It is well-known that Yasunari Kawabata played a leading role in the “Shinkankaku-ha (New sensualism)” movement as a critic during the early stage of his literary activities. However, most studies of his criticism during this stage have shed little light on the nature or his criticism.
The purpose of this paper is to review the characteristics and significance of his criticism during his early stage from the viewpoint of the relationship between Kawabata’s concept of expressions and Benedetto Croce’s esthetics, which he often referred to during that stage. I start with attempting to clarify how much Kawabata’s view of literature had in common with Croce’s esthetics, and what are the differences between them, focusing on Kawabata’s view that literature is involved in human life through expression or language. This view, which presupposes the recognition that language is a customary convention, may have led him to the avant-garde position in which the purpose of literature is to bring about change in expression. That recognition allowed Kawabata to accept the idea that Croce’s esthetics could generate expression freed from a customary convention of language. His theoretical reviews such as “Isan to ma (Heritage and Demons)” and “Shinshinsakka no shinkêkô kaisetsu (Notes on the New Trend in the New Writers)” can be regarded as representing a methodology for generating new expression that he developed through his appreciation of Croce’s esthetics.
His concept of expression must have had a great influence on a variety of his subsequent literary activities and can be considered a key concept for repositioning Kawabata’s literature in twentieth century literature.