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Performing Postcolonial Feminine Identity as Shaman: Building Narrative Bridges Between Two Worlds


This dissertation examines the construction of women’s autobiographical voices within literature, particularly those produced for Japanese-reading audiences by Zainichi women. Zainichi typically refers to a specific group of “foreigners” residing in postwar Japan—Korean residents who can trace their diasporic roots to Japan’s colonial rule of Korea (1910-1945). Throughout postwar Japanese history, the Zainichi experience has been a complicated one, as it has been informed by racism in Japan as well as by Japan and Korea’s postwar relationship. My dissertation looks at literary arts produced by Zainichi women, with a special focus on the illocutionary power of autobiographical expression as a means to promote social change and equality in contemporary Japanese society.

This dissertation analyzes various trans-medial forms of autobiographical expression utilized by three female authors—Lee Yang-ji (1955-1992), Kim Manri (1953- ) and Yu Miri (1968- ). These women have a particular commonality: in addition to their writing, they are all, or once were, performing artists (Lee a musician/dancer, Kim a performance artist, and Yu a theater actress/playwright). Despite their different choices of media for self-expression as performing artists, they share similarities in that each artist incorporates such non-verbal elements as dance, music, and theater into their written autobiographical narratives. By constructing complex layers of self-representation through a mixture of verbal and non-verbal public performances, they present the “self” as an expression of an in-between, ambiguous identity. Using the diasporic notion of ambivalence in their autobiographical voices, they not only challenge the power of homogenous hierarchies of ethnicity, race, nationality, culture, gender, and class, but also enhance their ability to reach audiences beyond such social differentiation. They have chosen an empowered stance, rather than speaking from the voice of victimhood as the marginalized “Other” of postwar Japanese society.

Building on the concept of the art of storytelling for personal and community healing, my dissertation explores the ways in which Zainichi women share their personal life stories with audiences in the context of Korean women’s traditional medium of artistic expression—including shamanism—, producing art as a kind of prayer for social peace and postcolonial reconciliation. Using a shamanic trope in their autobiographical storytelling, the three Zainichi women emphasize the presence of their own physical bodies as mediums or in-between entities in relation to their diasporic existences in postwar Japan—in which they are regarded as neither completely Japanese nor entirely Korean. In constructing an “I” that emerges beyond the limits of either subject or object, Japanese or (Zainichi) Korean, each woman performs a shamanistic identity of her own choosing—an identity that is both personal and collective—through which to speak to the female ancestors she identifies with, through shared hope for social transformation. For the Zainichi women artists that are the focus of my dissertation, autobiographical expression represents a form of prayer that facilitates communication between two worlds—this world and that of the “Other”—thus subverting such artificial boundaries as nationhood, race, ethnicity, class and gender.

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