Exoticism in early twentieth-century German literature on Japan
[Manuscript of 2005, published with minor changes in 2006 as: "Exoticism in early twentieth-century German literature on Japan", in: C. W. Spang und R.-H. Wippich (ed.), Japanese-German Relations, 1895-1945. War, diplomacy and public opinion, London and New York, 2006, pp. 98-116)
Elements of exoticism as well as stereotypes and clichés based on exoticism can still be found in present-day literature on Japan and in the popular image of Japan in Europe. The end of exoticism indicated by the title of Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit’s book of 1988 (Das Ende der Exotik) is still not in sight (cf. Giacomuzzi 2002: 167, Ophüls-Kashima 1995: 89), in spite of the wealth of information on Japan available now and the growing number of Europeans who have had the possibility to personally experience the real Japan. The persistency of these instances of exoticism already indicates that it will be important to take a closer look at the factors that gave rise to exoticism and at the function they serve in the relations between cultures. The fact that, in Germany, exoticism and enthusiasm for Japan reached a highpoint at a time when the political relations between both countries were at a low point is of particular interest in our context1.
Images of Japan until World War II
One might suspect that the images of Japan found in exoticism originate mainly at the time of the early contacts between Europe and Japan or that they are due to the fact that Japan was practically unknown to Europeans until the middle of the nineteenth century, as Wilkinson (1981: 35) and Wuthenow (1990: 19) claim. But both assumptions are not true. The Jesuit missionaries who came to Japan in the sixteenth century paint a generally positive picture of Japan and its people. They even find qualities superior to those of Europeans (Kreiner 1993: 18-20), but their reports generally lack the elements of exoticism found in Marco Polo's description of Zipangu as a paradisaical island or, much later, in the enthusiastic praise of Japan in European exoticism. Moreover, since the sixteenth century, Japan was much better known in Europe than is often assumed. George Sansom claims: ‘There is relatively little reference to Japan in European literature [...]’ (1952: 8) and he speaks of ‘the general ignorance of Japan which prevailed in the West until the beginning of the nineteenth century, and even longer.’ (1952: 9) But that this cannot be true is sufficiently demonstrated by the wealth of material on Japan for this period that Peter Kapitza has collected in two large volumes.2
Some elements of later exoticism can already be found in the earliest reports on Japan, particularly in descriptions of the Japanese that put them close to the ideal of the ‘noble savage’. But a ‘radical change of views’ (Kreiner 1993: 21) in the second half of the eighteenth century, under the influence of the Enlightenment, led to an increasingly negative evaluation of the Japanese (ibid., Kreiner 1984: 33). When, at the end of the nineteenth century, Europeans discovered, or actually rediscovered, the kingdom of the Ryukyu and the Ainu, two ethnic groups in the south and north of Japan, these peoples were described now according to the ideal of the ‘noble savage’, whereas, ironically, their negative traits were now attributed to the bad influence of the Japanese (Kreiner 1993: 22-3).
With the opening of the country, in 1853, more and more Europeans were able to gain first-hand experiences in Japan. Their reports generally presented a realistic picture of the country and led to a sympathetic and increasingly deeper understanding of Japan and its culture in Europe. Among the Germans, most influential in this respect were the experts invited to Japan in the 1870s and 1880s. Their books and reports, mostly written in the two or three decades after 1880, form the basis of an image of Japan in Germany that remained influential well into the first decades of the twentieth century and partly still today (cf. Mathias-Pauer 1984: 116-21). It is an image with mostly positive traits. ‘Oriental’ qualities can only be found occasionally, and then only with reference to certain negative traits of character which, however, are refuted by other scholars.3
Merchants, travellers, and other visitors to Japan usually give dispassionate, objective descriptions in their reports and tend to emphasize positive aspects. An example is the book by Heinrich Schliemann (better known for his discovery of ancient Troy) who views Japan with the sober eye of a merchant (Schliemann 1867). Travel diaries which became very popular in the second half of the nineteenth century tend to emphasize more the ‘exotic’ aspect of Japan but only towards the end of the century can we notice a tendency to refer to motives found in exoticism, as will be discussed in the next section.
Since the end of the nineteenth century, political tensions between Japan and Germany increased4 up to a point where they resulted in a direct military confrontation at Tsingtau in 1914. The focus of interest of the German public now shifted towards Japan's increasing military and economic power, a tendency reflected in numerous articles on the actual situation in Japan and its theatres of war. Regine Mathias-Pauer has shown how this is reflected in a local German newspaper: The early enthusiasm accompanying Japans victory over China in 1895 (see Wippich 1997: 21-34), expressed in phrases like ‘the Prussians of East Asia’, changes to mixed feelings of respect, disappointment, and fear (Mathias-Pauer 1984: 122-31).
Exoticism since the end of the 19th century
During the last decades of the nineteenth century, Japanese art and craftsmanship began to exert a growing influence on European arts and crafts, accelerated by the International Exhibitions since the 1860s. The ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) and European Japonism are probably the most remarkable phenomena to be mentioned in this context. They added new aspects to the image of Japan in Europe and were the cause of a growing interest in the country. Since around 1900, group tours around the world, organized for wealthy tourists, became increasingly popular (cf. Schuster 1977: 80-1, Pekar 2003: 137-40). Max Dauthendey, whose writings on Japan will be discussed later, joined such a tour organized by Cook’s Travel Agency in 1905-6, visiting Egypt, India, China, Japan, and America. Many of these travellers felt compelled to write about their experiences. This travel literature, often with illustrations, helped Europeans to gain a more detailed knowledge about Japan and various aspects of its culture but, increasingly, we can also find in it elements of exoticism.
