A Fictional Commons

Natsume Soseki and the Properties of Modern Literature

A Fictional Commons

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 2 illustrations Published: September 2021

Asian Studies > East Asia, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

Modernity arrived in Japan, as elsewhere, through new forms of ownership. In A Fictional Commons, Michael K. Bourdaghs explores how the literary and theoretical works of Natsume Sōseki (1867–1916), widely celebrated as Japan's greatest modern novelist, exploited the contradictions and ambiguities that haunted this new system. Many of his works feature narratives about inheritance, thievery, and the struggle to obtain or preserve material wealth, while also imagining alternative ways of owning and sharing. For Sōseki, literature was a means for thinking through—and beyond—private property. Bourdaghs puts Sōseki into dialogue with thinkers from his own era (including William James and Mizuno Rentarō, author of Japan’s first copyright law) and discusses how his work anticipates such theorists as Karatani Kōjin and Franco Moretti. As Bourdaghs shows, Sōseki both appropriated and rejected concepts of ownership and subjectivity in ways that theorized literature as a critical response to the emergence of global capitalism.


“Michael K. Bourdaghs's A Fictional Commons provides a strikingly new approach to thinking about the fiction and theories of Natsume Soseki, as well as for thinking how literature as a practice gestures to something beyond the modern regime of private property. Literature, Bourdaghs demonstrates, is one of the sites where we imagine the return in a higher dimension of the commons, the gift, and primitive communism.” — Karatani Kojin, author of Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy

“Both erudite and innovative, A Fictional Commons brilliantly demonstrates how Natsume Soseki, through his fiction and criticism, explored literature as a domain for imagining the alternatives to modern private property regime and the related conceptualization of modern personhood. It is a major contribution to Soseki studies and modern Japanese literary studies. It also joins broader debates over the value of literature in the twenty-first century—how it may inspire creative modes of sharing that traverses national, regional, and other boundaries dividing our troubled present.” — Tomiko Yoda, Takashima Professor of Japanese Humanities, Harvard University


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Michael K. Bourdaghs is Robert S. Ingersoll Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, coeditor of Sound Alignments: Popular Music in Asia's Cold Wars, also published by Duke University Press, and author of Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop.

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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1462-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1369-3