The train has been a recurrent metaphor of progress, modernity and development in art and literature since the 19th century. The comparative aim of this talk is to discuss how the motif of the train is employed in rather similar ways by two otherwise quite distinct Japanese authors Natsume Soseki (1867 -1916) and Yoko Tawada (born 1960).
In the fiction of Tawada, the train ride is an occasion for reading and writing as well as a topic to be written about. The texts about trains often contain comprehensive meta-fictional dimensions associating the travel along the rail with the unfolding of a fiction.
In Soseki’s later novels the traveling on trains, trams or rickshaws of his protagonists is linked to his understanding of consciousness and the description of modernity in Meiji Japan. Furthermore it relates to his idea of narrative without a beginning or end as a sort of “anti-novel”.
We will be focusing on traveling protagonists in order to examine how the physical movement of the train functions as a metaphor for the fluidity of mind in both Soseki's and Tawada's writings. This understanding also affects language and plot development in their fiction. Fluidity, being on the way, moving or becoming, is furthermore a significant factor in the poetology and literary theory of both authors.
Christine Glensted, M.A. in Comparative Literature, is currently a MEXT Research Student at Waseda University working on a project about Tawada Yoko.
Annette Vilslev is a Ph.d. student in Comparative Literature (University of Copenhagen) writing about the literary theory of Natsume Soseki.