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Knowledge Co-Creation - Profiles of researchers

Neither Novels nor Essays-
Simply Composing What I Want to Write

Mr. Toshiyuki Horie
Professor, Waseda University Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Living by "going with the flow"

It may be a poor choice of words, but I have always lived by going with the flow. I have written what I wanted to at my own pace, and all of the sudden I became known as an author. However, I never even once felt the desire to become an author, and I have never promoted myself or taken actions to become an author.

I developed a fondness for reading books when I was a high school student. I possessed an interest in Japanese classics and decided to take entrance examinations for universities with a department of Japanese literature. This led to my enrollment in the Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences. I happened to take French as my second foreign language. While clutching a dictionary in one hand and struggling to read French sentences, I began to feel that I wanted to finish what I had started and develop strong reading ability in French. Therefore, I changed my course and proceeded to major in French literature. I went to used book stores to buy inexpensive French novels and essays, and I read these books with a passion. At that time, I had the vague notion that I would be able to live an enjoyable life if I acquired the language ability needed to read such works.

My graduation thesis dealt with the early works of the female author Ms. Marguerite Yourcenar. At the time of graduation, I was told by my mentor Professor Naoki Enaka (currently Professor at the Waseda University Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences) to submit my thesis to the Waseda Bungaku magazine. I rewrote my thesis into a short essay on literary criticism and submitted it to the editorial department. As luck would have it, my work was published. I was very happy when I saw that my own writing had been put into print. I had never thought of submitting something that I had written for publication, so I am extremely grateful to Professor Enaka for pushing me into action.

Kakareru Te (The Hand that Writes), a collection of prose published in 2000. The opening of the book features "The Hand that Writes- Theory of Ms. Marguerite Yourcenar", the first writing of Professor Horie to be published in the Waseda Bungaku magazine.

I entered graduate school at the University of Tokyo. The University of Tokyo does not possess a conventional system of faculty offices. Instead, students are basically required to study by themselves, decide their own theme, and write a thesis. When reviewing the thesis, the position of main reviewer is filled by the Professor whose field of specialty is closest to the subject of the thesis. In a certain meaning, this is a completely laissez-faire system of education. I believe that the concept of working freely without exclusive focus is a match for my personality. However, as I spent my time relaxing and reading books of my own choosing, I realized that the students around me were all preparing for foreign study. There is a system known as "Bourses du Gouvernement Fran巽ais" which allows for study in France through sponsorship by the French government. At the time when I was a graduate student, the examination for this system held a great amount of prestige. It was said that passing this examination is essential for anyone considering a future as a scholar of French literature. For this reason, there were even students who paid their own expenses to study abroad in France in advance and then return to Japan just to take this examination.

Even I, who always maintained my own pace, was astonished by this realization. I wanted to continue my graduate studies for a bit longer and I wanted to go to France. Since I did not have the money to support such studies myself, I realized that my only option was to receive financial support. I fixed myself on this goal and studied feverishly for about half a year. I managed to pass the examination, and after entering the Doctorate Program at the University of Tokyo and then taking a leave of absence from the program, I left to study abroad in Paris.

At that time, I was reading a lot of modern French novels. However, when I encountered descriptions of Paris, I was unable to attain a clear image only by looking a photographs and maps. I wanted to go to France and actually experience the sensation of the geography and seasons that were described in French novels. At the very least, I wanted to spend a year living in France so that I could experience all of the seasons.

Dictionaries do not include the prices of products or the names of daily goods. Therefore, I often went to the supermarket and gazed at all sorts of items. This kind of trivial knowledge is very useful not only when reading, but also when doing translation. In the end, I did not engage in normal student activities such as writing an academic thesis. Instead, I simply spent 3 years of letting my mind drift, reading books of my own choosing and wandering the streets of Paris.

I write because someone needs me to write

Kogai He (To the Suburbs), published in 1995. Professor Horie's debut work as an author.

I left graduate school soon after returning to Japan. In my late 20s, I lived without permanent employment while serving as a part-time university instructor of secondary foreign languages. Afterwards, I had the good luck of obtaining a full-time post, and I began work as a translator while continuing to serve as an instructor of secondary foreign languages. At that same time, I also began to write my own works in response to requests for items such as articles introducing modern French literature.

This was around the same time that I obtained work writing a series of articles for a language journal entitled "France". I was given the freedom to write whatever I wished, so I introduced novels depicting life in the suburbs of Paris. These kinds of works were not usually introduced in Japan at that time. I did not write about the glamorous Paris that Japanese people idolize through magazines. Instead, I wrote rather incomprehensible essays that were book reviews of novels which depicted the marginal culture of Paris. These novels dealt with themes such as the development of new residential areas, the inhabitation of residential districts by immigrants and low-income individuals, and the occurrence of rebellions.

The series of articles which I wrote at this time were gathered and published as a book entitled Kogai He (To the Suburbs). Although my translations had already been published, this was the first publication of my original work. As luck would have it, this book seemed to have caught the attention of various editors, and I began to receive requests for further writing. Opportunities for writing and presenting my works continued to expand.

However, everything that I wrote was to fulfill request made from editors. I never took it upon myself to contact an editor and ask that I be allowed to write about a concept that I had developed. I think that I would not have written anything if I had not received requests from editors. Or perhaps I would have waited longer and more carefully for the arrival of my ability and desire to write. I may seem to be terribly passive, but even until today, I have always held the stance of "I write because someone needs me to write".

