The Japanese Program and the Asian Studies Certificate is pleased to welcome Luciana Sanga of Stanford University for her talk on the materiality of “ren’ai shosetsu” (love novel).
Free and open to the public.
How does the material form of a text shape its interpretation? “Material form” means the actual physical format that the text assumes, including its publication venue, cover design, and even obi, the narrow slip of paper wrapped around books and used as an advertisement device. The catchphrase on the obi primes and advises the reader on what to expect (“It’s a classic love novel”) or even how to feel while reading it (“It will make you cry!”). The obi is often discarded by both individual buyers and librarians. But I argue that this physically fragile and seemingly insignificant slip of paper can play a role in signaling and even forging a text’s genre and “place” within the literature.
I take as an example Yuikawa Kei’s 2001 novel Katagoshi no koibito (Sweetheart Over the Shoulder). Its obi proclaims Katagoshi is “a refreshing love novel filled with surprises,” and yet the heart of the text is not a romantic relationship. The text instead centers around the friendship of two women, Moe and Ruriko, who abandon the pursuit of happiness through heterosexual love in favor of cohabiting as friends and raising a child together. The “surprise” promised by the obi is that the conclusion of this so-called love novel is not romance, but friendship. I argue that the prioritization of female friendship is a theme inherited from the older and established genre of girls’ novels, which typically feature the tribulations of female adolescence and the stability of friendship. I examine both the obi’s power to describe Katagoshi’s text and communicate its genre, as well as its power to construct the text and redefine its genre. Katagoshi may have girls’ novel themes, but such themes, when framed by the obi and dragged by the text into the realm of adult women, make this work a love novel.