Accepted paper:

Literary texts after catastrophe: representations of the voices of the dead


Daniela Tan (University of Zurich)

Paper short abstract:

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?

Paper long abstract:

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.

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