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The Disintegrating Machinery of the Modern: Akutagawa Ryūnosuke's Late Writings

  • Seiji M. Lippit
Extract

Akutagawa Ryūnosuke's suicide in July 1927, coming little more than half a year after the beginning of the Shōwa period, seemed to many at the time to signify the end of an era. A number of writers and critics, for example, interpreted his death as marking the defeat of an intellectual (or aestheticized) literary practice disengaged from historical and social reality. This point was particularly emphasized by several prominent Marxist critics, who read his personal crisis as “one aspect of a collapsing bourgeoisie” (Sekiguchi 1993, 4: 334). Miyamoto Kenji crystallized this sentiment in his landmark 1929 essay, “Haiboku no bungaku” (The Literature of Defeat), in which he wrote that Akutagawa's late writings and death constituted a warning to bourgeois intellectuals of the inevitable and disastrous result of their aestheticism and hermeticism (Sekiguchi 1993, 6: 222–46). Indeed, Akutagawa's expression of “vague anxiety” as the cause of his suicide, coupled with the turbulent and transitional character of the 1920s, transformed his death from a personal, private catastrophe into a general historical allegory, an empty vessel into which a variety of narrative interpretations could be projected. In this way, Akutagawa's suicide achieved the status of an eminently historical gesture.

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The Journal of Asian Studies
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  • EISSN: 1752-0401
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