The Body and Modes of Embodiment in Japanese Literature of the Modern and Contemporary Era

Title: 1094 | The Body and Modes of Embodiment in Japanese Literature of the Modern and Contemporary Era
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: Literature
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Lei Hu, Washington University in St. Louis, United States (organizer, presenter)
Aaron Jasny, University of Maryland Global Campus, Japan (presenter)
Lucile Druet, Kansai Gaidai University, Japan (presenter)
Kazue Harada, Miami University, United States (presenter)
Daniel Poch, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (discussant, chair)


In the past few decades, modern Japanese literary specialists, in their scholarships on the body and modes of embodiment, have significantly broadened our knowledge and understanding of Japanese literature. How does Japanese literature reflect, construct, reevaluate and question the phenomenon of Japanese modernity, which is manifested in various forms of the body and bodily experiences? The four papers that comprise the proposed panel, which span the prewar to the contemporary, explore a range of literary narratives — mountaineering, musical performance, women’s fashion, and biomedical experimentation. They collectively demonstrate how the performance and performativity of the body and its embodiments enrich our understanding of the nation’s past.
Aaron Jasny studies how Meiji period (1868-1912) mountaineers performatively construct a modern way of understanding the national space in their bodily experience with Japan’s wild mountain landscape. Lei Hu, in her discussion of Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s "Some Prefer Nettles" (1929), demonstrates how idealization of Edo period (1603-1868) musical performance points to the author’s interesting role in the “return to Japan” movement of the 1920s and 30s. Her paper relates to Lucile Druet’s, which investigates how modern womanhood is expressed and performed through the choice of kimono made by women who appear in Ariyoshi Sawako’s family saga "The River Ki" (1959), and Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s novels. Finally, Kazue Harada analyzes the performativity of the colonial body in Ueda Sayuri's "The King of Ruin" (2018). She examines how the novel’s exploration of biomedical experimentation on human subjects during WWII reevaluates Japanese masculinity in the past and present.

Panel Abstracts:
Summoning Nostalgia: Voices from the Edo Music World in Tanizaki Jun'ichirō's "Some Prefer Nettles"
A favourite song, a childhood lullaby, or even a single musical chord can produce nostalgia. What is the role of music in literature? How can songs be heard in the course of silent reading? How do musical performances enable characters to go back in time? This paper examines references to Edo period (1603-1868) musical performances in "Some Prefer Nettles," a 1929 novel written by Tanizaki Jun’ichirō (1886-1965). I argue that in the novel, Tanizaki, with his romanticization of the music performances of the Edo period puppet theater and folksongs from western Japan, invents a beautiful world of the Edo past. The protagonist’s bodily experience with Edo folksongs and theater music enables him to remember his childhood memories and feel nostalgic about the songs. The chanting of the tayū, the sad tone of the shamisen, and the lovely singing voice of a young female performer all serve as vehicles for him to begin his time travel, see his younger self in his imaginary journey to the past, and indulge himself in nostalgic remembrance. Voices are transmitted in the course of literary imagination and is used to bridge between the present and the past. By praising musical performances from the Edo period, I argue that Some Prefer Nettles shows Tanizaki’s ambiguous role in the “return to Japan” wave since late 1920s. Unlike “the return to Japan” advocates, who praises Heian court music and court waka, in Some Prefer Nettles Tanizaki praises the commoners’ music culture and history of the Edo period.

Envisioning the Japanese Alpine: Meiji Mountaineering and the Construction of National Space
During the Meiji Period (1868–1912), intrepid Japanese (as well as Europeans) began to venture into the tallest and deepest mountains of Japan’s interior. These explorers—made up of priests, bankers, school teachers, and scientists—were motivated by the potential for exploiting natural resources, discovering undocumented natural species and phenomena, and recording unseen sights in literary narrative and painting. These forays into Japan’s high places yielded a range of new knowledge, from the study of rare alpine flora and fauna and debates about the history of glaciation in Japan, to the “discovery” of landscapes that had been all but ignored in pre-Meiji literature and art. In this presentation, I will consider the way the variety of scientific, literary, and visual discourses surrounding Japan’s mountains interacted in venues such as the Japanese Alpine Club’s journal Sangaku (est. 1906), and how this multivalent appreciation of the Japanese alpine constructed a new way of understanding natural space. I will also consider the way the mountaineering subject figured in mountain travel narratives—essential to these accounts was the understanding that the author had their own bodily experience of the wild scenes they described. Mountain writing was a literary performance of “modern mountaineering,” that showed the movement of a mountain climbing, Japanese subject through landscapes that were being reimaged as part of the Japanese national space.

A Dress of One's Own: Fictional Female Characters and Their Kimono in Novels by Tanizaki Jun'ichirō and Ariyoshi Sawako
Recognition, adaptation, rejection: regardless of the tonality or set of metaphors, the kimono in Japanese fiction can be a meaningful topos for the development of the story, including the formation of the character's individuality. Whether they follow traditional codes or are abrasively extravagant, kimono outfits are garments used as a significant marker in the equation of the characters relationship to themselves, to husbands, lovers, sisters, mothers, daughters, etc. as well as a gestus pointing at notions of family, modernity, nation and community.The kimono situations discussed in this presentation are taken from three major works by Tanizaki Jun'ichirō and Ariyoshi Sawako’s “The River Ki” (1959). It will be shown how the kimono references generate a network of visual and cultural allusions as the authors arrange and design kimono for their characters, demonstrating their awareness of kimono fashion, the overall dress system of the time periods where the stories are set (from late Meiji to mid-Shōwa). It will further expose how aware they were that their readership will be able to decipher the outfits and appreciate the performative quality of the kimono. Ultimately, this presentation will demonstrate how diverse the kimono modalities are, showcasing female characters in an array of personalities, social and psychological states: from prim student to manipulative femme fatale, from poised ryosai kenbo (good wife, wise mother) to idealistic jogakusei (female student), with sometimes the same garment used to achieve completely different effects or some other time mentions of a vernacular versus a national way of dressing.

(In)visibility of Biological Warfare, Colonial Subjects, and Japanese Masculinity in Science Fiction
Notorious Japanese Unit 731’s biochemical experiments were conducted on humans, primarily Chinese civilians and POWs seen as maruta (wooden log), between 1937 and 1945. Ueda Sayuri (b.1964)’s novel, Hametsu no ō [The King of Ruin, 2018], based on this historical atrocity, illustrates the creation of a particular virus called R2v (R2. vibrio bacterium)—namely, referred to “the king”—and its human experimentation. The human experimentation on the colonial subjects (maruta) becomes a study of the performance of R2v for Japanese scientists while invisible R2v as performative biochemical agents on the human bodies becomes visible when documenting its powerful effect on humans. The horrific power of the (in)visible biochemical weapon ultimately afflicts the Japanese male scientists and spreads further to all of humanity. As Ueda mentioned that she did not change any historical events in order to learn the actual events of the history, she has woven in fictional elements such as R2v to highlight the horrific long-lasting effects of biochemical weapons. Therefore, I argue that Ueda’s science fiction novel scrutinizes moral consciousness and war guilt of Japanese men through the scientists’ emotional conflicts. Exploring the different perspectives of Japanese scientists, military, and the government in her novel, this paper will demonstrate emotional vulnerability of some microbiologists who were involved in the human experiments in contrast to unemotional attitudes toward the colonial subjects, which provide context for reevaluating a spectrum of Japanese masculinity during the Fifteen-Year War

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