Before we discuss these elements of exoticism in detail it will be necessary to clarify in what sense the term ‘exoticism’ is used in this paper. In a wider sense, one might use it in reference to the way people relate to phenomena regarded as exotic. But the - widespread - interest in exotic things or the curiosity and even fascination aroused by these alone does not yet justify the use of the term. It should be reserved to the historical phenomenon that will be discussed now and where exoticism has a distinctly new dimension. The background for this phenomenon could be described briefly as follows. Since about the middle of the nineteenth century, a growing number of Western artists and intellectuals, dissatisfied with and critical of European civilization, created imaginary exotic counter worlds by arbitrarily choosing real or imagined elements of distant cultures and by projecting their own dreams and wishes on these. Similar phenomena or at least some elements of these can be found in European history since ancient times as well as in other cultures but they hardly ever had an impact as massive as the influence of exoticism on Europeans since the end of the nineteenth century.
According to Hermann Pollig, technological progress and the increasing rationalization and complexity of modern life are felt as a threat and evoke compensations of the psyche. ‘The loss of meaning leads to an escape into an irrational imaginary counter world of paradisiacal and obsessional wishes and daydreams. The escape into exoticism is one of the possibilities of regaining psychic balance in the search for a harmonious life.’5 (Pollig 1987: 16). Or, as Linus Hauser puts it:
Thus we can conclude that in an age of scientific technology, exotic man representing pre-scientific, even pre-historic harmony with nature is presented as an ethical model for a highly technological society. Naturalness, spontaneity, blissful harmony with oneself and the world are what a highly technological society longs for since it seems to be impossible to realize these in their daily lives.(Hauser 1987: 41)6
This leads to escapism and often a rejection of one’s own culture, to a flight into utopian and paradisiacal worlds. In the second half of the eighteenth century, through the reports of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville and Georg Foster, the South Pacific and its islands, especially Tahiti, were discovered as an earthly paradise where a ‘free, blissful and orgiastic life’ could be found (Pollig 1987: 19), and these islands then became the object of exotic dreams by Paul Gauguin and others at the end of the nineteenth century. ‘The tropical islands became a metaphor of the exotic as such.’ (Pollig 1987: 19).
Earl Miner distinguishes between primitivism and exoticism which are both seen, in the nineteenth century, as ‘idealizing a culture different from one’s own. If the idealized culture is simple, then the urge to idealize it is primitivistic; if it is less primitive than unfamiliarly refined, then the idealizing is exoticism. The International Exhibition [of 1862] laid the basis of an exoticizing of Japan which lives on to this day.’ (Miner 1958: 29). Miner also notices the fact that ‘Walpole, Mr. Burges, and Oscar Wilde saw common ideal and exotic elements in the distant European past and in the newly discovered art of Japan’ (Miner 1958: 29), thus indicating a common source of both European romanticism and exoticism. In line with what has been discussed above, Miner explains the ‘seemingly indestructible appeal of Japan as an ideal image’ by pointing out that ‘exoticism is as much a search for what is ideal and what ought to be imitated as for what is merely different in nature’ (Miner 1958: 269).
But enthusiasm and longing for exotic counter worlds are not the only elements found in exoticism. It also contains opposing, and frequently hidden, elements of fear and anxiety (Pollig 1987: 16). The locus classicus in this context can be found in Thomas Mann’s Der Tod in Venedig, written in 1912, in a passage at the beginning that shows the source of the exotic fantasy in the human soul and the power, possibly both creative and destructive, it can set free.
Exoticism in Thomas Mann’s ‘Death in Venice’
The protagonist of the novel, Aschenbach, a successful writer, utterly absorbed in his work, has sacrificed his artistic creativity and energy for a career within the confines of bourgeois society. One day, exhausted by his work and disappointed by his continuous lack of inspiration, he sets out for a late afternoon walk. His fantasy is kindled by the encounter with an exotic looking stranger and he suddenly feels ‘the most surprising consciousness of a widening of inward barriers, a kind of vaulting unrest, a youthful ardent thirst for distant scenes’ (Mann 1955: 9). And then he is almost seized by a vision: ‘He beheld a landscape, a tropical marshland, […] a kind of primeval wilderness-world […]’ (ibid.). The landscape described by Mann displays a striking resemblance to a picture by Henri Rousseau, one of the exponents of exoticism in painting, namely ‘The Dream’ which he created in 1910, two years before Mann wrote his novel. It is typical of his Jungle paintings which demonstrate his need for dream and escape, an escape that had actually led Gauguin, Rimbaud, and Loti (whose portrait Rousseau painted) to Tahiti, Africa, and East Asia. The picture and the novel both show ‘the marvels and terrors’ (ibid.) of a tropical landscape but there are also remarkable differences.
The most conspicuous one is the presence of a naked woman on a sofa in Rousseau’s painting. It indicates the important, sometimes almost exclusive, role of eroticism within exoticism. This element is not completely lacking in Mann’s description but indicated only indirectly through words like ‘rank’, ‘hairy palm-trunks’,7 ‘lush’, ‘naked roots’, or ‘milk-white blossoms’ (ibid.).8 The moral constraints of bourgeois society, too, are reflected in Mann’s landscape. Unlike Rousseau’s almost paradisiacal jungle, in Mann, we have ‘a tropical marshland, beneath a reeking sky, steaming, monstrous’ with morasses and a ‘fat, swollen, thick’ vegetation, all reflecting a feeling of uneasiness, discomfort, and even disgust that also has a moral dimension (ibid.). The danger lurking here is indicated by the gleaming eyes of a crouching tiger9, an element which we also find in Rousseau’s picture. The latter, actually, has two beasts of prey and a snake but still the whole atmosphere there does not justify a word like ‘terror’ that Mann uses twice.
