When reading William J. Tyler’s anthology, “Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 1913-1938,” one realizes that “modanizumu” (modernism) is a very broad term. It seems to mean, for Tyler anyway, any work produced during the years he designates that is not absolutely reactionary in its style or concerns. Thus readers who are hoping for Japanese fiction that, in Ezra Pound’s phrase, “make(s) it new” may be disappointed to find that Tyler’s expansive definition of modernism allows him to include work that simply deals with the new: the “fashion, mores, and manners” of the years with which he is concerned.
Whether Tyler’s definition is too broad is a question probably best left to those interested in literary taxonomy. Those of us who are more concerned with exploring a corner of the Japanese literary map so far largely ignored (at least in English), however, will be happy with Tyler’s big-tent version of modernism. It allows him to include work by writers such as Edogawa Ranpo (also spelled “Rampo”), an author who would seem to owe more to 19th-century decadents than to the less sensational writers who followed them.