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Purloined Letters

Purloined Letters: Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature, 1868–1937

Mark Silver
Copyright Date: 2008
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    Purloined Letters
    Book Description:

    This is an impressive book, which casts the early history of Japanese detective fiction within the broader context of Japanese cultural and political modernity. Through his close analysis of three central figures-Kuroiwa Ruikô, Okamoto Kidô, and Edogawa Ranpo-Silver demonstrates the complex ways in which detective fiction in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was used to reflect upon new ideas, represent the past, and reveal Japan's newly 'modern' society in grotesque and frightening ways. Lucidly argued and elegantly written,Purloined Letterswill become essential reading for scholars of detective fiction, Japanese literature, and translation studies more generally. -Amanda Seaman, author ofBodies of Evidence: Women, Society, and Detective Fiction in 1990s Japan

    "Mark Silver has written an elegant and original history of the early twentieth-century Japanese detective story, which had a proto-realistic tradition of its own quite apart from that of the canonical Meiji novels. We feel Japan's anxieties about rising crime in an age when feudal and geographical limits on mobility had crumbled, its nostalgia for a magicalpast of wise judges and thief-catchers, and its fascination with criminals, some of them women, who were just as ingenious. Silver addresses big theoretical questions of how cultures react to each other while providing new readings of such seminal contributors to the crime fiction genre as Edogawa Ranpo. This eye-opening work not only redefines both Euro-American and Japanese crime genres in light of each other, but also delineates a complicated transition from a premodern and transnational East Asian detective story tradition to a modern genre in which the crimes and sleuthing seem more familiar and Westernized-until, under Silver's skillful guidance, we get a closer look!"-Jeffrey C. Kinkley, author ofChinese Justice, the Fiction: Law and Literature in Modern China

    This engaging study of the detective story's arrival in Japan-and of the broader cross-cultural borrowing that accompanied it-argues for a reassessment of existing models of literary influence between "unequal" cultures. Because the detective story had no pre-existing native equivalent in Japan, the genre's formulaic structure acted as a distinctive cultural marker, making plain the process of its incorporation into late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Japanese letters. Mark Silver tells the story of Japan's adoption of this new Western literary form at a time when the nation was also remaking itself in the image of the Western powers. His account calls into question conventional notions of cultural domination and resistance, demonstrating the variety of possible modes for cultural borrowing, the surprising vagaries of intercultural transfer, and the power of the local contexts in which "imitation" occurs.

    Purloined Lettersconsiders a fascinating range of primary texts populated by wise judges, faceless corpses, wily confidence women, desperate blackmailers, a fetishist who secrets himself for days inside a leather armchair, and a host of other memorable figures. The work begins by analyzing Tokugawa courtroom narratives and early Meiji biographies of female criminals (dokufu-mono, or "poison-woman stories"), which dominated popular crime writing in Japan before the detective story's arrival. It then traces the mid-Meiji absorption of French, British, and American detective novels into Japanese literary culture through the quirky translations of muckraking journalist Kuroiwa Ruiko. Subsequent chapters take up a series of detective stories nostalgically set in the old city of Edo by Okamoto Kido (a Kabuki playwright inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes) and the erotic, grotesque, and macabre works of Edogawa Ranpo, whose pen-name punned on "Edgar Allan Poe."

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6405-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Note on Names and Romanization
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 Introduction: Cultural Borrowing and Japanese Crime Literature
    (pp. 1-21)

    This book is about what happens when writers work in the shadow of a culture they see as more advanced and powerful than their own. When Japan ended its policy of self-imposed isolation in the late nineteenth century, a newly emerging political leadership, alarmed and embarrassed at Japan’s apparent backwardness, set to work catching up with the West. To Òkubo Toshimichi, a member of the famous Iwakura legation dispatched in 1871–1873 to study life in Europe and America, Japan’s need to throw off the legacy of its insular past and turn outward was clear. “All the countries of the...

  6. 2 Affirmations of Authority: Premodern and Early Meiji Crime Literature
    (pp. 22-57)

    Although the basic narrative structure of the detective story was new to Japan when Kuroiwa Ruikò (1862–1920) and other translators began reproducing it in the mid-1880s, there were certain elements of continuity between the preexisting native tradition of crime narrative and the newly imported genre. There were also significant things—in addition to narrative structure—that distinguished the two. This chapter examines the native tradition, presenting an analysis of these continuities and differences in order to provide historical context for the developments of the 1880s and the following decades.

    The two major forms of crime narrative in circulation before...

  7. 3 Borrowing the Detective Novel: Kuroiwa Ruikò and the Uses of Translation
    (pp. 58-97)

    Although early Meiji period criminal biographies such asTakahashi Odenoften contained numerous flashbacks and digressions, their account of the events leading up to and including the crimes they narrated was essentially linear. They might, asTakahashi Odendid, inadvertently activate story lines that came into competition with the official one they presented, but these biographies’ basic narrative strategy was to follow the life of the criminal from cradle to grave, and the process of reconstruction necessary to recounting that life was either kept at the margins or rendered invisible. These biographies did not place their retrospective reconstruction of events...

  8. 4 Arresting Change: Okamoto Kidò’s Stories of Nostalgic Remembrance
    (pp. 98-131)

    By the 1910s and 1920s, when Okamoto Kidò (1872–1939) wrote most of the detective stories now collectively calledHanshichi torimono-chò(Hanshichi’s Arrest Records), disenchantment had begun to temper Japan’s early enthusiasm for foreign borrowing. Japan’s deepening involvement with the outside world had both tied its fortunes to Western countries and increased the chances for conflict with them. A newly modernized military had fought and won two foreign wars, the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). But Japan had suffered, after the first of these wars, the humiliation of the Tripartite Intervention (1895), in which Russia,...

  9. 5 Anxieties of Influence: Edogawa Ranpo’s Horrifying Hybrids
    (pp. 132-173)

    While Okamoto Kidò turned his back on Japan’s modernization by staging an imaginary return to a culturally pure, more easily comprehensible past, Edogawa Ranpo (1894–1965)—who was the most prominent detective story writer of the generation that followed Kidò—fixed his gaze on his rapidly modernizing and Westernizing surroundings with fascinated horror. Ranpo’s corpus is peopled by characters who enact a dizzying variety of bizarre impersonations, transformations, and monstrous hybridizations. These characters include not only Inomata (inThe Pomegranate,discussed in Chapter 1), who undergoes plastic surgery in Shanghai at the hands of foreign doctors, but also (to name...

  10. Coda: Cultural Borrowing Reconsidered
    (pp. 174-178)

    Among all of Ranpo’s stories of failed imposture, it is in “The Masked Dancers” (“Fukumen no buyòsha,” 1926) that he forges the most obvious link between imposture and Japanese Westernization. “The Masked Dancers” begins as another story about a secret society of wealthy men. Compared to the society in “The Red Room,” which is devoted strictly to telling horror stories, this society is more wide-ranging in its search for off-beat entertainment. “Do you read novels?” the narrator’s friend Inoue asks him. “It’s the kind of strange society that turns up a lot in foreign novels, likeThe Suicide Club—that...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 179-200)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-208)
  13. Index
    (pp. 209-217)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 218-219)