Mann’s text shows how the suppression of basic human feelings and urges results in exotic dreams and longings that, the more they are suppressed, may turn into powerful and extreme reactions, threatening to shatter a well-ordered life. In Death in Venice, Aschenbach tries to control his longing, but the lure of the other world is too strong. It heightens his creative imagination but he finally succumbs to its destructive powers. The end is announced in a ‘fearful dream’ (Mann 1955: 74-6) where again ‘fear and desire’ mix, an orgy of wild excesses, violence, obscenity, and promiscuity, a ‘Dionysian’ intoxication (although more negative than Nietzsche saw it).10 And for all this Aschenbach did not have to travel far away. A short trip to Venice was sufficient because the exotic and even the orgiastic he carried with him as possibilities in his soul that can come alive through dreams and fantasy.
That our excursion to Venice has not completely led us astray, away from our topic of Japan, can be seen by a word of Nietzsche: ‘I like to be in Venice because something Japanese could easily happen there ... , a few conditions for that are present.’11 Actually, the same impulse that drove Aschenbach to Venice made Europeans travel further and further to countries that had still retained an aura of exotic charms. Japan was included among these only at a later stage. The country became, for many Germans, ‘an attractive destination of travels to far-away countries, often in succession to the longing for the south previously directed towards Italy’ (Pekar 2003: 137).
Exoticism in the descriptions of Japan by Europeans
During the first decades after the opening of Japan there are hardly any indications of exoticism in the descriptions of the country by Europeans. But this changed at the end of the century. Probably the most important and influential event in this context was the publication of Pierre Loti’s Madame Chrysanthème in 1887. Although Loti’s novel is more sophisticated than what is often assumed (cf. Pekar 2003: 301), the tradition he created in literature and art resulted in a cliché of Japan that is still influential today. It is the image of Japan reduced to that of the ‘geisha’ as Western men fancied her in their erotic fantasies,12 an image similar to that of women of other ‘exotic’ countries and still alive in the sex tourism of today (cf. Schwarz 1995: 13, 19). Eroticism can be seen as one aspect of exoticism. However, when it is the only one it would be better not to speak of exoticism but replace the ‘x’ by an ‘r’ and call it what it is, namely just eroticism. Given the attractiveness of the topic, it is little wonder that there is such an extensive literature on the subject in the context of exoticism.13 Another element in the traditional image of Japan is Mt. Fuji, the ‘holy mountain’. Detlev Schauwecker has analyzed about thirty descriptions of Mt. Fuji in German literature on Japan, which throw some light on changes in attitude towards Japan (Schauwecker 1987). The early descriptions are objective and unemotional. A change occurs not before the late 1890s. With a few exceptions, we now frequently find words like ‘holy’, ‘divine’, ‘reverence’, ‘adoration’, ‘paradise’, ‘divine majesty’, ‘eternal purity’, ‘dreamy magic’, ‘ecstatic bliss’, all in texts written between 1897 and 1913 (Schauwecker 1987: 109-15).
Two quotes from books in English may suffice to illustrate how the tendency towards exoticism gradually emerged in the literature on Japan at the end of the century. Henry T. Finck already indicates this in the title of his Lotus-Time in Japan, written in 1895. In his preface, he announces his intention to give an overview of ‘the principal points in which Japanese civilization is superior to our own’ (Finck 1895: VIII). He then states:
[...] in view of the American tendency to estimate Japanese civilization from a purely material and military point of view [...] I have tried to show that the Japanese have as much to teach us as we have to teach them, and that what they can offer us is, on the whole, of a higher and nobler order than what we can offer them. Japanese civilization is based on altruism, ours on egotism.(Finck 1895: IX)
We can see here already an attempt to conceive Japanese civilization as an alternative to the West, emphasizing spiritual against materialistic values and altruism against egotism. Similar oppositions can be found frequently in texts of the following decades.
Sir Edwin Arnold, a Victorian poet, in 1889, told a Japanese audience at the Tokyo Club:
I have never before visited any land where I envied so much the inhabitants and the residents. […] if Japan be not exactly a Paradise, it appears to me as close an approach to Lotus-land as I shall ever find. By many a pool of water-lilies in temple grounds and in fairy-like gardens, amid the beautiful rural scenery of Kama-Kura or Nikko ; under long avenues of majestic cryptomeria ; in weird and dreamy Shinto shrines ; on the white matting of the teahouses ; in the bright bazaars ; by your sleeping lakes, and under your stately mountains, I have felt further removed than ever before from the flurry and vulgarity of our European life.(Arnold 1891: 240-1)
That a word like ‘bazaar’ slips into his description of Japan indicates that what he describes here is the orient as European fantasy has created it rather than the real Japan. He then praises
that simple joy of life, that universal alacrity to please and be pleased, that almost divine sweetness of disposition which, I frankly believe, places Japan in these respects higher than any other nation. [...] Retain, I beseech you, gentlemen, this national characteristic, which you did not import, and can never, alas, export. (Arnold 1891: 242-3)
That Japanese should stay as they are, or rather as what Europeans in their search for alternatives to European culture imagine them to be, this wish is often expressed by those to whom traditional Japanese culture has a special fascination. No one has stressed this wish more and no one has contributed more to the emergence of exoticism in European literature on Japan than Lafcadio Hearn.
