History Made Flesh: Visual and Narrative Representations of the Uncanny as Memory and Identity

Title: 1356 | History Made Flesh: Visual and Narrative Representations of the Uncanny as Memory and Identity
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: Literature
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Kaori Yoshida, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan (organizer, presenter)
Pau Pitarch Fernandez, Waseda University, Japan (presenter)
Alejandro Morales Rama, Sophia University, Japan (presenter, chair)
José Rodolfo Ernult Avilés, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan (presenter)


The act of remembering and the recording and reproduction of history in modern Japan is not without controversy. Since the Meiji era, there has been a process of erasing, misremembering and reconstruction of the past. From the efforts to overrun pre-modern beliefs and political systems, to the (un)conscious act of forgetting and re-forming of pre- and post-war Japan in the political arena as well as the individual consciousness, all point at an attempt to create an official version of history and memory, especially about atrocious or violent events.

This panel is concerned with the question of how identities, whether national or individual, are formed through the embodiment of memories or representations. It discusses on ways in which the integration of fragmented and contradictory memories, particularly charged with traumatic or subjugated past, configure uncanny or abject national-building narratives and identities. All the four papers attempt to investigate how history and memory are made present, by analyzing Japanese visual and literary representations. These papers discuss on the subject matter with the shared notion, which challenges the simplistic vision of a single historic truth that can be reproduced in a univocal and transparent narrative (telling simply what happened). Focusing on who remembers, how he or she remembers, what shape those memories take, and how those memories are experienced or interpreted, we demonstrate a process of embodiment of history and memory that implies a transformation for both what is remembered, and who remembers it.

Panel Abstracts:
Marginalized Body as a Narrative Space: Women’s Memory-making in Japanese Retrospective War Dramas
Since the late 1960s politics of memory and “rememoration” of war have been ceaselessly discussed, as narratives of the past and its interpretation are intertwined with collective identity or consciousness in the present (Nora, 1989). In this context, popular media, such as retrospective war fictions, enabling the viewers to align their individual memories with that of the popular, are the effective means by which certain interpretations of the war are articulated as collective memory. In postwar Japan, retrospective war dramas have significantly contributed to the consolidation of dichotomous gendered narratives of WWII, where men characterized as fighters/heroes push a story forward, and women as caring mother or innocent victim epitomize Japan’s victimhood. From a gender perspective, this gendered narrative mechanism has been often criticized for placing men in the dominant position of history-making, while women, unable to be the subject of telling their own war experiences, being sidelined in the process of making memory of war. In response to this kind of criticism, this paper sheds light on a subgenre of retrospective war dramas, which highlights female characters acting as the subject of memory-making. It examines the marginalized female characters who fight at the battlefront in Japan’s periphery – Sakhalin – in the selected dramas, Sakhalin 1945 Summer: Ice and Snow Gate (1974) and Fire of the Mist (2008). Through the examination, this study attempts to explicate how the “abject” body (Kristeva, 1982) potentially embodies women’s memory and an alternative Japan’s collective war memory, by means of "feminine" narrativity.

Tracing Embodied History in "Jokaisen Kitan" (1925) by Satō Haruo
Satō Haruo's trip to Taiwan and Fujian in the summer of 1920 marked a turning point in his career. For all his affectations of cosmopolitanism and engagement with Western culture, Satō had never left Japan before. The half a dozen pieces of fiction and travelogues he wrote after the trip, make it clear that his experiences in Taiwan (a colony of Japan since the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki) forced him to radically rethink his own position as a writer within the Japanese Empire, vis a vis the different individuals he encountered, be they Chinese local elites, Japanese colonial officials or “uncivilized” aboriginal peoples.Focusing on the short story “Jokaisen kitan” (“The Tale of the Bridal Fan,” Josei, May 1925), but considering also his other Taiwan-related texts, this paper will explore how Sato depicts the experience of the metropolitan artist encountering the multilayered (and violent) history of the island through the traces this history has left in spaces and characters. “Jokaisen kitan” richly thematizes how the cosmopolitan self-image of the Japanese protagonist is destabilized by a gradual coming-to-terms with his own lack of historical awareness, as the character and his Chinese friend discuss their competing interpretations of a purportedly supernatural experience they share in the port of Anping. Ultimately, the story shows the intimate interplay between a historical past that finds surprising embodiments in the present, and the identity-forming power of the fragile narratives that sustain the protagonist’s sense of self.

The Eternal Return of the Mind Trauma, Uncanny and Memory in Uchida Hyakken’s "Meido" (1922)
Uchida Hyakken (1889-1971) was a writer and essayist who became one of Natsume Soseki’s followers after starting to read him in 1905. He worked for a long time as a teacher for the military, but he is mostly known in Japan for his zuihitsu (essays or miscellaneous writings). Soseki’s influence on Hyakken is apparent in works like Realm of the Dead (Meido, 1922) While he was not part of any school, the renown modernist writer Ito Sei asseverated that Hyakken was probably more experimental than any of the Modernist movements in Europe, including Symbolism, Dadaism or Surrealism. Realm of the Dead is the main object of this paper, and it was published as a series of surrealistic and oneiric short stories that are seemingly unrelated with each other.While Realm of the Dead was discussed in terms of its criticism of modernity, this paper focuses on the main character, Ei, or watashi, and particularly on the stories where there are violent events that he either can’t or won’t remember. Thus, the landscape and characters around him become the uncanny, embodiments of repressed memories. This paper on those shadows of personal memory that can discovered scattered and reverberating with each other in this work. The circular structure of the work further underlines the meaninglessness of the refusal to face or acknowledge our violent pasts, and bring forth Hyakken’s early interest in war, violence and the outcome of those in an individual, which he explored further after the end of WWII.

Memory, Embodiment and the Uncanny: Parallelism Between Freud’s Unheimlich and Izumi Kyoka’s Tasogare
The experience of the uncanny has been loosely codified in aesthetics, psychology and visual arts as phenomena that detonates feelings of uncertainty, eeriness and anxiety; however, no academic consensus has been achieved in articulating a unified and coherent theoretical account of the uncanny as an epistemological concept since Jencht’s On the Psychology of the Uncanny (1906) and Freud’s The Uncanny (1919). For these psychoanalysts, the uncanny was a therapeutic tool, forged to address repressed memories, traumatic past and alterations in an individual’s cognition. This conception of the uncanny, however, may be complemented by looking into philosophical and aesthetical traditions outside of continental philosophy, without compromising on conceptual unity, or losing coherence. Accordingly, uncanny-related literature and visual media in prewar Japan have served to construct the narrative of transition into modernity, composed through with a dark, foreboding sense of impending uncertainty, longing for identity; which paired well with the changing environment of the Meiji restoration, and its traumatic collective memory and identity.Focusing on developing a theory of the uncanny, this paper examines two parallel and complementary conceptions of it, Freud’s Unheimlich (1919) and Kyoka’s tasogare (1908); to answer the questions- how identity is formed through the embodiment of memory/representation and how this embodiment is assumed and present in Freud’s and Kyoka’s conceptions of the uncanny. The paper argues that a metaphysics of memory and representation as transcendental condition for the possibility of identifying unity in a particular entity or process allows the formation of a coherent representation of self/reality

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