Kawabata Yasunari on Cinema

This coming week I will be attending an international conference in Paris on the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Kawabata Yasunari. Entitled "Relire Kawabata au 21e siècle - modernisme et japonisme au-delà des mythes," it will take place on September 17 and 18, 2014, at the Maison de la culture du Japon (for the first day) and the Université Paris Diderot (on the second day). It will feature some of the top literature scholars in Japan, Europe, and the United States, including Michael Bourdaghs, Kensuke Kono, Hirokazu Toeda, Hirofumi Wada, Yuko Brunet, Tomi Suzuki, and Cécile Sakai (who is the main organizer). The novelist Tawada Yoko will give a talk on the evening of the first day. Click here for the program (in French). 

My own interest in Kawabata is rather long held. One of my first published articles, "Celluloid Masks: The Cinematic Image and the Image of Japan" (in Iris 16 [Spring 1993]: 23-36), considered how Kawabata's and Tanazaki Jun'ichiro's literary representations of cinema connected to their constructions of Japan. And of course my second book, A Page of Madness: Cinema and Modernity in 1920s Japan, is about the film Kawabata was individually involved in making. 

My paper for the conference, "Kawabata and Cine­ma: Literary versus Cine­ma­tic Moder­nity," focuses more on Kawabata's film criticism, and relates it to the problem of how to discuss the "cinematic" nature of his works (a subject that many like Toeda have pursued). Although such discussions are often fruitful, and help problematize the notion of Kawabata as embodying an unchanging Japanese soul (a notion he himself helped propagate through his Nobel speech), they may presume that Kawabata possesses knowledge of cinema, a presumption that Kawabata not only denies of himself, but also, I argue, contests by questioning the possibility of knowing cinema.

There is talk of publishing the papers in Japanese, and we will see about other languages.

Finally, please also note that a series of films related to Kawabata will be screened at the MCJP in October. Check out the great program here. Unfortunately, the National Film Center in Japan refused to lend them a copy of A Page of Madness, underlining again the problems of trying to get a DVD of that film out. 

Update: The Japanese anthology of papers presented at the conference has been published.

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