Professor Marcus’s area of specialization is modern Japanese literature of the prewar (so-called kindai ) period, and his research has focused on personal narrative and ‘life writing’—memoir, reminiscence, essay, diary, and autobiography.
Marvin Marcus’ research interests have come to center on modern Japanese literature of the prewar (kindai) period— in particular, writers and literary coteries of the late Meiji and Taishô periods (1895-1925). Broadly speaking, he has studied the manner in which notions of modern selfhood and psychological interiority were absorbed into a literary mainstream long dominated by traditional Confucian ethics and authoritarian rule. He has an abiding interest in personal narratives and ‘life writing’—memoir, reminiscence, essay, diary, and autobiography, and in authors whose work in this vein he has found both meaningful and moving. These include Futabatei Shimei (1864-1909), Natsume Sôseki (1867-1916), Uchida Roan (1868-1929), and Shimazaki Tôson (1872-1943).
Among his publications, Paragons of the Ordinary (1993) concerns a major body of biographical writing by Mori Ôgai (1862-1922), which explores the fraught legacy of samurai rule and the so-called bushidô code from the perspective of modern Japan and its imperial state. Reflections in a Glass Door (2009) studies the wide-ranging personal narratives of Natsume Sôseki and their collective reflection upon the modern age and the toll that egocentrism and anomie have taken on our closest relationships. A recent book, Memoirs, Diaries and Personal Reflections from Meiji-Taishô Japan (2016), is a literary miscellany centering on marginal writings by major kindai authors, and the eccentricity that marks the writers themselves and those who figure in their respective reminiscences. He has also published a concise survey of the Japanese literary field, entitled Japanese Literature: From Murasaki to Murakami, in the Association for Asian Studies Key Issues in Asian Studies series (2015).
He has a deep interest in Japanese poetry and its long and varied history. My own poetic endeavors, which have given rise to a collection entitled Orientations: The Found Poetry of Scholarly Discourse on Asia (2004), have served as a welcome corrective—and complement— to his scholarly pursuits.