About a year ago I was thinking about the appropriation of the haiku in Imagism and intrigued to learn about the relatively modern refinement of this form in Japanese literature. In particular, I was fascinated by the link between the modern haiku (sometimes perceived as serious, oblique, excessively short, authentic and the creation of the individual poet) and the older haikai no renga (comic, vulgar, spontaneous, epic in its length and collectively produced). When you understand the relationship between the two, the “profundity” of modern haiku takes on the semblance of a joke without the punchline (or the brilliant Garfield minus Garfield website
Then I read the literary critic Kojin Karatani’s discussion, in Origins of Modern Japanese Literature and elsewhere, of Natsume Soseki’s literary experiments as an attempt to develop the haiku-novel, and began to read Soseki’s satirical novel I Am A Cat in order to find out more about the influence of a comic tradition within modern literature (and, because Soseki was influenced by Sterne, I was interested in these fertile movements between English and Japanese literature that complicate the history of modernism). At the time I was writing a book about modernism and starting to develop an account of this tradition in contrast to Zizek’s claims about the haiku, Buddhism and the Deleuzian event (that the haiku, which corresponds to Deleuze’s account of the event, cheats by only poetizing noble events).
If there were correspondences between the haikai no renga and Soseki’s work, we’d have a way to think about a modern literary updating of this tradition of the comic, satirical, grotesque that would expand Deleuze’s empiricism. I was interested in whether Zizek and Deleuze’s claim about the fourth person singular provided a way of connecting the temporal perspective of the haiku-event with the impersonal and detemporalized narrative voice of jokes: “Man walks into a bar…”. I was also reading Nuar Alsadir’s poetry in connection to this (https://granta.com/fourth-person-singular/):
I was trying to develop these thoughts in a way that would allow me to connect this comic tradition back to Benjamin’s alternative version of modernism (non-auratic, destructive, cheerful, collective, inhuman, etc.) but in the end I had to remove these discussions from the book because they were too much of a digression from the central argument. They raise lots of interesting questions – about Benjamin/Brecht and the English tradition, Benjamin/Brecht and comedy, Benjamin/Brecht and the modern European reception of Buddhism, etc. – that I’ve touched on in places before that I feel largely ignorant about and wish I had the time to develop more fully. They might resurface in the background of a new research project I’m about to start on the category of the grotesque, but this will focus on education rather literature.
In the meantime, though, I’ve almost finished my year of reading Soseki. Of the literary works, I’ve only one more book to read: his final, unfinished novel, Light and Darkness
(1916). Before that, though, I’m in the middle of his 1912 novel 行人 or kojin, meaning a wayfarer, traveller or passer-by, and which very neatly brings me back to the point I started out from, in Kojin (行人) Karatani’s work, whose own philosophy is itself rooted in an account of movement.