EAJS2017 Conference in Lisbon
Analyzing literary responses to Japan's nuclear catastrophes, we focus on textual representations of the "voices of the dead" and their function as political metaphors. Exploring narrative strategies, we seek to identify the greater political issues that this choice of narrative perspective implies.
Literary responses to war, man-made and natural disasters are often concerned with the fate of the victims and attempt to "give voice" and "listen" to the dead. Although the specific ways in which writers imagine those voices greatly differ, clearly any cultural representation of "voices of the dead" must be regarded as imbued with political meaning. Who speaks for the dead? Who is appropriating their voice, with what agenda and what legitimation? Why should we "listen to the dead", and what happens if we try to do so? What are the greater socio-political issues that authors are trying to address by adopting the narrative perspective of those who did not survive?
Proposing an understanding of the "voices of the dead" as powerful political metaphor, our panel explores literary responses to Japan's nuclear catastrophes of 1945 and 2011. Our focus is on the strategies that authors employ to evoke the "voices of the dead." We point out the different ways in which these texts can be deemed political, and seek to identify the underlying socio-political issues. This seems particularly relevant as the question of who is a "tojisha", a person affected by disaster that caused controversy after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has returned with a vengeance in post-3.11 Japan. Unsurprisingly, therefore, writers assuming the position of the dead have met with both, praise and criticism for their choice of narrative perspective. Texts are not judged by their literary quality alone, but with the focus on questions such as "authenticity" and "legitimacy", these works become framed by discourses of power that we seek to explore from a trifold perspective. The first presentation bridges the gap between literature/ literary critique, and compares literary responses to "Hiroshima", "Nagasaki", and "Fukushima". The second presentation looks at Japanese responses to the 2011 calamity, suggesting that while clearly concerned with psychological healing, these texts become "political" due to the context in which they were published and read. The third paper deals with Austrian playwright Elfriede Jelinek's aggressively political response to the Fukushima meltdowns, as well as the Japanese reaction to her play.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Literary Texts after Catastrophe: Representations of the Voices of the Dead
Literary texts giving voice to the dead after catastrophic events show a recurrent pattern. What structures do writers apply to create space for these narratives, and which implications does this have for the debate about the role of literature and literary critique dealing with catastrophic events?
What is the role of literature and literary critique in the face of catastrophe and its aftermath? The post-3.11 follows a recurrent pattern, which becomes obvious in comparison to the discussion about genbaku bungaku after 1945, the introvert generation in the 1970s, and the present post-Fukushima era: The urgency of responding to what happened is accompanied by the silence; manifestations of engagement by literati are paralleled by poetic approaches after a period of latency.
I begin by highlighting analogies of debates about literature and literary critique. I outline discourses on the "degradation" of literary texts bearing testimony to traumatic events, and compare (juxtapose?) them to present disputes surrounding the ideological role and the possibilities of a littérature engagée
Compared to genbaku bungaku, post-Fukushima clearly exhibits a new trend. Accounts of first-hand disaster experiences and literary debates engaging in political arguments about nuclear power or the handling of the crisis, include not only the voices of the living and surviving, but also of those who have died in the catastrophe. We must acknowledge that the voices of the dead are haunting texts, and even literary critique, as Komori Yōichi exemplifies in Shisha no koe, seija no kotoba - bungaku de tou genpatsu no nihon (2014). How does literature represent these voices that keep telling and re-telling the traumatic and disastrous event? This paper approaches representations of these voices by asking by which means and legitimization present writers give way to their narratives, and which implications they have for the present debate about the role of literature and literary critique.
Unburied Bodies, Wandering Souls—The Poetics and Politics of "Voice" in Post-3.11 Japanese Literature
I analyze several Japanese post-3.11 novels that focus on the relationship between the dead and the living, and are sometimes narrated from the perspective of the dead. I consider the political implications of this choice of narrative perspective and address the related problem of positionally.
Post-3.11 literature is filled with the peculiar presence of those who are absent. Tendo Arata's Moon Night Diver (2016) illegally enters into the highly radioactive waters off the havocked Fukushima I nuclear power plant to search for lost and abandoned bodies, metaphorically stirring up sediments of political failure. In other texts such as Ito Seiko's Sozo Rajio ("Imagination Radio", 2013) and Ayase Maru's Yagate umi e to todoku ("Eventually Reaching the Sea", 2016), it is the dead themselves who speak. Ito's novel is mostly written from the perspective of a drowned radio DJ who, hanging dead on a treetop in the irradiated evacuation zone, nevertheless keeps broadcasting his popular show, which is now audible only to those who allow their imagination to wander the wastelands. Ayase's story, too, focuses a tsunami victim and can be read as an attempt to reconcile the dead with the living and the living with the dead.
These texts are concerned with trauma—not only that of the living, but also that of the dead who in post-3.11 literature are not always fully aware of, or willing to face, their situation. While on the plot level, psychological healing thus represents an important aspect of the works, the context in which it was published and read gives them a distinctly political slant. In my presentation, I am interested in exploring the political aspects of Itō and Ayase's choice of narrative perspective, and the related question of positionality. By way of definition, literature always involves the appropriation of others' voices. However, in light of the virulence of the post-3.11 social discussion about who has the right to speak about the disaster—as a victim, as researcher, or otherwise—dead characters articulating themselves gain a new, distinctly political significance. On the one hand exposing the absurdity of the race for authenticity dividing the survivors, writers like Itō and Ayase have also been criticized as presumptuous for their choice of narrative perspective. Drawing on a number of recent literary publications, my presentation addresses the political ambivalence that characterizes these works and their reception.
From a distance. Ways of listening to the dead in Elfriede Jelinek's "Kein Licht" [JP]
This paper analyzes literary strategies of "listening to voices of the dead" of Austrian playwright Elfriede Jelinek's response to the Fukushima meltdowns. It illustrates their political connotations and impact in context of the "tojisha"-problematic in Japan.
In some literary and theatrical texts that were written in reaction to the 2011 Fukushima disaster, scenarios where the dead speak play a central role. The concept of "listening to voices of the dead" can be more than just a means to mourn victims, and we should not ignore its potential to challenge the dominant discourse in a society. In this presentation, I delve into some noteworthy examples and illustrate their political connotations and impact.
The central question of this presentation is how a disaster is narrated by someone "without being personally involved". One of the most difficult and thoroughly discussed issues after 3.11 is the question of who is "tojisha" (directly affected). Confronted by a tragedy that affects an enormous number of people and radically changes the entire social framework, it is difficult to draw a line between direct and indirect affectedness. Nor should we overlook the fact that the act of determining who is a tojisha involves highly political dimensions and power problems, while literature tries to raise awareness of the current hegemonic discourse of determination.
The play "Kein Licht" ("No light", 2011) by Austrian author Elfriede Jelinek (*1946) serves as the central example in this presentation. This play, which develops through a dialogue between two dead violin players, was written in response to 3.11 and soon translated and performed in Japan that year. From Jelinek's point of view, "we stand on the mountains of dead bodies", meaning that the present is necessarily a continuation of the past. Therefore, 3.11, or, more precisely, the nuclear disaster of Fukushima Daiichi, can never be just a distant event. This follows also from the European experiences of Chernobyl.
Against this backdrop, Jelinek's literary strategies of "listening to voices of the dead" are analyzed in this presentation. The questions and insights that these strategies and the text itself offer when applied to Japanese discourse about tôjisha are explored.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.