The World to Come: Discourses of the Body, Politics, and War in Japanese Future Writing, 1905-1990

Aaron Moore (University of Manchester)
Bloco 1, Piso 0, Sala 0.09
Start time:
31 August, 2017 at 16:00
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Panelists will discuss the evolution of Japanese future writing from 1905 to 1991, covering nearly a century of historical speculation of the 'world to come'. We focus on descriptions of the human body to illuminate changing historical discourses on social relations, political power, and war.

Long abstract:

From the end of the Meiji Period, Japanese writers, in both fiction and non-fiction, have presented visions of the future that echoed concerns of the present. This panel will focus in particular on how discussions of the body served as spaces for authors to publicly ruminate about the direction of the nation, the consequences of war, dys/utopic social relations, and the quandaries of the modern self. First, Aaron William Moore will discuss how the pursuit of empire encouraged engagement with British adventure fiction and reportage after the Russo-Japanese War. Japanese authors began to discuss the possibility of non-human sentient life, radical evolution of the human body, and future wars that would utterly transform the social, political, and economic order on planet Earth. Seth Jacobowitz's paper investigates conceptions of artificial human being and robots in the literature and thought of Unno Juza (1897-1949) and Hirabayashi Hatsunosuke (1892-1931) contextualized by the politics of mass culture in 1920s-1930s Japan. Jacobowitz will show how anxieties about empire, science, and total war suffused discourses of the future by examining Unno and Hirabayashi's use of the 'man-made man' (jinzō ningen) trope that circulated widely at this time. John Treat will then discuss how the discursive landscape changed in post-war, post-nuclear Japan by analysing Numa Shōzō's multivolume scifi novel Human Cattle Yapoo (Kachikujin Yapū, 1956-91), which was hailed by Tatsumi Takayuki as Japan's most important literary work since 1945. He will argue that the work is a precursor of current speculative writing imagining a post-human future, one in which Japanese serve as living commodes, sex machines, clothing, furniture, door mats, and even meals. In many cases, the authors of future speculation reached out to military authorities, town planners, and political leaders, to help facilitate (or avoid) the realisation of their visions of the world to come. They also engaged with the public, influencing discourse on foreign relations, views of the body, and individual rights. The critical analysis of future writing, as a kind of discursive archaeology, is therefore a concern for both scholars of literature and history.