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 23: Room 301

Transgressive Desire and Sexuality in Early Twentieth Century Japanese Literature

Organizer: Michiko Suzuki, Dickinson College

This panel will explore literary re-presentations of "transgressive" or "abnormal" sexuality from the late Meiji period to the early Shôwa period. We read the significance of a broad range of ideas associated with aberrance, examining them not only within the text, but also within the sociohistorical context and cultural imaginary of the time. What does deviant desire articulate? How is it constructed against the idea of the normative? How does it speak of the experience of modernity? Foster’s paper, "Enchanted Sleep: Sex and Science in Mori Ogai's ‘Masui’" looks at a 1909 short story intimating sexual violation made possible by hypnosis. By examining the fear surrounding new medical technologies and sexual violence, Foster explores the relationship between science, transgression and modernity. Suzuki’s presentation, "Black Rose: Yoshiya Nobuko and Discourses of ‘Abnormal’ Desire," looks at Yoshiya's 1925 journal. The paper particularly focuses on a serialized story featuring a female girls school teacher who struggles with what she calls "abnormal dreams," her desire for a beautiful pupil. Contemporary sexological discourse and ideas of sexual inversion play a central role in this work that attempts to expand the notion of same-sex desire within modernity. Jacobowitz’s paper, "The Phantom Lord in the Closet: Edogawa Rampô on Concealed Bodies, Hidden Personas and Transgressive Sexuality," inspects motifs of concealed bodies and secret personas within such works as "The Appearance of Osei" and "The Martian Canals" (1927). By reading these "closeted" bodies through Rampo's essays on radio and film, Jacobowitz illustrates the relationship between "strange" desires and the mass media.

1) Michael Dylan Foster, University of California, Riverside
Enchanted Sleep: Sex and Science in Mori Ogai's "Masui"

In 1909 Mori Ogai published a short story entitled "Masui," meaning "hypnosis," or literally "enchanted sleep." The narrative tells of a law professor who suspects that his wife, while in a hypnotic trance, has been sexually violated by a famous doctor. Though the violation itself is never shown or proven, the ominous, foreboding tone of the story leaves the characters (and the reader) profoundly unsettled. This paper explores "Masui" within its historical context, particularly with regard to hypnosis. After its introduction during the early Meiji era, hypnosis rapidly achieved widespread popularity as an occult practice and a popular form of entertainment; by the late Meiji era, it was increasingly considered a cutting-edge scientific method practiced by elite medical and psychological experts. By its very nature, however, hypnosis creates a power dynamic through which the "patient" is rendered completely vulnerable to the will of the "doctor." In the cultural imaginary of the time, hypnosis came to be viewed as a potentially dangerous device for control of others and a system that allowed for male sexual violence to be shielded by the guise of modern medical technology. "Masui" not only accurately reflects contemporary attitudes toward hypnosis, but the story is modeled on recognizable events and people; its publication caused an uproar in which Ogai was interrogated by government officials. Through reading "Masui" against the specific historical backdrop of its publication, we see can examine the relationship between scientific authority and sexual transgression, and explore the often mesmerizing powers of modernity.

2) Michiko Suzuki
Black Rose: Yoshiya Nobuko and Discourses of "Abnormal" Desire

Yoshiya Nobuko (1896-1973), is well known for her girls’ fiction (shôjo shôsetsu) genre, in which female same-sex love (dôseiai) is depicted as an intense, yet platonic attachment, destined to be curtailed by graduation from school, marriage, and/or death. While many of Yoshiya’s stories suggest through melodrama the struggle to sustain same-sex desire within society, they were considered "respectable" texts, suitable for consumption by girls and women of all ages. This can be explained in part by the contemporary understanding that same-sex love is a transitory and "normal" part of female development leading into heterosexuality and motherhood. In discussing same-sex love, prewar sexologists often attempt to distinguish between such "normative" juvenile romances, and the "abnormal" desires of adult females, particularly those of "sexual inverts"--masculine women who desire women. This paper will examine Black Rose (Kuro shôbi), a series of pamphlets Yoshiya published from January to August 1925. Black Rose can be seen as Yoshiya's most radical work; here, through essays and fiction, she defends same-sex love and most clearly expresses her opposition to dominant patriarchal attitudes. I will focus on one particular story serialized in these pamphlets, "A Tale of a Certain Foolish Person" (Aru orokashiki mono no hanashi), which features a teacher who falls in love with her beautiful female student and is tortured by her "transgressive" desires. This story explores the idea of "abnormal" desire and love through its engagement with contemporary sexological discourse, and the "inversion" of girls’ fiction tropes and language.

3) Seth Jacobowitz, Cornell University
The Phantom Lord in the Closet: Edogawa Rampo on Concealed Bodies, Hidden Personas and Transgressive Sexuality

This paper will explore the transgressive relations of sexuality, the human body and technologies of representation produced by the "closet" of modern subjectivity in select works by Edogawa Rampo. Although Rampo is well known as a writer of detective and mystery fiction with a keen interest in so-called ero-guro (the erotic and grotesque), he was also an astute observer of the rise of mass media and the accompanying changes it wrought in expression of normative and "abnormal" desire. In works such as "The Appearance of Osei" (Osei tôjô 1927) and "The Martian Canals" (Kasei no unga 1927), the concealed body and hidden persona are recurrent tropes used to mirror one another and achieve a redistribution of gendered power, invariably through sexualized violence. Not surprisingly, much of Rampo's oeuvre appears to vacillate between misogyny and feminism, homoeroticism and homophobia. This paper seeks to situate these submerged-emergent bodies and closeted selves in a discourse of identification with the object of desire on screen, on air or on the printed page. Drawing upon his musings on the aesthetics of early silent film and radio in "The Horrors of Film" (Eiga no kyôfu 1926) and "Spectral Voices" (Koe no kyôfu 1927), this paper will consider the phantasmagoric space of the author’s self-professed "closet" in tandem with the projection booth and other sites where the reproduction and reception of mass media fantasies coincide.

Discussant: Atsuko Ueda, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


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