William J. Tyler Lectures on Ishikawa Jun's "Language of Tomorrow"
William J. Tyler, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and
Literatures at Ohio State University, gave a lecture on April 28 titled "Writing the Language of Tomorrow: Ishikawa Jun's Invention of Ashitago. His lecture discussed the works of Japanese modernist writer Ishikawa Jun, some of which Tyler has translated into English, which deal with modern life and war in Japan. Ishikawa wrote works of resistance to Japan's Fifteen Year War from 1931-1945, and later wrote about the nation's postwar issues.
Tyler was introduced by Kyoko Omori, assistant professor of Japanese
in the East Asian Languages and Literatures Department at Hamilton.
Students in her Japanese 235 class, "Love, Family, and Loneliness in
Modern Japanese Literature," have been reading works of Ishikawa Jun
translated by Professor Tyler.
Tyler began by saying that the issues addressed in Ishikawa's wartime
and postwar works, published 60 years ago, are still important today.
They are closely related to the current controversy between Japan and
its neighbors China and Korea over Japanese textbook depictions of the
Fifteen Year War. All of Ishikawa's stories also have a forward-looking direction, Tyler said.
Ishikawa Jun was an important figure in Japanese modernism who came to
prominence in the 1920s and 30s. His writings of resistance to Japanese militarism and the Fifteen Year War were often censored or banned by the government. His story "Mars' Song," a strong "no" to the war fever and jinjoism sweeping Japan after the invasion of China in 1937, was banned and Ishikawa was fined. His postwar works written during the Allied occupation of Japan, such as "The Legend of Gold," "The Jesus of the Ruins," and The Raptor, also faced
censorship by that regime.
Ishikawa believed a writer should be not only an artist but a social critic, Tyler said. Much of his works require contextual knowledge and decoding to appreciate their irony, sarcasm and parody. Certain phrases and passages in Ishikawa's writings act as keys to understanding greater levels of meaning and symbolism.
In "The Legend of Gold," Ishikawa deals with the concept of guilt and the Japanese postwar concept of "the repentence of 100 million." Even though Ishikawa opposed the war, Tyler said, he still opposed this concept of universal guilt because it echoed the same kind of group-think that brought Japan into the situation. He advocates instead for a more fine-tuned understanding of guilt.
"The Legend of Gold" and "The Jesus of the Ruins" deal with the face of the new postwar Japan. Ishikawa is struggling with what the future of peacetime Japan will be about, Tyler said, and whether Japan will go back to its old peace or forward to a new one. As an author, Ishikawa was interested in expanding Japanese to help it "overcome the prisonhouse of language and culture," Tyler said. He envisioned a new language, which he called "Ashitago," literally translated as "futureese" or "the language of tomorrow," a new kind of
international Japanese language less glued to reality and status quo.
Professor Tyler's lecture was sponsored by the Edwin B. Lee Fund, the
East Asian Languages and Literatures department, the Asian Studies
program, the Comparative Literature department, and the Dean of Faculty's office.
-- by Caroline O'Shea '07