Hearn could no longer find his home in European society and hoped to experience a past ‘golden age’ in a dreamy provincial town in Japan (Kreiner 1993: 25). When he died in 1904 he had lived in Japan for about fourteen years and published over ten books on Japan through which he became the main interpreter of Japan for the West. Whether he has contributed to a deeper understanding of Japanese culture or rather has been the source of misunderstandings is a topic that has been discussed controversially up to the present day.14 What is important in our context is the fact that, in spite of his own disappointments and negative experiences in Japan, Hearn deliberately created, in the spirit of exoticism, a romantic picture of Japan, or more correctly of ‘Old Japan’, that corresponded to his own dreams of Japan and to those of many in the West (cf. Pekar 2003: 128f).15 His books appeared in German translations since the 1890s and were reprinted in quick succession. It is difficult to imagine that anyone interested in Japan at that time did not read at least some of them. The impact of his writings can be felt immediately in German literature in the years before and during World War I as will be discussed in the following section.
Exoticism in German literature around 1910-1920
A noticeable interest in Japan, under the influence of Japonism and particularly through the works of Hearn, can be found in a number of German writers at the beginning of the twentieth century. Most of them, however, cannot be classified under exoticism as understood in this paper, their interest being limited to the new aesthetic possibilities Japanese culture seemed to offer. One could name here authors like Hugo von Hofmannsthal (who wrote a preface to Hearn’s Kokoro), Klabund, Rainer Maria Rilke, Bertold Brecht, and perhaps Stefan George (cf. Yasui and Mehl 1987: 77-85). A strong tendency towards exoticism can be found, however, in several other writers, less well-known today, that will be discussed in the following.
Max Dauthendey (1867-1918), who originally intended to become a painter, was fascinated by Japanese art. In 1906, he was finally able to visit Japan for about a month during a voyage around the world. In Die geflügelte Erde (The Winged Earth), he refers to his first impressions upon his arrival at Nagasaki (23 April 1906). What he describes, however, is not the actual landscape before his eyes but rather an imagined picture resembling Japanese paintings he had seen before: ‘With black ink painted on white silver […] Like Japanese paintings on porcelain or silk.’ Everything is ‘tiny’ in this landscape, as if inhabited by assiduous ‘dwarfs’ (quoted from Yasui and Mehl 1987: 86-7). The real Japan did not interest him much, he found it even distressing in part. His attitude towards Japan is nicely expressed in a revealing passage contained in a letter he wrote from Japan to his wife: ‘If I did not remember Japan how it always impressed me as so beautiful while at home, I could almost call it boring and sad now.’16
It seems that Dauthendey did not take any notes while in Japan, so he could create his Japanese stories in Die acht Gesichter am Biwasee (The Eight Visions at Lake Biwa) (1911) according to his own fantasy, freely mixing his own experiences and typical elements of the popular image of Japan in Europe, particularly those found in ukiyo-e woodprints (Yasui and Mehl 1987: 87). As he wrote in a letter of 1918: ‘Only the titles and the eight natural sceneries are Japanese. The stories are entirely a Dauthendey-invention. Everything nicely made-up.’ (Dauthendey 1933: 21, cf. 214). According to Ingrid Schuster, to Dauthendey ‘Asia’ meant more or less ‘Japan’, and ‘the “real” Japan for him was not the country itself but his image of Japan. And since this essentially corresponded to the image of his compatriots, Dauthendey’s readers perceived his exotic stories as particularly “genuine”.’ (Schuster 1977: 79). As a Japanese, Keiko Nagome calls attention to ‘un-Japanese’ elements in these stories, their fairytale-like form, and the projection of Dauthendey’s ideals into them, though she also senses authentic elements in some of the descriptions. (Nagome 1991: 388-90).
Like Lafcadio Hearn, Dauthendey decries the negative influences of Westernization that demolish the Japan of his dreams (cf. Dauthendey 1957: 8-9) ‘An image of Japan is destroyed which Europe had created for itself.’ (Yasui and Mehl 1987: 87).
Bernhard Kellermann (1879-1951) spent about a year in Japan and wrote about his experiences there in two books, Ein Spaziergang in Japan (A Promenade in Japan) (1910) and Sassa yo yassa (1912). Like Dauthendey he tends to describe Japan as he knows it through Japanese paintings (Kellermann 1920a: 5、17-8, 1920b: 60-1). Like him he fears that the old Japan will be destroyed by European ideas (1920a: 272). Kellermann emphasizes that, in contrast to European estrangement from nature, the Japanese live in harmony with nature and that even the smallest things fit in harmoniously with the whole (Kellermann 1920a: 21-2; cf. Günther 1988: 186).
