Accepted paper:

Unburied bodies, wandering souls: the Poetics and Politics of "Voice" in Post-3.11 Japanese Literature


Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt (Nagoya University)

Paper short abstract:

I analyze several 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, references to religious practices, and the meaning of time.

Paper long abstract:

Post-3.11 literature is filled with the peculiar presence of those who are absent. Tendō 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 Ayase Maru's Yagate umi e to todoku ("Eventually Reaching the Sea", 2016) and Itō Seikō's Sōzō Rajio ("Imagination Radio", 2013), it is the dead themselves who speak. Ito's novel, which I will mainly focus on, 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. 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. By way of definition, literature always involves the borrowing of others' voices, but in post-3.11 Japan writing from the perspective of the dead has sometimes been dismissed as representing an unrightful appropriation (if not exploitation) of others' trauma. 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. In my presentation, I am interested in exploring how those works simultaneously expose the absurdity of the race for authenticity dividing the survivors while also raising questions about how the dead are best remembered and represented. In particular, I discuss the political ambiguities that arise from Itō's references to religious practices, and the particular relationship to time in Tendō's novel.

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