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29.03.2015 г.

Individualistic thought in works of "Shirakaba-ha" literary society members

Zaberezhnaya O.A.

"Shirakaba" ("White Birch") literature society is mainly known as a group of young writers committed to the ideas of individualism, humanism, idealism and pacifism who introduced western arts to Japan of the early XX century.

All these "isms" are qualified by the Japanese literary critics as "Shirakaba thought" (shirakaba-teki shiso) making it a separate ideological movement that played an important role in social and cultural life of Japan at the end of the Meiji period (1868-1912) - beginning of the Taishyo period (1912-1926) - the time when Japan was taking the first steps in the field of European literature, fine arts and philosophy. However, despite the common origin and surrounding, Shirakaba writers differed in terms of artistic method, style and world perception which undermines a statement that all of them were humanists and pacifists as well as utopists and idealists. At the same time it would be fair to say that all members of the society were to a certain extent committed to the concept of idealism which started to spread all over Japan in the end of the Meiji period giving birth to such new values as personality, self-actualization, freedom of choice and independent opinion.

Nevertheless one should be very careful when speaking about individualism shared by Shirakaba members. While they shared a general idea of personality dominance in arts, basic concepts such as "self" (jiko), "ego" (jiga), "instinct" (honno) were understood in different ways. This statement can be proved by comparison of the ideas of three bright representatives of Shirakaba society - Mushyakonoji Saneatsu who along with Yoshiro Nagae was associated with idealistic branch of Shirakaba, Naoya Shiga who along with Satomi Ton was associated with sensual-realistic branch and Takeo Arashima whose life philosophy was considered an outstanding matter (reigaiteki sonzai) for the whole Shirakaba society.

Mushyanokoji's individualism is optimistic, utopian and full of ultimate faith in a human and his potential. A man is under the patronage of a "world will" and by following its rules' his major goal of "self actualization" (jiko wo ikasu) can be completed. "SelfI" (jiko) is an abstract concept for Mushanikoji, one of many individuals within a human. Aimed at self-actualization he confines his instincts by the power of mind, respects the other and lets him realize his capabilities. Finally Mushanokoji draws a utopian world image with an action man who lives in harmony with the world and himself in its center. On the other hand, Mushanokoji's individualism is comparable with pantheism. It is clearly seen in his passion and nearly worship to bright personalities of the time - Tolstoy, Maeterlinck, Van Gogh and religious leaders - Christ and Buddha. Mushanokoji amplifies "cult of a teacher" with authority based not only upon fresh and great ideas but mostly upon charisma.

Shiga resembles Mushanokoji in his optimistic approach to the human potential but his individualistic concept and notion of "self" differs significantly. Shiga's individualism is more like egocentrism (jikochushinshugi). He does not share Mushanokoji's universal life theory but pays all attention to details and episodes thus revealing the truth of life. Shiga's hero is no longer an abstract person. Shiga sets fixed borders, narrowing the universe to a room or a garden, the eternity to several days and the humanity to one man represented generally by himself. For him "self-actualization" is a grasp of emotions from the outer world pictured in fiction with all possible accuracy.

Takeo Arishima is directly opposite to both Mushanokoji and Shiga in perception of a place of a man in this world. While for Mushanokoji a man is a center of the universe, for Arishima it is a weak and pathetic creature ever-distracted between the spiritual and the material. Ideal self-realization for Arishima is to reach a condition when this dialectic conflict may be overcome and true freedom of creation and independence from the world around may be achieved.

The reason of difference in the writers' ideas lies in their own history of relations with Christianity, various moral issues they were facing during their lives and many other factors. A detailed analysis shows that it is essential to reveal the content of "individualism" as a concept in order to fully understand the ideas of Shirakaba group. Otherwise, we risk being stuck in formal approach stating that all Shirakaba writers were devoted followers of certain "isms" which were denied by the members of literary society.


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