Accepted paper:

From a distance: ways of listening to the dead in Elfriede Jelinek's "Kein Licht" [JP]


Asako Fukuoka (Kobe Univercity)

Paper short abstract:

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.

Paper long abstract:

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 tĂ´jisha are explored.

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