Japanese history and culture in the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro
Time: 10:30 - 13:00
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HLT111
Duration: 2 sessions (over 2 weeks)
What is the course about?
When Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, officials in Japan hurried to check his nationality in case an honour had been bestowed on the country. The writer is of course British but, since he was born in Nagasaki and moved to England aged five, the question was worth asking. And despite a very English childhood in Surrey, even becoming a choirboy in the local church, Ishiguro’s first literary success came with fiction largely set in Japan (A Pale View of Hills (1982) and An Artist of the Floating World (1986)). These novels deal with Japanese history from the 1930s to 1950s, but a woman who lived through those times complained to me that the details, speech style and cultural atmosphere were disappointingly inauthentic. Why?
In his Nobel Speech, Ishiguro explained that because he never returned to Japan during his childhood and youth, he constructed in his mind a version of the country from his expatriate parents’ stories and educational materials sent by his grandfather. This became part of his identity, and his early writing was “an urgent act of preservation” before this personal Japan of his childhood imagination was lost. On this course we will compare Ishiguro’s Japan with the ‘real’ one, but in the context of the writer’s abiding concern with competing versions of the past, in particular in relation to personal memory and the emotions carried within it.
This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
• A Pale View of Hills: post-war reconstruction in Nagasaki; the circumstance of Japanese women past and present; trauma, memory and childhood.
• An Artist of the Floating World: pre-war militarism and post-war haji (shame); families and generations; rewriting the past; the (Japanese) artist in society.
• We will also briefly consider the appearance of Japanese characters in other works such as When We Were Orphans (2000).
• Ishiguro is a very eloquent and thoughtful commentator on his own work, so we will look at extracts from several relevant interviews and speeches as well as some critical approaches.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
•Recognise the ways in which Ishiguro transmuted his personal vision of Japan into fiction
• Identify aspects of Japanese culture and history in Ishiguro’s novels in relation to other sources
• Discuss and analyse Ishiguro’s literary vision of history, memory and the emotions.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
For those who enjoy reading and discussing literature and are interested in sharing ideas and listening to the views of others.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
The classes will be highly participatory and interactive, with a combination of pair and group work, close reading exercises and class discussion. We will make use of mixed media including photographs and audio interviews along with extracts from the texts themselves. While the tutor will provide expert guidance and knowledge, your own responses and ideas will be to the fore.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
If you want to bring your own copies of A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World, please do, but this is not essential as extracts will be provided.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
Look for other courses in Literature on our website at www.citylit.ac.uk/history, culture & writing/literature/fiction.
Lewis Ward is a London-based teacher and editor. His PhD (University of Exeter) focused on history, memory and trauma in contemporary narratives. He has taught at four UK universities, covering most literary periods and genres along the way.
Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.