personal Ambiguity in Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro There are many ambiguous issues that are engendered in Kokoro, but this essay will specifically focus on Emperor’s Meiji’s death and the personal ambiguity that the novel’s characters experience as a result. This essay argues that the ambiguity surrounding Sensei, K, and General Nogi’s suicides is not arbitrary. In fact, the ambiguity of ritual suicide in this text is historically linked to the instability aroused not only by the fall of the Meiji era, but also by the implicit tension between the modern and traditional ways of living in Japan at that time. The tension between the modern and the traditional can be implicitly mapped to the geographical spaces of the city and the countryside, respectively. Both the narrator and Sensei, who are described to traverse between both of the aforementioned areas, seem to be the characters that experience the most internal conflict and ambiguity. The characters live in an age of transition, which renders those of an older generation (like Sensei) as anachronisms, and situates the younger generation (like the narrator) within an epistemological impasse in understanding the past. Instead of providing answers, the progression of the text’s narrative poses more questions that arouse ambiguity—Sensei’s actions become increasingly perceived as strange as the novel progresses. However, while most of the novel’s ambiguities stem from the character’s self-consciousness of their own anachronistic statuses, the lack of resolution with regard to personal issues like Sensei’s love triangle and the narrator’s relationship with his father, also contribute to the overall sense of ambiguity in the novel. Despite its status as a work of fiction, Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro is situated within the historical timeline of Emperor Meiji’s death. Emperor Meiji’s death marks the end of the Meiji era in Japan. The personal is rendered political here, where the microcosm of the individual emperor’s death affects the macrocosm of the Japanese nation state and its people. In response to his death, the people have become situated in a time of transition: this is where much of the text’s ambiguity stems from. After receiving news of the emperor’s death, the narrator is described to hang a mourning flag outside his house. After visually “examin[ing] the effect” of the “flag and the black mourning strip” that “hung listlessly in the windless air”, the narrator imagines the scene of “the vast city stirring everywhere with movement in the midst of a great darkness” (Soseki 88). This ‘darkness’ can be interpreted to represent the instability of the changing times, as well as the epistemological impasse, the uncertainty of understanding that the narrator experiences at this stage of national transition. Even Sensei’s house, described here as a “single point of light”, was imagined to “struggle blindly through the darkness”, “destined to soon blink out and disappear” (88). This darkness represents how “opaque” Sensei appears to the narrator, as well as the struggle that the narrator faces to “enter a place of clarity” with regard to understanding Sensei within the context of the changing times (94). Emperor Meiji’s death renders the emotional climate of Japan as dark and uncertain, and this sense of ambiguity at this time of transition will be further exacerbated after General Nogi’s suicide. Even though Emperor Meiji’s death situates the text at a dark state of flux and transition, General Nogi’s suicide further contributes to the sense of ambiguity in the novel. General Nogi’s death functions as a device that raises Sensei’s awareness that his spirit is of the Meiji era that has already past with the Emperor’s death. Bargen describes General Nogi’s suicide as “anachronistic”, which might explain why his suicide (as well as the other characters’ suicides) might evoke ambiguous feelings from the narrator as...

Cited: “Anachronism.” Merriam-Webster.Com. Merriam-Webster, 2013. Web. 14 March 2013.
Salomon, Harald. Rev. of Suicidal Honor: General Nogi and the Writings of Mori Ogai and Natsume Soseki. Pacific Affairs 80.1 (2007): 114-115. JSTOR. Web. 20 April 2013.
Soseki, Natsume. Kokoro. New York: Penguin Books, 2010. Print.
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