AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 613

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Session 613: Virtualization, Visuality, and Literature in Post-postwar Japan

Organizer: Seiji Lippit, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Discussant: Seiji Lippit, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

This panel explores various theoretical, political, and representational dimensions of the moment of transition in Japanese cultural history from the postwar to contemporary periods, focusing on the period from the 1960s through the 1980s. Marked historically by the shift from the process of national reconstruction (following the collapse of the imperial state at the end of World War II) to entry into the stage of globalization, this transition was also characterized by critical disturbances in representational practices. In particular, one of the concerns of the panel is the complex relation between literary (or more generally discursive) practices and visual forms of representation, including photography. Koichi Haga's work establishes a conceptual framework for understanding different trajectories of virtualization as core elements of both postwar and contemporary literary practice through analysis of the writings of Oe Kenzaburo and Murakami Haruki. Franz Prichard traces the productive tensions among different representational modes that intersect in photographer Nakahira Takuma's engagement with the Okinawa "reversion" (one of the oft-cited markers of the end of the postwar period) and with the political and theoretical implications of the accelerated urbanization of social space. Atsuko Sakaki examines the critical function of photographic corporeality in the work of contemporary writer Kanai Mieko, exploring the reproducibility of photography as a site of contact and conflict between the maternal body and consuming subject.

The Postwar Turn and Virtualization of Japanese Literature
Koichi Haga, Josai International University, Japan

If we can define virtualization as the emergence of a new sense of reality in the transformation of the interpretative paradigm of our perspective, Japan’s postwar experience was indeed a prime opportunity to produce such a virtual subject. Oe Kenzaburo is arguably the author who made the maximum use of this transformation. Oe was ten years old in 1945 and was utterly shocked by the reversed “truth” of Japan’s war effort. His inescapable sense of shame for his blind belief in nationalist propaganda made him a strong advocate of postwar democracy. One can argue, however, that Oe’s literary theme has been the transformation itself rather than the choice of one over the other. His use of “ambivalence” in works such as The Silent Cry (1967) signifies the moment of dislocation and virtualization of his literary subjects. Murakami Haruki is another author who could be seen as extending the virtualization of Japanese literature even further, perhaps fundamentally changing literary sensibilities in Japan. A sense of loss in modernization was a vehicle for his earlier narratives, in which he depicted the presence of America as if it were an archetypical culture of Japan. Murakami’s later shift from detachment to a commitment to a particular (Japanese) history in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1997) raises an interesting question of how one can explore a particular historicity while still attracting a global audience. My paper will examine virtualization as a contemporary technology of literary expression.

Traversing Blind Fields: Post-"Reversion" Okinawa and Nakahira Takuma's Critical Urban Media Practice
Franz K. Prichard, Princeton University, USA

In this paper, I explore the conditions and possibilities for a critical urban media practice in Japan after 1973. To derive a working definition of such a practice, I will outline photographer and critic Nakahira Takuma's urban media theory together with his deepening engagement with post-"reversion" Okinawa from 1973 to 1977. I examine how Nakahira's writings and photography engaged a vortex of contradictions that encompassed Japan's rapidly urbanized social space and Okinawa's problematic "reversion" to Japanese sovereignty. Charting the multiple modes of narrative, criticism, documentary, and photography that Nakahira deployed, I delineate the alternative topographies of resistance his works materialized within the tense magnetic field of relations between Japan, Okinawa, and the emerging terrain of neoliberal globalization. Along the way, I situate the possibilities that Nakahira demonstrated within the changing contours of representational practice in 1970s Japan and beyond. I argue that Nakahira's works disclose eruptive fissures concealed within Okinawa's material and imaginary "reversion" that endure today, and as such, constitute vital sources of critical reflection upon the contemporary horizon of representational practice.

Photography as Corporeal Reproduction: Switching Pregnancy for Photography in Kanai Mieko’s Tama ya
Atsuko Sakaki, University of Toronto, Canada

A sequel to my previous work on Kanai Mieko’s strategic engagement with the photographic in her narratives, this paper further examines photography as corporeal experience, whose lack of depth (skin-oriented-ness) tantalizes us as we desire interpretation and intercourse. Kanai reminds us of the tactility of the act of photographing, restoring the body of the spectator which was reduced to the distant and hypothetical eye. In the novel of manners Tama ya (1987), photography is ubiquitous in consumers’ quotidian life in the age of spectacle and yet also potentially disrupts their established lifestyle. The main strand of the narrative—the pregnancy of a cat and a woman—resonates with the reconsideration of the reproducibility of photography. The protagonist Natsuyuki, a photographer and film developer for hire, overcomes his everyday compliance as he becomes engrossed in his prized possession of an “original” Eugene Atget print that he would rescue from a fire first, a hallucination with a portrait of Anna Karina which unexpectedly emerges in his hands as he develops a film on assignment, and the anticipation of comparable excitement he would experience with Amanda Anderson’s classified films. While the “myth” of the mother-child bonding dissolves in the story, the other “reproductive” activity proves to be far from mechanical, involving physical labor and sensation. Natsuyuki feels more fulfilled by developing others’ films than photographing original works, which corroborates Kanai’s choice of the male narrator and alerts us to the artful reproduction of someone else’s corporeality in the visual and textual media.