My Introduction to Japanese Literature

I am not the most competent person in the world to offer a survey course in Japanese Literature, I know, but I like to think that I am the most competent one based in Topeka, Kansas.

In the first decade of my thirty year career at Washburn University, under the old General Education requirements, Washburn was an ideal place for a general practitioner in the study of literature--and I am very thankful for that experience, which lasted long enough to establish permanent possession of my graduate school education.  Some semesters I had full enrollments in all three survey courses, might go from teaching Beowulf in British Literature to Machiavelli in World Literature to Hawthorne in American Literature the same day, and taught many specialized upper-division courses.

But in the early '70s, under pressures felt everywhere in higher education in this country, the Washburn faculty dropped those General Education requirements, which had supported enrollment in foreign languages and the liberal arts in general--and very definitely those courses I had spent those many years in graduate school (and the classroom) learning to teach.  Within a few years, enrollment in traditional courses in History, Philosophy, and Literature (and most departments that had existed when I was a college student) dropped by 85%.  Most of the upper-division courses I had been teaching were eliminated--leaving me Shakespeare (the only writer outside of this time and place who could still draw a crowd in Topeka, Kansas--talk about genius) and wall-to-wall Freshman Composition (the last of the required courses).

At first, as I saw the curriculum disappearing, I was going to get out of the profession completely.  I took the LSAT, expecting to go to law school.  But, as a going away present to myself, as I thought of it then, I took my family on a Sweet Summer Sabbatical to Japan for the summer of 1973--and began the study of Japanese Literature.  I have been studying it ever since.  Over the years since then I have taught a dozen different courses in Japanese Literature at Washburn, which allowed me to sustain, for myself at least, the illusion that I was still a college professor, but most only once, and never to many students--so, while never losing my own enthusiasm for the subject, I did not establish the academic program  I had expected to establish.  Now, as this voice crying out  from the wilderness of retirement, I am still trying to find an audience for those Japanese authors--on the WWW, of all places.

As the first unit to this third purpose, in March I offered the Introduction to a book I have written surveying Japanese literature by considering a representative author from each major period, theoretically for high-school students, but probably aimed more accurately at that dispossessed professor who was just discovering that such a thing as Japanese Literature existed in the summer of 1973.  Then I will offer a chapter a month for these next two years on some Japanese author, five drawn from this book--it, too, waiting to be self-published--but most of those next year.  I will begin in April where I myself began--and still recommend to anyone who knows little or no Japanese literature to begin--with Mishima Yukio (1925-1970), then will move chronologically through five other twentieth-century Japanese novelists also readily available in English translation: Natsume Soseki (1867-1916, who is one of my representative authors), Tanizaki Junichiro (1886-1965), Kawabata Yasunari (1899-1972, Nobel Prize in 1968), Abe Kobo (1924-1993), and Oe Kanzaburo (1935--, Nobel Prize in 1994).
 


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