Rethinking the Postwar from Outside: Japanese Literature of Decolonization
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Rethinking the Postwar from Outside: Japanese Literature of Decolonization

  • Author(s): Liang, Jiajun
  • Advisor(s): Emmerich, Michael
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation examines the discursive transformations in the postwar Japanese literary terrain through a transnational lens of decolonization. The transition from wartime to postwar Japan was often considered as a rupture which was figured, at the discursive level, as a centripetal turn away from the imperial legacies and toward the brighter future of recovery and development. Beginning in the 1980s, however, scholars questioned the popular conception of postwar Japan as a self-contained, homogenous space, which failed to account for the massive transnational flows such as repatriation, demobilization, and deportation in the aftermath of the collapse of the empire. This dissertation aims to recuperate the multivalence in the postwar cultural landscape through a careful and critical analysis of literary works. In particular, it proposes to attune our interpretative frame to include not only what is explicitly depicted in fictions but also the ostensibly insignificant details that may seem impertinent to the narratives’ development. Through a contrapuntal reading, this dissertation hopes to show new ways to approach literary works not simply as a national literature of postwar Japan, but rather as belonging to a transnational literature of decolonization. In chapter 1, I analyze the tropes of madness and metamorphosis in Abe Kōbō’s Kemono-tachi wa kokyō o mezasu, which not only constitute a powerful critique of the autobiographical narratives of return (hikiage-mono) but also present the opportunity to reflect on the possibility of decolonization. In chapter 2, I compare two contemporaneous fictions: Kyū Eikan’s Honkon and Ishihara Shintarō’s Taiyō no kisetsu and show that literary awards, while supposedly based on objective and purely “aesthetic” qualities, are complicit in creating discursive boundaries within the literary establishment. In chapter 3, I examine the contradiction between cannibalism and modernity in Ōoka Shōhei’s Nobi and Musashino fujin and suggest that Japan’s coloniality, far from dissipating with the demise of the empire, was reincarnated within the postwar society itself. Finally, in the epilogue, I compare the anime film Hotaru no haka by Takahata Isao and argue that the contrasting color schemes compel the viewers to reflect on the lingering traces of the war in the postwar society.

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