Intellectual Conscience and Self-Cultivation (shuyo) as Imperatives in Japan’s Modernization: Mori Ogai, Youth (Seinen, 1910-11)

Rodica Frentiu


Modernity, with its three stages of industrialization, technological innovation and postmodernism, covered two hundred years in the West – in Japan it was compressed into one century. The “new man” (or “Meiji man”) as conceived by the Meiji period (1868-1912), the start of the modern era in Japan, also proved in a way to be an “experiment” under the sign of “modernization” and “westernization”, of “modernity” and “tradition”. Seemingly a symbol of all the changes imported from Europe, Mori Ogai (1862-1922) raises the issue of modern education in his novel Seinen, proposing a reformulation of traditional Japanese values. By underlining the individual freedom promoted by an élite writer and ideologist of a Japan in course of modernization, the present study aims to discuss from the perspective of ideological aesthetics Mori Ogai’s attempt to redefine literature (bungaku) as an “institution” connecting the individual and culture seen as knowledge and power. “Individualism”, “universality” and “freedom” are, as Mori Ogai states in Seinen, the most important “issues” in modern Japan. Posing, by means of a literary work, the question of which role Japan would play on the economic, political and cultural world stage, the Japanese writer raises the issue of the intellectual’s status and that of “nationalism”, understood not in its political sense but rather as individual conscience and national identity.

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Review of European Studies   ISSN 1918-7173 (Print)   ISSN 1918-7181 (Online)

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