The Undiscovered Country: Text, Translation, and Modernity in the Work of Yanagita Kunio.

Author:Buccitelli, Anthony Bak
Position:Book review

The Undiscovered Country: Text, Translation, and Modernity in the Work of Yanagita Kunio. By Melek Ortabasi. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Asia Center, 2014. Pp. xiv + 329, list of figures, acknowledgments, abbreviations, introduction, notes, bibliography, index.

Casting a long shadow in folklore studies in Japan, as well as numerous other countries, Yanagita Kunio (1875-1962) has often been the subject of historiographic studies in both Japanese and English. Yet, as Melek Ortabasi observes in the introduction to The Undiscovered Country, these accounts have tended to filter their understanding of Yanagita's works through certain reductive positions. Some, especially those that grew out of the Post-War scholarship on Yanagita in Japan, approach the study of his works primarily through his notoriety as an ideological maverick who "even during his lifetime ... was regarded as an eccentric, domineering crackpot almost as often as he was labelled a brilliant, versatile iconoclast" (4). Others, by contrast, beginning with the English-language scholarship following Ronald Morse's 1974 doctoral research and extending into later Japanese language works, "have gravitated toward a deconstruction of his text, treating them as natural though not particularly desirable symptoms of larger historical, political, and cultural trends" (8). This "Jamesonian stance," the author observes, tended to read Yanagita's texts "against the grain, thus 'disclosing the absent cause that structures the text's inclusions and exclusions ... [and] restoring] to the surface the deep history that the text represses.'" Not necessarily wholly rejecting either position, Ortabasi instead envisions this book as "part of a new category of scholarship on Yanagita that continues to examine his significance in the political/cultural discourse on nation and modernity in Japan, but by shifting to a focus on what his writing does do" (9). The intervention Ortabasi offers, in other words, is to "privlege both the historical context and the materiality of [Yanagita's] texts," rather than seeking to submerge these texts into a reading of either the author or the socio-politics of late 19th and early 20th century Japan (9-10).

Despite its basic aim to intervene in the scholarly analysis of the works of Yanagita, The Undiscovered Country is one of those rare academic works that is successfully able to produce both a deep analysis of a limited group of materials and a much...

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