Kellermann’s Ein Spaziergang in Japan contains many realistic, partly humourous, observations and descriptions of everyday life in Japan, but his interest is almost exclusively directed towards Japanese tea houses, theatre, dances, and festivals which he contrasts with European culture (cf. Günther 1988: 179-81). While he criticizes European theatre for its ‘barbarian pomp and luxurious comfort’, he praises Japanese theatre for ‘something the European theatres did not possess, namely the great mystery’ (Kellermann 1920a: 179). Interestingly, he often describes the exotic Japanese phenomena in terms of Nietzsche’s Dionysian (in contrast to the Apollonian elements in European culture). Unlike Thomas Mann who sees the exotic in the sense of Dionysian as mostly negative, Kellermann emphasizes its positive aspects. Most important, however, is the fact that Mann describes a scenery of the soul, an inner experience, whereas Kellermann uses Dionysian terminology to describe the reality he found in Japan, however inappropriate his terminology may be. The Dionysian was one way in which Europeans tried to create a counter world to the culture of their time. Given also the fact that Dionysus, ‘the stranger god’ (Mann 1955: 75) came to Europe from Asia, the idea of the Dionysian could be combined with exoticism in an attempt to imagine it as something actually existing in an Asian cultural setting.
At the end of his Ein Spaziergang in Japan, Kellermann describes a performance on stage where two ‘wild’ men fight with ‘enormous clubs’, and while the fight ‘rages wilder and wilder’ snow begins to fall until the ‘furious’ men disappear in it. This scene he regards as a symbol: the (Dionysian) elements of ‘old Japan’ are being buried by the ‘new ideas that came from the West’, each flake being an (Apollonian) ‘clear, cold, unemotional, European idea’ (Kellermann 1920a: 271-2). On another occasion, he observes what he calls a ‘procession’ where a small shrine (Kellermann calls it a ‘golden temple’) is carried through the streets, while ‘the whole town is shaking with ecstatic noise’ (1920a: 77-8). The participants are described as ‘fanaticized […] streaming with sweat, with greasy hair, the veins at their temples swollen blueishly, with a distorted grinning, with eyes sick with exertion, disfigured by furore’ (1920a: 78-9; cf. 160-1). On another, similar, occasion he speaks of the ‘fanatic cries of a crowd mad with enthusiasm and effort,’ of the ‘holy shrine […] golden and unearthly gleaming in the magic darkness of a half-tropical summer night,’ and the final ‘madness’ and ‘ecstasy’ (1920a: 164-5).
Tea house streets he describes as ‘the ardent, intoxicated dream of every sleeping Japanese town’ (1920b: 12, cf. 8). Even a scene in a teahouse, in his view, has a Dionysian dimension.
The shamisen were tuned, the drum resounded, and suddenly the most indescribable noise I have ever heard in my life burst forth. […] The shamisen clinked, the drum thundered, the voices of the female musicians yelled, a strange, wild, ecstatic music, mixed with the mewing and crying of wild animals, panthers, and leopards. […] What was that? These poses, this pacing, shaking of heads, squinting, the vibrating fans, this play of wonderful shapes, these little, sweet, and mewing cries, that occasionally slipped out of the lips of the infatuating creatures – that was like a seductive spell. I felt dizzy.(Kellermann 1920a: 10-1)
Thomas Pekar, who quotes this passage, rightly points out that what is conjured up here is Dionysus, the ‘Asian’ god of intoxication, as many details in Kellermann’s description indicate (Pekar 2003: 314). Like in the tropic landscapes painted by Rousseau and Mann, we find both the wild beast(s) and female seduction in Kellermann’s description. Pekar also stresses that Kellermann remains an outside observer who watches the whole as a theatrical performance and that he stays within the realm of European concepts (Pekar 2003: 314-5), unlike the protagonist in Death in Venice for whom the ‘fearful dream’ is a deeply disturbing inner experience in which finally ‘the dreamer was in them [the adherents of Dionysus] and of them, the stranger god was his own’ (Mann 1955: 75).
Count Hermann Keyserling (1880-1946) travelled to India and the Far East, including Japan, in 1911 and became famous when he published the two volumes of his Das Reisetagebuch eines Philosophen (The Travel Diary of a Philosopher) in 1919.17 Anne Marie Bouisson claims that Keyserling’s journey was not a flight from civilization nor an exotic dream (Bouisson 1991: 395). This may be true if one only considers his philosophy which aimed at an integration of all religions and cultures. But in his description of Japan there are many passages that show an almost crude form of exoticism, a nostalgic longing for a past feudal age that he imagines to be still existent in rural Japan.
The nature of the Japanese backwoodsman is more sympathetic to me than that of any other which I have ever seen. It possesses all the sweetness, gentleness, thoughtfulness, all the charm and good-heartedness which have made the lower classes of these latitudes seem so lovable to me since I have read Lafcadio Hearn. […] Perhaps they show me their best side because […] I treat them as at home, as a feudal lord, I treat my patriarchally minded peasantry. In the out-of-the-way valleys of Yamato the Middle Ages are not yet past; there the era of Meiji has hardly begun; there the peasants still expect superiority, magnanimity, distance, from their lord, they expect that consciousness of absolute superiority which, for this very reason, allows extreme familiarity. There they still want to look up. How gladly I reverted to a part which our world offers less and less opportunity for playing! And the practical result was that people were found everywhere who rendered me service and showed attention without wishing to accept payment for it.(Keyserling 1925: 146-7)
He has not the slightest doubt that the reality may be different because he has created it himself in his imagination as a result of his wishful dreams (cf. Schauwecker 1987: 102f). With the same patronizing attitude and unwavering certainty he knows that every Chinese coolie has perfectly solved the problem of happiness and lives the eternal truth and that even simple people in India have a deep consciousness of the metaphysical (Günther 1988: 172). What he particularly likes in Japan are the children and the way in which ‘everyone seems to live joyfully for others, contributing his portion so that the whole shall become as harmonious as possible’ (Keyserling 1925: 147).
