Academic journal article Discourse (Detroit, MI)

Encounters with the Planetary: Mori Ogai's Cartographic Writing

Academic journal article Discourse (Detroit, MI)

Encounters with the Planetary: Mori Ogai's Cartographic Writing

Article excerpt

Koizumi Jun'ichi left his inn on ShibaHikage. Despite the map of Tokyo he had with him, he kept bothering people about directions. At a Shinbashi street-car stop, he caught a car for Ueno, and he somehow managed to make the rather complicated transfer at Suda to another car.

-Mori Ögai (1910)

The important thing is not the final result but the fact that a cartographic method coexists with the process of subjectivation, and that a reappropriation, an autopoiesis of the means of production of subjectivity, [is] made possible

-Félix Guattari (1990)


Published in 1910-11 by the Japanese writer Mori Ögai (1862-1922), Youth,1 begins with the classic Meiji scene of the provincial young man lost in Tokyo. The young Koizumi Jun'ichi arrived the previous day from the island of Kyüshü and must now find his way in the Japanese capital to realize his dream, becoming a writer. With the help of the Tökyö Höganzu (Tokyo Grid Map) (figure l),2 he easily finds how to reach the pension house where lives his would-be mentor, the naturalist writer Öishi Kentarö. But Öishi is still asleep and cannot meet him. As Jun'ichi learns to inhabit a new planetary urban space, he gradually realizes the impossibility of becoming someone who writes "like a god."3 In this novel, Ögai subverts the narrative of progress of the bildungsroman, conflating the position of the author as absolute creator and the figure of the male citizen writing in a confessional mode to instead stage a nonlinear narrative of everyday urban experiences. As Jun'ichi learns, dwelling in urban space means taking part in a planetary everyday experience defined by movement, change, and the new and calls for a radically distinct process of subjectivation in literary form, what I call a cartographic writing.

Drawing on a genealogy of ecocriticism running through the works of Ursula K. Heise, Masao Miyoshi, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and Timothy Morton,41 understand the planetary in terms of three basic characteristics: a space of alterity, a continuous field of movement, and an open totality. The planetary emerges as this other space of experiences for the human, a space of movement never accessible on a representational mode and as such undermining any national ground of identity. The urban must then be redefined as a technique for dwelling in the planetary, an everyday questioning that can only be properly addressed in a process of fictionalization. Youth's cartographic writing is thus both a performance of and an education in dwelling in the planetary. By suspending the urban subject between the hegemonic layers of urban space, Youth allows for the emergence of a planetary cartography of love detached from the maternal space of national domesticity.

The map used by Jun'ichi at the outset of the novel is clearly identified in the Japanese text as the Tökyö Höganzu, a tourist map in the manner of the Baedeker guides created by Ögai himself and published in 1909 by Shunyödö. The Tökyö Höganzu makes visible the complex relation between a mapping and a cartographic impulse, or the ordering and the expression of urban experiences, in terms of a dual referentiality: it is both a total image of Tokyo and a self-referential, functional diagram. The map presents the total and mimetic image of a historical reality, central Tokyo during the Greater Taishö era (exoreferentiality),5 while functioning as a self-referential diagram valued on its ground of experience and effectivity, an everyday space of navigation (endoreferentiality). Ögai exploits this tension between two modes of referentiality to generate a perspectival movement into a third space of fictionalization where it becomes possible to inhabit an everyday space of encounter with the planetary.

What is at stake in this essay is identifying other possibilities of everyday experiences in fictional writing for a planetary urban subject, a subject in transit. More specifically, posing a shift from the modernist subject to the planetary urban subject, I attempt to de-conflate a range of urban experiences rendered opaque by an overemphasis on the question of national subjectivity. …

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