April 18, 2014

Aphoristic Writings by Hagiwara Sakutarō (萩原朔太郎)

In the coming months I will be posting translations of prose by Hagiwara Sakutarō (1886–1942), one of the most influential poets of prewar modern Japan. In these short essays and excerpts, he seems drawn to exploring modern life in light of the paradoxes of Japanese state ideology, Western thought and culture, and anachronistic appropriations of premodern institutions (such as bushido) all within a frame modeled after Nietzsche's aphoristic critiques of modernity. Hagiwara's interrogations of modern phenomena often contradict himself in other aphorisms and thus (like Nietzsche) he presents multiple positions and masks. 

The passages chosen for translation are not meant to hold Hagiwara up on a pedestal in admiration. My intention is to try to better understand the social antagonisms of Japanese society at the various times of their writing and thus fill in a better genealogical understanding of Japanese society and cultures in the interwar period and also cultural inflections of nationalism and militarism in the 1930s. His multifaceted aphoristic fragments perhaps may help us discern complicated tensions in the society at the time of writing, tensions that often get smoothed over in reductive summaries of the period.

The two posts to follow are two passages from two of his collections of aphorisms. The first is taken from a preface to his work The New Lust (Atarashii yokujō, 1922) in which he sees an avant-garde art and architecture movement in the making, borne of an amorphous aesthetic intuition that resembles a sexual longing but suggests an orientation toward the formation of the next global art movement. The second post is from Escape from Despair (Zetsubō no tōsō, 1935), an aphorism titled "Culture and Bushido" (translated in full).

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