Section 3a, Modern Literature | Session 8
Maryellen T. Mori
Some time ago I began examining the use of bird symbolism in literature by contemporary Japanese women writers as an expression of attitudes toward otherness. In 1995, I delivered a paper on "Fowl Play" at the annual Association for Asian Studies conference in which I discussed texts by Kōno Taeko, Minagawa Hiroko, and Tawada Yōko. I have since expanded my research on this topic to include literature by another female author, Takahashi Takako, and two male writers, Kawabata Yasunari and Ōe Kenzaburō. In my paper at the 2005 EAJS conference I will focus on two texts, one by Takahashi and the other by Ōe. By way of introducing my topic, I will briefly comment on the treatment of birds in texts by Kōno ("Kinchō," 1964) and Minagawa (Arukadia no natsu, 1973) that feature interesting parallels and contrasts to the role of birds in the works by Ōe and Takahashi. I will draw on Western theories of abjection and monstrosity to analyze these texts, in an attempt to illuminate a range of familiar responses to various forms of alterity---that which resists cultural assimilation or linguistic mastery.
Takahashi Takako's gothic tale "Kodomosama" (Awesome child, 1969) uses the figure of the bird-human hybrid to explore a pregnant woman's anxiety about producing monstrous children. Ōe Kenzaburo's short story "Tori" (Birds, 1958) concerns a socially ostracized youth who confines himself to his bedroom where he indulges in a comforting sexual fantasy of communing with birds.
All four texts use birds to explore their characters' responses to an invasion of civilized life by an alien being. But in Takahashi's and Ōe's stories, the bird is perceived as an agent of the supernatural as well as a creature of the natural world. The inclusion of this association of birds with divine or demonic forces presents an opportunity to speculate on the treatment of an aspect of alterity that is absent from the other two texts.
Anne Thelle Backer, University of Oslo
Nakagami Kenji's descriptions of the burakumin ghetto, the roji, are pitted with brute violence and death. Many of his texts end with the death or suicide of the protagonist. Kiseki, for example, tells the story of Nakamoto Taichi, following his life from birth to death, his gangster career, and the many events that lead to his demise. Throughout the text, the reader is reminded that all the Nakamoto men are bound by a fate that has preordained their premature, violent deaths. At the same time the text offers hope of and end to, or escape from, the cyclical, repetitive pattern of violence and death.
This paper will focus in particular on death and endings. The story of Taichi is narrated by two older members of the buraku community. However, Tomo no oji is a delusional alcoholic, and Oryu no oba enters the scene as a ghost. "Death is the sanction of everything that the storyteller can tell," writes Walter Benjamin, which in turn leads me to ask: whose story is sanctioned in the novel, and whose is not? Oryu is dead, but Tomo seems never to be able to die. A closer look at the structure of the novel, and on which narrator lends her/his perspective to what storyline, can offer some interesting perspectives on the novel as a whole, and the validity of its tale. The reading will be coupled with contemplations on the time in which the novel was written, which corresponds with the prolonged illness of Emperor Showa, and the ending of an Era, an Emperor, who never seemed to die.
This paper will thus explore the narrative structure of Kiseki, and the different mechanisms it offers in order to provide a means of escape from the repetitive force of death's master narrative. If, indeed, it does.
Ina Hein, Heinrich-Heine-University of Dusseldorf
It is often stressed that Okinawa, on the one hand belonging to Japan in terms of modern national boundaries, is at the same time culturally 'different' and thus not an integral part of the Japanese main islands' dominant culture. Consequently, in focusing on questions of identity and attempts at self-assertion from an Okinawan point of view, my paper deals with positions uttered from Japan 's periphery.
In my paper I would like to present an analysis of a set of discourses on Okinawa's cultural identity, taking as an example the Akutagawa-Prize-winning short story Kakuteru Pâtî ("The Cocktail Party", 1967) by the well-known Okinawan author and intellectual Ôshiro Tatsuhiro . In "The Cocktail Party", written from the point of view of an Okinawan first person narrator, each of the main characters can be taken as personifications of three reference points central to Okinawa 's self-definition: that of Japan as well as China and the United States . As the story delves into the relationships between these characters, unequal power structures are revealed. The marginal position and subordinate status of the Okinawan subject/object is treated by introducing several crucial – and strongly gendered – incidents in the text, one of which is the frequently invoked theme of an Okinawan girl's rape by an American soldier. Here it becomes clear that the discursive cultural self-construction is connected inseparably with the category of gender.
Since the problem of cultural predominance and subordination is negotiated via the exploitation of quite conservative perceptions of gender roles (e.g. by constructing women as voiceless victims), a critical approach must be taken in analyzing the textual strategies of "The Cocktail Party" – the more so as similar patterns, which are supposed to serve the construction of a (male-oriented) cultural self-assertion, can often be found in the discursive construction of Okinawan identity elsewhere.