Marvin Marcus

Marvin Marcus

Professor of Japanese Language and Literature and of Comparative Literature
PhD, University of Michigan
MA, University of Michigan
MLA, Johns Hopkins University
research interests:
  • Selfhood and interiority in modern Japanese literature
  • Meiji-Taisho literary journalism
  • Literary reminiscence and reflection
  • Japanese poetry and lyrical expression

contact info:

office hours:

  • On Leave FL21-SP22
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mailing address:

  • Washington University
    MSC 1111-107-115
    One Brookings Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63130-4899

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.

Courses Taught

  • L05 226C Japanese Civilization
  • L03 294 Images of East Asia: Chronicling the Japan Experience
  • L05 324 A User's Guide to Japanese Poetry
  • L05 333C Modern Voice in Japanese Literature
  • L05 445 Japanese Fiction: Japanese Fiction in the Postwar Period
  • L05 4451 Topics in Modern Japanese Literature: Memories of Childhood and Youth in Japan
  • L05 448 Japanese Poetry
  • L05 464 Japanese Textual Analysis
  • L05 491 Topics in Japanese Literature & History: Japanese Literary Reminiscence
  • L05 491 Topics in Japanese Literature & History: Survey of Modern Literary Texts
  • L03 4911 The Nativist Dimension in Modern Japanese Culture
  • L05 561 Special Topics Seminar in the Literature of Japan: Historical Fiction & Question of Historical Narrative
  • L05 561 Seminar in the Literature of Japan: Survey of Meiji-Taisho Literary Texts