Takayuki Yokota-Murakami

Panel 1F: Transcoding Japan
Session 1 – July 1, 11:00 – 13:00

Transcodification of Critical Terms: Character/seikaku/xingge from Chinese Classical Writings via Modern Japanese Literature to Contemporary “Light Novels”

Literary devices travel across historical / geographical / cultural / media / formal boundaries. Sometimes it is a theme; sometimes it is a character (as in Stoffgeschichte) that travels. Sometimes it concerns critical concepts. This paper attempts to trace the history of a term “character” from ancient China via modern Japan to contemporary “pop” culture and to analyze how a critical term can be negotiated and transformed through time and space and how it can determine a literary/cultural/social history of a specific locus. The term in question is xingge (性格), a Chinese term that is now used in the sense of a “character” in differentiation from the original sense of “dignity” in the Tang period. In that quality it played an important role as not only an ethical but also a literary ideal. In the late nineteenth century under the influence of European critical theory, Japanese literati transformed it as a literary concept denoting a “character (seikaku 性格)” with dynamism in the realistic representation of human lives, as opposed to a concept in Edo literature kishitsu (temperament) which was highly static. The new critical concept of “character” delineated novelistic discourse of realism as well as modern capitalist consciousness on human-nature. Conversely, contemporary critics and writers have proposed a new term kyara that departs from naturalistic conceptions. They insist that “Light Novels” (and other media which thrive on what they call “Mangaesque [or Gamesque] Realism”) featuring kyara, stock characters that exist without any temporality or narrative backgrounds, being shared across texts and media, represent a new literary and social consciousness in the post-modern and post-postmodern world. Examining the trajectory of the critical term “character” and the validity of the contemporary critics’ arguments, I will endeavor to demonstrate the cultural/social significance of ever-changing and ever-traveling critical categories.   


Professor in Comparative Literature in the Graduate School of Language and Culture at Osaka University, Japan. EC member of ICLA. PhD in comparative literature from Princeton University. Publication include: Don Juan East/West: On the Problematics of Comparative Literature (SUNY P, 2008), Iro-otoko no kenkyu (winner of Suntory Award for Outstanding Books in 2008), and Mothertongue in Modern Japanese Literature and Criticism: Toward a New Polylingual Poetics (Palgrave, 2018). Research interests are: genealogical study of sexuality in modern Japan, Jewish-Russian exile literature, contemporary Japanese manga, theories of translation, and so on.