But what attracts him most in Japan are the women. ‘[T]he Japanese woman is one of the most perfect, one of the few absolutely accomplished products of this creation.’ (Keyserling 1925: 201). It becomes clear soon, however, that what he means are traditionally (he says ‘well’) educated Japanese ladies in contrast to the too conscious and intellectual modern women in the West (ibid.). Japanese women ‘cannot be taken seriously as a personality’ (op. cit.: 202) but [therefore?] they are ‘nothing but gracefulness’ (op. cit.: 201). Unfortunately, they are ‘a type of the past’, with them ‘one of the sweetest charms on earth will pass away’ (op. cit.: 202-3).
Finally, it is interesting to note Keyserling’s view of the general differences of ‘East’ and ‘West’ as listed by Sidney Lewis Gulick:
'The comparative psychic traits of East and West noted by Count Keyserling in The Travel Diary of a Philosopher may be conveniently listed in parallel columns.
EAST WEST EAST WEST
Contemplative Active Weak Strong
Placid Restless Passive Aggressive
Gentle Rough Negative Positive
Courteous Sincere Feminine Masculine
Patient Impatient Submissive Masterful
Quietistic Bustling Onlookers Participators
Thinkers Doers Mystical Realistic
Introspective Objective Apathetic Ambitious
Conservative Progressive Traditional Liberal
Communalistic Individualistic Drifters Purposeful
Imitative Initiative Profound Superficial
Philosophical Practical Mythological Scientific
Religious Ethical Pessimistic Optimistic
Heteronomous Autonomous Authoritarian Self-determinative'
(Gulick 1963: 122)
These opposing elements can be found, with some variations, as pre-conceived ideas in many discussions on the differences between what is supposed to be ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’, and they are used in exoticism to define what is imagined as a counter world to Western culture. They also frequently appear in discussions of differences between Japan and Europe.
Hesse and the overcoming of exoticism
Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) is well known for his interest in the East. From his childhood, under the influence of his grandfather Hermann Gundert who had lived in India, he developed a strong enthusiasm for the religion and culture of India which later gradually shifted towards China. With Japanese culture he had only a loose connection through Wilhelm Gundert, his ‘cousin in Japan’ as he called him when he dedicated to him the second part of his Siddhartha (1922). Only in some of his poems, one can see a Japanese influence. But, in our context, it is interesting to notice the enthusiasm and exoticism he originally shared with the other authors discussed here and, on the other hand, how he was able to overcome it. In 1911, he, too, travelled to the East. But much of what he saw there was disappointing and very different from the images he had in his mind.18 On his way back from Indonesia, he travelled no further than Ceylon and did not actually visit India as he had planned.
In a later remark about exotic art he clearly sees the exotic as a counter world to Europe. ‘It reveals to Europe its counter image, it breathes origin and a wild urge to beget, it smells of jungle and crocodile. It leads back to stages of life, to conditions of the soul that we Europeans seem to have “overcome” long ago.’ (Exotische Kunst [Exotic Art, 1922], in Michels 1975: 316). In a description of the longing that he originally shared with many of his contemporaries we find typical elements of exoticism: ‘We come to the South and East full of longing, driven by a dark and grateful premonition of home, and we find here a paradise, the abundance and rich voluptuousness of all natural gifts. We find the pure, simple, childlike people of paradise.’ But then he continues: ‘But we ourselves are different; [...] we lost our paradise long ago, and the new one that we wish to build [...] lies within us [...].’19 This is the decisive point. The authors discussed above did not want to see the real Japan and tried to cling to the Japan of their dreams. Hesse, however, through the soul-searching that he practiced so often in his life, realizes that the exotic world he longed for existed only in himself, created in his soul as a counter world to the Europe he almost hated.
That is why then [in 1911] I fled from Europe, for my journey was a flight. I fled it and almost hated it [...] I travelled to India and China not by ship or train. I had to find all the magic bridges myself. I had to stop looking there for the rescue from Europe, I had to stop being hostile to Europe in my heart, I had to make the true Europe and the true East my own in my heart and mind [...]
(Besuch aus Indien [A Visitor from India, 1922], in Hesse 2003: 422-3)
Other authors, at that time, were not affected by exoticism from the outset. Many of them criticized or even ridiculed it. With regard to Japan, Klabund and Arno Holz (Schuster 1977: 82-3), also Otto Julius Bierbaum and Kurt Tucholsky (Hijiya-Kirschnereit 1988: 12-3) should be mentioned here. Moreover, growing anti-Japanese feelings in Germany before and during World War I made the public increasingly critical of the enthusiasm for Japan (Schuster 1977: 83-4).
One more interesting example of exoticism in German literature, or rather on its fringe, may conclude this section. The work originated at the end of the period discussed in this paper but the history of its publication spans the period from the highpoint of exoticism through the Nazi period until the post-World War II era and illustrates some of the major cultural and political factors in this process. The book in question, Das Lächeln Japans (The Smile of Japan), was written by Hans Anna Haunhorst who, in 1910-1, spent six month in Japan, working at the German embassy in Tokyo.20 According to Haunhorst, he originally wrote the manuscript in 1923-4. It is ‘a declaration of love to Japan as the Land of Smiles, of aestheticism, of morality, and of tranquillity in contrast to the materialistic West’, embellished by his love of a Japanese woman, Haru (Krebs 1990: 79).
