Asian Studies Conference Japan

Saturday, June 19 - Sunday 20, 2004
Ichigaya Campus of Sophia University

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 Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181

Session 8: Room 301

Atrocity Exhibitions, Freak Shows, and Cyborg Sensations: New Perspectives on the Mediated Body in Modern Japanese Literature

Organizer: Joanne Quimby, Indiana University

Looking and displaying oneself to be looked at have often been the subject of theoretical inquiry using the catchwords of voyeurism, the gaze, and performance. Superficially, the relationship between voyeurism and performance may seem simplistic, but what happens when the excesses of death and destruction, socially deviant behavior, and/or sexually ambiguous bodies are added to the mix? These three papers treat the themes of voyeurism and performativity from vastly different perspectives, yet as a whole this panel will interrogate the relationship between the two in exciting new ways.

In the first paper, Alex Bates examines representations of the Great Kantô Earthquake and analyzes the voyeuristic impulse to look upon and describe suffering. Regarding descriptions of the earthquake by the mass media and the literary elite, Bates explores the "performance of suffering" for consumption within both the city and the provinces.

The second panelist, Brian Bergstrom, looks at the more recent phenomenon of the hikikomori or "shut-in" in terms of subjectivity and agency. While the hikikomori may seem to symbolize a complete lack of agency in their withdrawal from society, Bergstrom’s analysis of literary representations of the hikikomori raises questions of performance and voyeurism via the internet.

Finally, the third paper by Joanne Quimby raises new questions about performance and voyeurism vis-a-vis sexuality, gender, and of the spectacle of cyborg/hybrid bodies. Citing examples from fiction by contemporary women writers, Quimby will discuss the gendered hybrid body as the focal point of narrative trajectory in terms of both performative agency (subjectivity) and voyeurism/passivity.

1) Alex Bates, University of Michigan
The Spectacle of Suffering: Voyeurism and the Great Kantô Earthquake

In his essay on wrestling, Barthes discusses the appeal of pro-wrestling as a "spectacle of suffering" both in the way it is looked upon and the performance of the wrestlers. However, suffering can also become a spectacle when it is not an act, and the lines become blurred between reality and art. As one of the first modern disasters in Japanese history, the Great Kantô Earthquake of 1923 offered a previously unparalleled opportunity to view suffering and destruction. Almost immediately entrepreneurs began selling postcards of the destruction, including illicit photographs of the dead, and newspapers began recounting sensational tales of earthquake related tragedies (bidan). The market for this suffering stretched from those who actually experienced it to the far reaches of the empire. Amidst the popular consumption of these stories and images, the literary elite set about forming their own reaction to the disaster. While on one hand they set themselves up opposing the depictions of the earthquake directed at the masses, they also participated in a type of earthquake voyeurism. This paper explores the themes of looking upon and performing suffering in both the mass media and the literary production of the elite. In particular I will discuss the earthquake bidan along with Masamune Hakuchi’s "Tanin no saigai" (The Loss of Another, 1924). The latter work deals explicitly with commodification of disaster and sets itself up in opposition to the bidan as a more refined tale of loss, though the distinction is difficult to maintain.

2) Brian Bergstrom, University of Chicago
U-shaped I: The Figure of the Hikikomori and the Social Meaning of Cyborg Subjectivity

Most modernist theory, whether psychoanalytic or Marxist, treats subjectivity and agency as aligned, the latter signifying the presence of the former. A subject acts; a passive subject is indeed an object, and this forms the crux of arguments critiquing regimes of visual representation that "objectify" women or minorities.

Post-structuralist theory modifies such simplistic models of subjectivity, interrogating the definitions they depend upon and taking into account their contingent and relational nature. Prominent within this process of rethinking has been the figure of the cyborg. Reappropriating this uncanny figure from the modernist discourse that produced it as its threatening shadow, theorists like Donna Haraway use it to reconceive subjectivity in ways that trouble binary oppositions like female versus male, human versus inhuman, figure versus landscape.

This paper proposes to use recent Japanese texts revolving around the figure of the hikikomori, or shut-in, to explore its relation to this theoretical discourse. Withdrawn from society and family, the hikikomori is imagined to be hyper-sensitive, inert, and vulnerable, yet possessing unsettling aptitudes for Net-based community building, along with voyeurism and violence. Paradoxically powerless yet powerful, the hikikomori exemplifies the self as conduit, necessarily feminized yet uniquely adaptable, neither plugged-in or out, but the plug itself. Using the works of contemporary Japanese authors like Taguchi Randy and Murakami Ryû, this paper will examine how the figure of the hikikomori in these works facilitates a reimagining of society using a radically leaky subject as base from which to articulate agency rather than abjection.

3) Joanne Quimby, Indiana University
The Performance and Consumption of the Gendered Body in Contemporary Japanese Fiction by Women

Takahashi Takako’s short story, "Ningyô ai" [Doll Love] (1976), explores sexual ambiguity and posits genderless desire in the form of the female protagonist’s dreams of a wax doll whose genitals have taken the shape of an amaryllis bud and stem. Similarly, the fiction of Ôhara Mariko manipulates and subverts traditional representations of the body and gender identity as in her short story "Shôjo" [Girl] (1988), in which the body of a male professional dancer has been surgically altered so that he comes to bear voluptuous "female" breasts. The protagonist of Matsuura Rieko’s Oyayubi P no shûgyô jidai [Big Toe P’s Apprenticeship] (1994) struggles with societal expectations regarding her sexuality and gender identity because her big toe closely resembles a penis. What do these stories reveal about the relationship between gender and subjectivity? How do they engage recent theoretical work dealing with the performance of gender identity? How might the physical bodies described in such stories be analyzed in terms of "cyborg feminism"? While not aiming to treat any of these themes in exhaustive detail, these are some of the questions this paper will raise as it examines the relationship between performativity and voyeurism. The narrative trajectory of each of the stories cited is propelled by both voyeuristic impulse (with the cyborg/hybrid body as the object of the gaze) and the bodily performance of gender and sexuality. The spectacle/spectator dynamic is problematized by the performative agency of the hybrid bodies that are quite literally "on display" for visual consumption by others.

Discussants: Nakagawa Shigemi, Ritsumeikan University
Sharalyn Orbaugh, University of British Columbia

 


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