Tokyo via New York: The Haruki Murakami Brand and the Creation of Japanese-Global Literature

Author: 

Alona U. Guevarra

PhD defended at: 

University of the Philippines Diliman

Defended: 

2016

Haruki Murakami occupies a unique position in twenty-first century global literature. His popularity among Japanese readers beginning in the late 1970s has made him a recipient of national awards, and consequently these awards paved the way for fame and international recognition. His works have been translated into more than forty languages and these translations have helped catapult him to the top of the best-seller lists worldwide. International literary critics have also begun to see the intrinsic value of his works, thus Murakami has been receiving citations and awards from them. Despite these, however, his Japanese literary critics did not recognize or legitimize him immediately as a member of the Japanese literary canon or the bundan. It was only in the 1990s that Murakami’s acceptance in the West and Asia as a legitimate artist of the global/transnational age allowed him to re-enter his country’s literary field; this time as a legitimate player in the bundan.
Murakami, this dissertation argues, became a legitimized, “serious” Japanese writer by first becoming a canonized transnational writer. Relying not merely on talent, but on excellent translators, publishers and on his careful strategizing in the transnational literary field, Murakami has now become accepted as a literary artist of distinction in Japan, Asia and the West.
In the process of unravelling his legitimate position in the bundan, Murakami can be seen to have developed, consciously or not, a particular brand that has been given value in the Japanese and non-Japanese literary fields he occupy ( for the latter, the most important is the American literary field). The Murakami-brand of literature is a product of two distinct quasi-periods in Murakami’s literary career. The first phase found in his writing career (1979-mid 1990s) was the period when Murakami problematized the Westernization of Japan from an individualistic perspective; the second phase (mid 1990s-present) traced Japan’s “little histories” in order to unravel contemporary issues afflicting Japan. The latter is characterized by the author’s conscious turn to ideology as a main thrust in his writings. These quasi-periods affirm his trajectory in the transnational and Japanese literary fields he occupies.
Guided by the sociological theory of Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) on the cultural field “which situates artistic works within the social conditions of their production, circulation, and consumption” (1993), this study will trace the process of canonization that the transnational novelist Haruki Murakami underwent in the English-speaking world and how it impacted the Japanese literary field which has changed since.

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