Haunhorst denounces the ‘brutal spirit of the Europeans’ and the ‘hateful noise of a day with Europeans’ (Haunhorst 1936: 72, cf. 13) and praises Japan as a ‘dreamland’ (op. cit.: 11), a paradise: ‘Would Milton still have spoken of the lost paradise if he would have known you, land of bliss?’ (op. cit.: 50). ‘Could you, holy Japanese soil, cast away from you also all the mud of ethic and aesthetic depravity which that world of the Europeans has brought into your harbours and commercial centres!’ (op. cit.: 39). Searching for tranquillity, he praises, ‘the restrained and subdued sounds of the shamisen and koto’ in the ‘serene teahouses’ (op. cit.: 13),21 which Kellermann, as we saw above, had experienced as a noisy, ecstatic, Dionysian performance. Sharing the same patriarchal attitude with Keyserling,22 he believes that ‘the Japanese worker’ was happy in spite of very low wages and a frugal life, and warns against the danger that ‘this sunny people’ may be caught by the ‘pestilence’ of materialism (op. cit.: 74). When Haunhorst leaves Japan after only six months he is sure never to forget this land, ‘which has become mine through deep, trembling experience’, 23 and he will try to win over other ‘believers’ in Japan (op. cit.: 13).
But when his book was published, in 1936, times had changed. The enthusiasm of many authors for Japan at the time of exoticism was no longer popular. Haunhorst’s negative view and sharp criticism of European, particularly German, culture was unacceptable to Nazi ideology. This seems to be the reason why his publisher later inserted a notice, written in 1937, in which Haunhorst fully subscribes to Hitler’s ideology and claims that his book was written under the impact of Hitler’s putsch in 1923 and that he denounced, like Hitler, the ‘soulless materialism’ that the Nazis undertook to overcome with their ‘renewal of the German man’ (quoted in Krebs 1990: 78). ‘Haunhorst probably did not want to encourage suspicions that he described an idealized Japan as a counter world to present-day Germany […]’ (Krebs 1990: 78).
After the war, in 1948, the book was re-published with a different, typically nostalgic title: Versunkenes Japan (The lost world of Japan).24 Haunhorst now omits all references to Nazi ideology and even claims, wrongly, as Gerhard Krebs has shown, that the book could not be published in 1936, because the Nazis prohibited it (Krebs 1990: 75-7).
Conclusion: exoticism past and present and Japanese self-exoticising
Unlike the widespread interest in things that have a flair of the exotic, exoticism in the sense used in this paper was limited to a very brief period. With regard to German literature on Japan, the representative texts referred to above were almost all written during the years 1910-20. But exoticism had a powerful impact at that time as one can infer from the examples of Thomas Mann and Henri Rousseau. A major reason for this can be seen in the general crisis of European culture immediately before the outbreak of World War I. This is also indicated by the fact that typical examples of exoticism can be found especially in the years 1910-3 (Rousseau, Mann, Dauthendey, Kellermann, and Hesse, in our context). That Japan became a focus of exoticism was prepared by Japonism and then mainly caused by the books of Lafcadio Hearn, as we have seen above.
The creative, sometimes ecstatic, power found in exoticism is due to strong urges in the human soul searching for alternatives at a time of crisis. The counter worlds imagined in response to this may vary, as we have seen, depending on the personality of the author. Escapism and Nietzsche’s idea of the Dionysian are related and similarly powerful phenomena at the time around 1900. Images created during the period of exoticism can still stir up dreams and longings for alternatives to the present situation. As such, like exoticism itself, they can have a positive function (cf. Pekar 2003: 29-30). Fantasy and dreams are necessary in order to become aware of new possibilities, to set free creative energies, and to integrate all parts of one’s personality. They become problematic when they are taken for reality or projected on reality, as it happened with exoticism.
Many of the stereotypes and clichés created at the beginning of the 20th century are still influential today and tend to distort the reality of present-day Japan in the eyes of the general public in Germany.
Exoticism […] is a hindrance to more objective ways of perception. It continues to perpetuate and reproduce deeply engraved stereotypes and metaphors and thus confirms the semantics of exotic pseudo-worlds which influence our perception in such a way as to make us see the foreign culture as we want to see it.
(Pollig 1987: 25)25
This phenomenon continues in spite of the wealth of information on these foreign cultures that we now have. What is even more astonishing is the fact that many Japanese have adopted a number of these clichés and patterns of exoticism when trying to define their own culture in contrast to ‘Western’ culture.26 This can be seen especially in the Nihonjinron, the discourse in which Japanese have tried to establish their own unique identity. A possible reason for this phenomenon is given by Earl Miner when he discusses Hearn’s continuous popularity in Japan.
[…] in this century, when the Japanese found they had become rather too drably the Westernized nation which they had once sought to be, it was pleasant for them to be able to return to his [Hearn’s] praise in the hope that what he saw was still basically true, after all. In a sense, the Japanese have fallen prey to a foreign exoticizing of themselves.
(Miner 1958: 65)27
According to Yuzo Ota, when the Japanese ‘were beginning to reject Western values and emphasize their uniqueness’ they discovered ‘that Hearn’s writings on Japan interpret Japan in the way the Japanese themselves want it to be interpreted’ (Ota 1977: 215). Kenichi Mishima points out the same, more critically though, when he speaks of
that neurotic effort to create a cultural profile and portrait of oneself [...], that cultural process, namely that the intellectual representatives of a non-European culture, in our case of the Japanese culture, for one thing, readily accept images and views of them which the Europeans have invented, and then, secondly, reconstruct their own tradition with the help of these images in order to contrast themselves with the West and to hold their own.28
In other words, what we can see here is an attempt to create a Japanese identity through self-exoticizing.29
Exoticism in German literature, on the whole, is not much more than a marginal phenomenon, even if we include other countries besides Japan. Nevertheless it is important to study it because it continues to be influential in shaping the image of Japan, not only from a European but also from a Japanese perspective. The timeless power of dreams and longings present in the images of exoticism is obviously so strong that these images can be evoked time and again against the evidence of reality, particularly where there is no control by reason.
