S3a_06
"Can the dead speak?": the politics of 'voice' in Japan's nuclear literature

Convenors:
Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt (Nagoya University)
Discussant:
Ina Hein (University of Vienna)
Section:
Modern Literature
Location:
Torre A, Piso -1, Auditório 001
Start time:
1 September, 2017 at 9:00
Session slots:
1

Short abstract:

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.

Long abstract:

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.