Japn 314 Prompt for paper #2 on Masks and Intertextuality

Due Thursday Mar. 17

1. Go back to the Noel Burch reading where he mentions the idea of INTERTEXTUALITY as an important characteristic of Japanese literature. By this term he refers to the way in which Japanese readers are inclined to "read any given text in relation to a body of texts." He notes that Japanese texts are traditionally not closed off from each other, but rather, cross-referenced and inter-related with each other in "successive and/or overlapping patterns of various sorts." Consult the above link on the word intertextaulity or look at another more complex and detailed one here for helpful hints if you wish examine more on intertextuality. Don't forget that a useful definition of intertextuality was linked off of one of the little pages I created in reference to Burch's ideas early on in the course. See especially Burch, Chapter 3.

In Masks we find just such an intricate pattern of overlapping and "layering" that brings together the Tale of Genji, Noh, the Tales of Ise, lines from KKS poems, the Peony Lantern story, images from painting, T'ang Dynasty Chinese poems, and intertexts like Mieko's Account of the Shrine in the Fields, the letter from Akio and Harume's father, Dr. Morioka's "story"--all located or "housed" in modern, postwar prose fiction. Three different female Noh masks are used to structure the text, and within the text itself other texts like: An Account of the Shrine in the Fields, the letter from Mieko’s lover, Minoru Shimojo's painting of Mieko, lines from classical-era poems, etc. are imported and displayed in the text.


Write an essay which demonstrates how you think intertextuality informs and enriches our reading of Masks, and how it contributes to the powerful impact which the text has on us.


As a guiding principle, please remember that I am fundamentally interested in your response to the text; i.e., what you think the text is about; and why or how you think the text caused you to feel that way, i.e., discuss the process by which the text operates on you as a reader. You can do this most effectively by pointing to specific passages in the text by means of quotations, etc.

My EXPECTATIONS, then, are for a 6-8 page paper, typed, making effective use of block quotes from the text to illustrate your arguments. [And by the way, block quotes are indented, single-spaced, and DO NOT involve quotation marks around the author's words. The indentation istself tells the reader that this is a direct quote from the author. Just add a page number at the end of the quoted passage in parentheses.]

You will need to have a clearly articulated thesis or a "claim" that appears in your introduction, the function of which is to stake out the problems or aspects of Masks that you wish to explore. You should be able to put forth in your Introduction, then, a statement that at the very least says something like: "Intertextuality enriches our understanding of Masks in the following ways. . ." or "In this paper, I will argue (or demonstrate) that an intertextaul reading of Masks enriches our understanding of the novel in the following ways...," or something along these lines. In a paper of this length, pick two or three principal points that you want to make and use your textual evidence to support your position. You state your claim and the body of the paper should contain the supporting evidence for your claim. Your conclusion should remind the reader of what you set out to do in your paper and make the case that you succeeded in doing it very well!

For a summary of Jonathan Culler's position on intertextuality and presuppositions click on the word, please.

2. Or, a possible second option: Sputnik Sweetheart as Kokoro 2.0

As one reviewer of Sputnik Sweetheart puts it:

I'll come right out and say it: I don't really know what
Murakami's startling new novel is about. But it has touched
me deeper and pushed me further than anything I've read in
a long time. (...) Murakami has given us a work so much
larger and more pungent than the sum of its parts.

- Julie Myerson, The Guardian

In their own very different ways, both Natsume Sôseki's Kokoro and Murakami Haruki's Sputnik Sweetheart address the problems of friendship, loneliness and darkness in our modern and/or postmodern world. Sôseki asks his readers to ponder questions about morality, ethics, individualism, trust, alienation, relationships--what it means to teach and to learn--and he explores the possibilities for communication between people--between friends as well as marriage partners, between teachers and students, between older and younger generations. Sôsek's darkness also seems to be rather historically and culturally specific: the end of the Meiji era and the death of a monarch, and with him, an older order. But there is clearly an apprehension about the order, about modernity, as well. How possible is it to come know another human being and understand what is in his/her heart? How well do we know what is in our own heart and of what deeds were are capable?

If Sôseki is asking us to gaze deeply into the darkness of the modern condition, is Murakami asking us to update Sôseki's questions and think about the "postmodern" condition? He deals with all of the uncertainty, ambivalence and angst we associate with contemporary life. As he says in the beginning of his novel, "This is where it all began, and where it all wound up. Almost." That "Almost,"of course, makes everything contingent. In Sôseki's work, genuine communication is perceived as something very difficult to achieve in the modern world. In Murakami's postmodern world, characters orbit right past each other in space, like satellites, unable to really touch, make contact, or connect with one another. But perhaps appropriate to a postmodern work, Sputnik Sweetheart does not limit itself to the ordinary or familiar dimensions of human existence, but asks us to consider the possibility of fantastical and even paranormal ones. [Sensei meets the X-Files??] Or, he talks about "Sumire's dream. Miu's split. These are two different worlds...This side---the other side....."Sumire went over to the other sode...Sumire broke through the mirror and journeyed to the other side. To meet the other Miu who was there." (164-66)

How do we make sense of any of this? The postmodern condition involves a sense of discontinuity, of the world as a field of contesting explanations none of which can claim any authority, a sense that life is lived in a world with no transcendent warrant, nothing to guarantee or to underwrite our being as meaningful moral creatures. Life just is. (From: http://www.westga.edu/~mmcfar/postmodern%20description.htm)

Kokoro, at least, left us with a a long Testament by Sensei, one bequeathed from an older to a younger man. Perhpas it contains a teaching. Perhaps it contains some hope. What does Murakami leave us with? Are we any more (or less) hopeful? In Sumire's "Documents," we learn that the narrator of Sputnik Swetheart is identified only as "K." Is this a nod to Sôseki? He does refer specifically to Sôseki on p. 39 though the reference is not to Kokoro; rather, he refers to another novel about loneliness and alienation, Sanshiro.

Although these two novels may seem like an unlikely pairing, you could write an essay that explores how they might actually be probing some of the same issues in human nature despite the eighty-year time difference in their construction. See if you can find two or three themes or issues in which the authors or characters seem to share an interest. Think of it as juxtaposing or bouncing two narrativess off of one another; what sparks seems to fly and in what direction? How do narrative strategies differ? How are each appropriate to the times and the concerns with which they contend? Is one text more hopeful than the other?


There is no moral justice in Murakami's world; there is only the duty - both epistemological and moral - to try to understand.

--Steven Poole, The Guardian