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Imperial Literature: Languages, Bodies, and Others in the Japanese Empire


This dissertation examines the conflicting roles of literature in the production of discursive spaces of the Japanese empire from the 1920s to the early 1940s, with a focus on the relationship between linguistic imperialism, mechanisms of colonial violence, and multi-voiced and hybridized colonial spaces. I have constructed the category of Japanese imperial literature as “literature in between,” which stands between Japanese literature (nihon bungaku, national literature) and Japanese-language literature (nihongo bungaku, Japanophone-literature), in order to shed light on the role of ambivalent and precarious colonial others as the driving force of the expansion of the Japanese empire. Japanese imperial literature emerges as the site that repeatedly (re)produces the unified notion of Japanese subjects through continuously invoking ambivalent and precarious colonial and imperial subjects as ideological objects of desire, which, in turn, function to displace the violence exercised under the state of emergency through the idealized vision of the multi-ethnic, harmonious Japanese empire. The ideological vision of the multi-ethnic empire is perpetually reproduced not just through the imposition of imperial power on the colonized subjects by the colonizers, but through a dynamic chain of colonial violence, in which colonial assaults and inequalities are endlessly displaced onto others within a multi-layered hierarchical structure consisting of racial, gender, class differences, as well as hierarchical divisions between the visible and invisible, between the audible and inaudible, and between language and non-language. Therefore, this dissertation examines together literary works written in Japanese by authors in both the metropole and the colonies, including female proletarian writer Hirabayashi Taiko’s “In the Woods” (Mori no naka, 1929) and “At the Charity Ward” (Seryōshitsu nite, 1927) in chapter one, Taiwanese writer Long Yingzong’s “The Huang family” (Ōke, 1942) in chapter two, Japanese writer Ibuse Masuji’s “The City of Flowers” (Hana no machi, 1942) in chapter three, and Korean writer Kim Saryang’s The Taebaek Mountains (Tebekku Sanmyaku, 1943) in the epilogue, in order to elucidate “Japanese imperial literature” both as the site of colonial violence and as a site that makes visible mechanisms of colonial power.

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