The World selects Sōseki as an international read for the holidays

One of the more interesting year-end lists comes from Bill Marx at PRI’s The World. Marx, a champion of books in translation and works published by university and independent presses, chooses a list of titles that raise the thorny issue of the relationship between literature new and the old.

Among his choices and the one he refers to as “the nerdiest pick on my list” is Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings by Natsume Sōseki (see picture).

Here’s what Marx has to say about the book:

The nerdiest pick on my list, but for fans of one of Japan’s greatest novelists (“Kokoro,” “Kusamakura”) this volume of his literary criticism offers insights into his fiction as well as some prescient ideas about realism and multiculturalism. Much of the volume is made up of excerpts from Sōseki’s science-minded “Theory of Literature” – some of which are dated and dense. I suggest reading the informative introduction and skipping around until you hit pay dirt. For example, this interesting passage on the value of individuality from Sōseki’s essay “Philosophical Foundations of the Literary Arts”:

It is only when one has an ideal that is new, profound, or broad, only when one tries to realize that ideal in the world but finds the world foolishly prevents this – only then does technique become truly useful to the person in question. When the world prevents us from developing our ideal in real life, then the only avenue remaining is to use technique to realize that ideal in the form of a literary work.

Check out Bill Marx’s full list here and for more on The Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings, you can browse and preview the book.

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