1 Kloepfer (1994: 244) admits this fact, though, two pages earlier, he claims that the politico-historical situation is reflected almost exactly in the history of the literary reception of the Far East (242).
2 P. Kapitza (1990) Japan in Europa: Texte und Bilddokumente zur europäischen Japankenntnis von Marco Polo bis Wilhelm von Humboldt, 3 vols, München: Iudicium. See also Kreiner 1984: 2, 25.
3 Mathias-Pauer 1984: 119; cf. Yasui and Mehl 1987: 73-6, Freitag 1939: C 123-4.
4 See the article by Wippich in this volume, pp. …
5 If not stated otherwise, all translations into English are mine.
6 Magill has analyzed the ‘search of the protagonist for nature and original humanity’ in a number of literary texts and points out the popularity of these texts which indicate a collective need also found in the Youth and Wandervogel Movements. ‘European societies, characterized by the uncertainties of the continuing process of civilization with its emphasis on technology and rationality and on top of that shaken by the loss of values through World War I, create magic-mythical foreign realms as counter worlds -- places of regression and utopia at the same time.’ (1989: 102)
7 According to Schwarz (1995: 12-3) palms, in the contemporary literary context, connote ‘exotic femininity’, ‘paradise’, and ‘fertility’.
8 There are a number of differences between the translation and the original but, in the context of this paper, the English translation sufficiently reflects the meaning of the German text.
9 Beasts of prey, according to Schwarz (1995: 13), signalize ‘eroticism and danger’. In contemporary literature, the tiger appears as an ‘incarnation of the feminine’ (14).
10 Schwarz points out similar elements in the discourse of exoticism (1995: 18).
11 F. Nietzsche (2003) Sämtliche Briefe. Kritische Studienausgabe in 8 Bänden, G. Colli und M. Montinari (eds), Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, vol. 7, p. 127.
12 Heiner Frühauf points out that Loti, in his works, did not so much describe his often disappointing experiences in foreign countries but rather what he had dreamed of before his departure (1988: 7).
13 Cf. Littlewood 1996: 109-56, Pekar 2003: 273-333, Kleinlogl 1987: 415-18.
14 Cf. Hirakawa 1997, especially 1-13, 210-222 (= Ota 1997), and the references there.
15 Hearn ‘seems to have gone to Japan as if he expected to find a Utopia, and in any case wrote as if he had.’ (Miner 1958: 64). ‘It is true that during the first several months of his stay in Japan, Hearn was full of enthusiasm for the country. […] However, it did not take long before disillusionment set in.’ (Ota 1997: 211). ‘Hearn apparently thought it wise not to betray his disillusionment with Japan in his books.’ (Ibid. 212).
16 M. Dauthendey (1930) Mich ruft dein Bild: Briefe an seine Frau, München: Albert Langen, p. 146.
17 I will quote here from the English translation, The Travel Diary of a Philosopher (Keyserling 1925)
18 Cf. T. Ziolkowski (1965) The Novels of Hermann Hesse, Princeton: Princeton UP, p. 148; M. Boulby (1967) Hermann Hesse, Ithaka and London: Cornell UP, p. 122 (‘a severe disappointment’);
R. Freedman (1979) Hermann Hesse, London: Jonathan Cape, p. 215 (‘a crushing personal failure’).
19 H. Hesse (1911) Pedrotallagalla (included later in Aus Indien ) in Hesse 2003: 278. Translation quoted from T. Ziolkowski (1965) op. cit., p. 148.
20 Krebs 1990: 75. Not 1909-11 as Hijiya-Kirschnereit (1988: 9) has it.
21 Cf. ‘sounds of an unearthly music in which there was a delicate fragrance like out of calyxes’ (53). In a similar vein, he calls his ‘o’Harou’san’ a ‘delicate fairy’ (120) or ‘ethereally delicate’ (121).
22 He regrets the spread of Western ‘bloodless excessive intellectualism’ and the decline of the old aristocracy, and he defends the worship of the emperor against ‘rationalistic thought’ (70-1).
23 Cf. ‘drunk with beauty’, ‘to the point of intoxication’ (50).
24 H. A. Haunhorst (1948) Versunkenes Japan, Erlangen: DIPAX.
25 Cf. Schwarz 1995: 11.
26 Compare e. g. the tables showing contrastive features between the ‘West’ and ‘Japan’ in P. N. Dale (1986: The Myth of Japanese Uniqueness, London and Sydney: Croom Helm, pp. 44-6) with the list by Gulick (based on Keyserling) above.
27 The other reason he gives I find less convincing: ‘A nation which found somewhat to its embarrassment that it was far behind in what the West liked to think was civilization was naturally happy to find itself praised for what it was, rather than blamed for what it failed to succeed in becoming;’ (Miner 1958: 64).
28 K. Mishima (2001) ‘Spurensicherung mit Rückschlüssen, aber ohne Prognose’, Blaue Blätter (DAAD) 5: VIII.
29 See G. Schepers (1994) ‘Shinran im interkulturellen Kontext', Hōrin: Vergleichende Studien zur japanischen Kultur, I: 38-9.
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