EAJS2017 Conference in Lisbon
- Simone Müller (Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies) email
- Atsuko Ueda (Princeton University) email
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Literature and politics after "Fukushima": criticism of "system" and society in Kirino Natsuo's novel "Baraka"
Kirino's post-disaster-novel Baraka points out the deep discontent of Japanese people with the current state of things as well as the doubts whether "Fukushima" could be a caesura in regard to a more democratic country. The text represents contemporary Japanese "political literature" after '3.11'.
Japanese literary texts written after 11 March, 2011, tend to be franker and more serious in nature. In fact, it seems that post-disaster literature (shinsai bungaku) has developed in the direction of a renaissance of what was formally known as political literature. Works or statements by some authors show astonishing courage as they disclose disagreeable tendencies in contemporary Japanese society; insofar they perhaps fulfil the role of an ethical corrective. At least they offer a basis for further discussions on the Japanese "system", on Japanese democracy and on crucial points in Japanese social structures such as discrimination, the pressure to adapt to the rules of the 'national collective' and the dominance of plutocratic structures.
While one would probably first identify the essays of 'committed' authors such as Henmi Yô, Takahashi Gen`ichirô or Tsushima Yûko as politically-involved contributions, there is also the voice of Kirino Natsuo who is a major critic of Japanese society representing the field of more 'popular' writing. In her recent work Baraka (2011-2016), a novel that was published in its entirety at the end of February 2016, some protagonists express severe doubts about politicians, major corporations and power hierarchies in Japan. Kirino's representation of '3.11' within the context of survival, precarity and collective agency highlights a number of painful areas and touches on taboo subjects in Japanese society.
The author claims that the Fukushima incident was essentially off limits and that no TV network would even mention Baraka - a reaction that is representative of the Japanese mass media's willingness to censor itself. A typical facet of Kirino's writing style is a confrontational and malicious attitude. Thus, her post-nuclear disaster novel is probably the work that most significantly highlights the discontent of the Japanese people with the state of things, as well as their doubts as to whether "Fukushima" could be the caesura that marks the transition of Japan towards a more open, democratic country. Baraka may be merely a remarkable thriller that offers a dark dystopian view of the near future, but under its entertaining surface it probably possesses more political temperament than an intellectual essay.
Literature as visual art: imagination and visuality since 3/11
Given that literature is an art of language, it is essentially distinct from the visual arts. We must also consider the problem of the visual images contained therein.
In this paper, I want to consider the notable shift in visual images in Japanese literature after March 11th, 2011.
Given that literature is an art of language, it is essentially distinct from the visual arts. However, as it draws its sustenance from the inner imagination, we must also consider the problem of the visual images contained therein. There is no question that the composition of literature includes visual aspects in its mix; what are the correlations among the visual and the linguistic?
Since the advent of postmodernism, the "narrative" which sustained us has lost its sturdy constructivism and has been revised, while tangling with a variety of expressions. Literature has served as a storehouse of narrative ingredients for film, manga, animation and so on, while in turn the visual arts have provided opportunities to put images into words which become literature. In this paper, I want to consider the notable shift in visual images in Japanese literature after the earthquake and tsunami of unprecedented scope which befell Japan on March 11th, 2011, as well as the subsequent nuclear reactor accident, and the aspiration to the fundamental life force to be found in literature, with reference to the problem of turning these visual images into literature.
While the radical change which has come over Japanese literature after 3/11 appears most noticeably in works concerned with nuclear power, here I want to address three works by three superb Japanese women writers in order to consider the possibilities and impossibilities of the new Japanese literature. Tawada Yoko's "Kentoshi" (2014), Kirino Natsuo's "Baraka" (2016), and Tsushima Yuko's final work, "Hanmetsuki wo iwatte" (2016) offer effective proof that Japanese literature has transformed itself into something clearly different. Elsewhere, I will also consider works by Murata Sayaka and others as examples of situations reduced to the non-linguistic as the result of overwhelming over-imagery, discussing discourse on virtual reality and other imaginings since the 1980s as well as the reconsideration of artistic works, in order to question what kind of warnings literature is now sending to the human race.
Stop thinking! Suspension of thought and political representation in the fiction of Takahashi Genichirō
The paper explores how suspension of critical thought is played out in the characters in Takahashi Genichirō's fiction. It argues that in such works this phenomenon is at the core of the great discrepancy between Japanese citizens and political representation often denounced by the author.
Takahashi Genichirō is a prolific author, his production ranging from postmodern novels to short stories, from essays to political writing. He has written often about the distance between contemporary Japanese citizens and politics, especially exploring the lack of adequate political representation felt by the population and the discrepancy between the words used by politicians and the people's reality they should represent.
By analyzing selected works in Takahashi's vast oeuvre, this paper argues that a central factor for this distance is a general suspension of critical thought on crucial issues. The characters in works such as "Godira" (2001) or "'Aku' to tatakau" (Fighting with 'Evil', 2010), do not exercise critical thinking: they do not reflect on life and the true underpinnings of the world, but prefer to find solace in the repetition of habit in the immediately relatable dimension of their everyday life. As a consequence, people find themselves isolated from the bigger issues in life, such as national and international politics, or dismantling nuclear plants. Furthermore, such emphasis on the individual's close present prevents the citizens from reflecting on their past, and from making sense of memory. This isolation can then be exploited by politicians, who do not wish critical re-evaluation of controversial issues in Japan's past, such as the comfort women case (as denounced in several articles by Takahashi).
This study focuses on how suspension of critical thought is portrayed in Takahashi's fiction, paying attention to what its political and existential values are in the relationship between Japanese citizens and the wider world/society. Together with the abovementioned works, publications such as "Koi suru genpatsu" (The Nuclear Plant in Love, 2011) and "Sayonara Cristopher Robin" (2012) are analyzed. Written right before and after the 3.11 Triple Disaster, they both explore how 'that day' was crucial in exhorting the Japanese people to think critically. Exploring a central issue in this versatile author's fiction, this study highlights what he considers the public enterprise of the novel, namely that of reaching out to people helping them mature, and thus aims to shed further light on the relationships between literature and politics.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.