132 , 2015-12-15 , International Research Center for Japanese Studies
In his essays on the dynamics of cultural change, the semiotician YuriLotman proposes a model to explain the fact that when an area of culture—poetry, for example—develops a set of self-descriptions—such as poetrycriticism, histories of poetry, and so on—that area of culture (or semioticsystem, to use Lotman’s term) is in a position to become rigidly self-repeating:once it draws up rules for itself, then there is the possibility that it will followthose rules. The semiotic system is described as having become rigidified,under such circumstances. Lotman posits another alternative: the semioticsystem might instead choose to break or alter its own rules, renovating andtransforming itself by incorporating elements from other semiotic systems.In this essay I argue that the appearance of modern Japanese free-verse poetrycan be explained using a modified version of Lotman’s model. It is commonfor historians of modern Japanese poetry to say that the poet Kawaji Ryūkōwas the first to publish free-verse poetry in Japanese (in 1907). This essayplaces Ryūkō’s work in context, characterizing it as a synthesis of a number ofelements from the contemporary criticism—the principal among these beingthe current of negative criticism of Japanese poetry, on the one hand, and thecurrent of positive response to Western free-verse poetry, on the other. Bysynthesizing elements from various strands of poetry and poetry criticism,Ryūkō created a poetic form that is now prevalent in the Japanese poetryestablishment today.