(University of Oxford)
Paper Short Abstract:
This paper explores literature after 3.11 and the ethics of representing the disaster that so profoundly disrupted the norms and rhythms of everyday life in Japan. This paper is concerned with two issues: the politics of representing 3.11 and the transmission of trauma narratives about 3.11.
Paper long abstract:
This paper explores literature after 3.11 and the ethics of representing the disaster that profoundly disrupted the rhythms of everyday life in Japan. I will focus on two issues: the politics of its representation and the transmission of trauma narratives about it. Following the Triple Disaster in Japan, the multiple traumas of the Great Eastern Earthquake, tsunami and meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant elicited responses in various genres. At the same time, however, some writers and critics have expressed a reticence towards portraying the disaster, perhaps due to the enormous responsibility of adequately expressing its trauma. This reluctance points to challenges in ethically representing traumatic events. As Whitehead has argued of trauma fiction, such representations pose a number of risks: the reduction of the traumatic experience, the appropriation of another's trauma, and/or the generalisation of the trauma. Drawing on trauma studies from other literary and cultural traditions, I will consider questions including: What are the possibilities and limitations of representing 3.11 in Japan? Where are the ethical boundaries to those representations? How does the discipline of trauma studies, rooted in responses to the Holocaust, inform our discussions of 3.11 in Japan? How can literature formulate an ethical response to the crisis? Moreover, who has the right to narrate a disaster or traumatic event?
The second issue considered here is the transmission of trauma narratives about 3.11. A large sign posted above the sizeable '3.11 Corner' of a bookstore in Kamaishi in the disaster-stricken region of Tōhoku reads, 'Ichiban kowai no wa fūka suru koto' (What we fear most is forgetting). In the years following 3.11, the issue of how to respond to and represent it stood at the forefront of literary and artistic responses. Six years on from the disaster, the bookstore sign echoes the fears expressed by those still living in the hisaichi (disaster zones) about the 'weathering' of memories of 3.11 alongside the growing temporal distance from the actual events. This paper will address how these concerns might impact the production, reception and discourse on 3.11 writing.
The politics and practice of everyday life in modern Japanese literature (Bungaku-Kara-Nichijyo-o-Tou)