Professor Horie was awarded the Mishima Literary Prize for Oparavan (1999) and the Akutagawa Literary Prize for Kuma no Shikiishi (The Bear and the Paving Stone, 2001). Afterwards, he received a number of prestigious prizes including the Kawabata Literary Prize, the Tanizaki Literary Prize, the Kiyama Shohei Prize, and the Yomiuri Literary Prize.

I have received awards for several of my works, but I am often told that I do not seem very happy about the recognition that I have received. I am not capable of judging whether my own works are worthy of a literary prize, and the feeling of confusion often proceeds the feeling of joy. I suppose that is was a difficult choice for the judges to award a prize to a person like myself, who writes works which cannot be categorized into any one genre. Those judges probably feel angry when I do not look happy about the prize!

I do not belong to any academic societies or groups of authors, and I have always written in detail by myself. I think the reason that I have been able to continue such a style of work is that, during repeated performance of my passive work, I have accumulated the ability to produce work at the time that it is required. I have become able to exert my ability at the exact moment that it is required. An even more important factor is that I have been blessed with editors who understand the pace at which I work.

I am interested in how I should write, not what I should write. Of course, there are subjects which are important to me. However, such themes become apparent while I am writing and are not something which is clear from the beginning. Therefore, to make an extreme statement, any topic or settings is fine for my writing. If I was asked to write about Antarctica, I could probably write something as long as the timing was right. I separate myself from forms and literary styles that can be divided into novels and essays, and I write what I want as the material comes to me. Therefore, the material of my writing cannot be decided. However, when I reread something that I wrote when I was young, I feel fresh astonishment as if I was looking at an old photograph, amazed at the style of writing that I employed at that time. I do not force myself to write in a methodical manner, but rather write in a nearly unconscious condition. As a result, I often do not clearly remember what I write. That unconscious part of my writing becomes more apparent as time passes.

I hope that each person writes at the opportune moment

In 2007, the Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I and School of Letters, Arts and Sciences II (Evening Division) were restructured into the School of Culture, Media and Society and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. That same year, I assumed the position of Professor for the Bungei-Journalism Course in the School of Culture, Media and Society. My position is not as an instructor of the French language or French literature, but rather can be described as an "author post", although I am not sure if such a title exists. Currently, I teach students how to write, and also how to read in preparation for writing. Actually, education regarding reading has the highest ratio in my curriculum. I do not correct the works of young writers. I use myself as an example in this case, for if I was to reread my own writings after setting them aside for a certain amount of time, I am sure that I would be a bit embarrassed. This is because I have become able to objectively evaluate my own work. I believe that this is a big first step. In order to instill students with this kind of ability, all I can do is provide them with the opportunity for self-reflection.

Since I teach a course in creative writing, there are of course students that dream of becoming an author. It is not easy to realize this dream simply because a student studies creative writing at a university. However, even if a student is not able to accomplish anything while at university, and even if a student graduates without understanding anything, there is no need to give up on oneself as incapable of writing.

In the School of Culture, Media and Society, Professor Horie conducts a class in contemporary literature theory (upper photograph) and a seminar on literary criticism and novels (lower photograph).

To call it a detour may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but once a student reaches his or her 30s, 40s or 50s, there may come a time when a student suddenly feels the desire to write. This period is different depending on the person, but I hope that each person will seize the timing to start writing. If the person has the ability to write at that phase, then they should write. If they are not capable of writing, then it is fine for them to wait for the next opportunity. For that purpose, I hope that they maintain a relationship with literature that they enjoy. I hope that they always continue to read and have discussions with other book-lovers, even while they work at a different job. As long as a person continues to have that passion, they will gain the ability to write and begin writing at some point in time.

The period of maturity is different for each person. I tell my students the following: "There is no need to write something immediately. If the time to write comes after waiting patiently, and if you are really able to write something at that time, then I would like to read what you have written." It is not difficult to begin writing. However, it is much more difficult to continue writing after you have started. In order to continue, it is necessary to have periods in which you do not or cannot write.

I stated that I have "gone with the flow" until now. However, even if a wave crashed on top of me, I did not break or sink. Therefore, I believe that I possess some sort of immovable core, something strong inside me, even if I do not understand the existence of this core. I want to keep writing until I understand what exists inside of me, although I may write all of my life and never understand.

Mr. Toshiyuki Horie
Professor, Waseda University Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Born in Gifu Prefecture in 1964. Graduated from the Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I (academic major in French Literature). He participated in the Doctorate Program of the University of Paris III as a scholarship student of the French government and left the Doctorate Program at the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology before completion. Served as a Lecturer at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and as a Lecturer, Assistant Professor, and Professor at the Meiji University School of Science and Technology. Assumed his current position in 2007. Accomplished his literary debut in 1995 with the book Kogai He(To the Suburbs). Awarded the Mishima Literary Prize in 1999 for Oparavan. Awarded the Akutagawa Literary Prize in 2001 for Kuma no Shikiishi (The Bear and the Paving Stone). Awarded the Kawabata Literary Prize in 2003 for Stance Dot (from the short story collection Yukinuma to Sono Shuhen (In and Around Yukinuma)). Awarded the Tanizaki Literary Prize and the Kiyama Shohei Prize in 2004 for Yukinuma to Sono Shuhen. Awarded the Yomiuri Prize for Literature in 2006 for Kaganbojitsusho (Forgotten Days by the Riverside). Has also authored and translated many other works. Has served as a member of the selection committee for the Kobayashi Hideo Prize since 2002, and as a member of the selection committee for the Noma Literary Prize for New Authors since 2008.

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