On Uneven Ground: Miyazawa Kenji and the Making of Place in Modern Japan

On Uneven Ground: Miyazawa Kenji and the Making of Place in Modern Japan

On Uneven Ground: Miyazawa Kenji and the Making of Place in Modern Japan

On Uneven Ground: Miyazawa Kenji and the Making of Place in Modern Japan


The history of literary and artistic production in modern Japan has typically centered on the literature and art of Tokyo, yet cultural activity in the country's regional cities and rural towns was no less vibrant. On Uneven Ground recovers pieces of this neglected history through the figure of Miyazawa Kenji (1896-1933). While alive, he remained a mostly unknown and unread provincial author whose experiments with narrative fiction, amateur theater, and farmer's art reveal an intense determination to reimagine and remake his native place, in the northeast of Japan, meaningful.

Today, Miyazawa is one of the most recognized figures in Japan's modern literary canon. The story of his radical posthumous rise presents an opportunity to examine the larger history of how writing and other forms of artistic practice have intersected with place-based identity and the uneven geography of cultural production. The first book-length study of Miyazawa in English, On Uneven Ground centers on Miyazawa's life and writing to recreate a sense of what it was to write about and remake place from a spatially marginal position in the cultural field.


How strange that the greatest literary glories of our
time should be born of entirely posthumous works:
Kafka, Simone Weil, Hopkins; or of works partially
posthumous, as is the case with Hölderlin, Rimbaud,
Lautréament, Trakl, Musil, and in an even crueler sense,
Nietzsche. One would like to recommend to writers:
leave nothing behind, destroy everything you wish to
see disappear; do not be weak, have confidence in no
one, for you will necessarily be betrayed one day.

Maurice blanchot, The Infinite Conversation

In September 1933 Miyazawa Kenji (1896–1933), laying prostrate at his family home in the northern town of Hanamaki, finally succumbed to the lung ailment that had plagued him for much of his adult life. After nearly a decade and a half of literary output, he left for the opposite shore as a mostly obscure provincial poet and author of children’s fiction, having published just a single volume in each genre. a smattering of material had found its way into a few small coterie magazines (dōjin zasshi), enough to earn him recognition amongst a handful of local and metropolitan poets, but there was little at the time of his death to indicate that any of it would escape burial in the dustbin of literary history. Miyazawa himself was unsure about the present and future value of his work, recognizing the divergent routes it might take once handed over, as Borges put it, to “that other man” whose name appears “in some biographical dictionary” and whose pages are soon to belong to “language itself, or to tradition.” Speaking to his father, who had never taken his son’s artistic ambitions seriously Miyazawa explained that his manuscripts were merely the traces of his disillusionment and should be disposed of accordingly. To his mother, who had been more accepting of her . . .

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