Reading Ōe Kenzaburō and Murakami Haruki


In this course, we will read English translations of the two most famous contemporary Japanese writers, Ōe Kenzaburō (b.1935) and Murakami Haruki (b.1949).  These two writers serve as symbols of competing trends in contemporary Japanese literature:  “pure” (serious) literature versus popular literature.  Ōe was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1994 for creating “an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today.”  On the other hand, Murakami’s fiction, which Ōe has criticized as “pop,” has been described as “youthful, slangy, political, and allegorical” and seamlessly blends the mundane with surrealistic elements.  We will consider not only the differences between these two writers but also the similar themes in their works (social outcasts, alienation, search for identity, memory and history, legend and storytelling).  Our readings will include novels, short stories, nonfiction, and essays.