ASCJ 2009
Session 23: Room 11-405

Un-(dis-)covering Bodily and Linguistic Spaces in Oba Minako and Tawada Yoko’s Oeuvre 
Organizer/Chair: Danuta Lacka, University of Tokyo 

      This panel encapsulates the range of work of Oba Minako and Tawada Yoko focusing on bodily and linguistic spaces neither clearly defined nor ever firmly anchored in reality. Leaky boundaries, multiple identities, metamorphic bodies, fragmented spheres are among the most persistent issues in Oba and Tawada’s writings and are amply demonstrated here. The four papers deal with the ways the texts keep multiple pathways open and provide a different and destabilizing perspective. 

      Starting with the image of the female body we will show how the established notions of female identity, history, and culture are rightfully being contested in Oba and Tawada's oeuvre. We will take up the ways in which expectations of (non)productivity and (non)reproductivity expose the body as one culturally imprinted by conventional and social mores.  Furthermore, we will argue Tawada’s texts reshape the categories through which we experience and perform our (bodily) “selves.” The analysis will then turn to the transformation of the narrator’s “self” focusing on the (de-)centralization and (dis)embodiment process. Examining Oba’s narrative strategies, however, we will mark out the technical and linguistic aspects of her work making the texts resonate with each other, relate to each other and speak with each other. Moreover, we will trace the shift of the focal point from the outer to the inner. 

      Finally, we will travel over the space of memory, language, and translation through which Oba and Tawada meander to explore their broad cross-cultural perspective that challenges the insular mind and shows the porousness of the borderline. 

1) Emanuela Costa, Osaka University 
Transnational Identities, Metamorphic Bodies – Displacement and the female body in Oba Minako and Tawada Yoko 

     This paper proposes a comparative analysis of some short stories by transnational women writers Oba Minako and Tawada Yoko. Although these two authors employ different literary forms and are separated by a thirty-years’ generation gap, they both seem to share a common literary theme, namely the problem of gender relations in a cross-cultural context. 

     Particularly, I will argue that the representation of the female body in both Oba and Tawada’s narratives plays a key role as it functions as a site of resistance to stereotypes of cultural and racial hierarchy, as well as an instrument for deconstruction and reconstruction of self identity. In stories such as Oba’s Garakuta hakubutsukan (The Junk Museum) and Tawada’s Kakato wo nakushite (Missing heels) for example, the themes of cultural displacement in a foreign country and of relations of power within a mixed-marriage are rendered through powerful descriptions of a female body characterised either as an “odd” or “lacking” one. In Oba’s Rosoku uo (Candle fish) and Tawada’s Das Bad (The Bath), the female body undergoes even more drastic changes as the heroines are metamorphosized into, respectively, a mountain witch (yamanba) and a woman with scales. 

     Thus, by examining these bodily representations, I will explore the significance of the image of the female body which, displaced, metamorphosized and overtly metaphorized, becomes the symbol of the protagonists’ struggle to deconstructing the public identity projected on them by the “other” (either their male partners and their hosting community)  while reconstructing an individual identity located in-between multiple cultural formations. 

2) Danuta Lacka, University of Tokyo 

Visiting Body, “Self” in Residence – exploring Tawada Yoko's Literary Project 

      In this paper I will analyze Tawada’s narratives – Woman Collecting Clouds (1995), Sleepers (1999) and Name Dropped in the Sea (2006) – focusing on representations of subjectivity as a kind of corporal-linguistic interaction; that is, a movement of flux and transgression between the human body and language. Bodies filtered through travel and translation, bodily metamorphoses and “alter egos” arise persistently in Tawada’s corpus, raising provocative questions: What is the body that speaks? What does it incorporate in its place, or as its image? Moreover, what is the (dis)embodied “self”? 

      I will argue that Tawada’s texts challenge the physical and linguistic boundaries governing representations of the body and “self.” Her compulsion for experimental treatment of bodies – concentrating on bodily sensations and orifices, bodily fluids and excreta – is connected within the framework of dissolving fixed concepts of the body and ossified portrayals of body-mind duality. It also leads to collapse of the conventional distinction between subject and object. I will explore the use of the narrating body as an object and as a lived body. I will also focus on bodily experiences of social norms, resources and constraints, as well as the ways in which language becomes the only space through which the narrator can move, the only location the body can inhabit. 

      Finally, I will trace Tawada’s experiments with narrating perspective as a matter of continuous transformation/translation recasting in provocative new ways the terms of the body and subjectivity. 

3) Daniela Tan, Zurich University 
Narrative strategies – a Comparison from latter and newer Texts of Oba Minako 

      This paper presents an overview about the narratological approach to Oba Minako’s work. First I examine narrative strategies that can be applied onto Oba Minako’s texts. In the following, examples of text analysis will be given, with a focus on the early texts Kōzu no nai e and Higusa and more recent texts dealing with the experience of foreignness and approaching one’s own past, as Urashimasō and Shichiriko. In the conclusing comparison of the results of this analysis the question will be treated if – and which changes Oba’s writing style did undergo and in search for which means of expression she adapted the new writing strategies. 

      In approaching Oba Minako’s work from the viewpoint of narrative strategies this paper works on showing the expression of the changing focus from the outer – foreign environment in the early Alaskan period to the inner – estranged realm in search of orientation in one’s original environment.  

4) Dennitza Gabrakova, City University of Hong Kong 
Islands of Translation: between Oba Minako and Tawada Yoko 

      In this presentation a configurations of space in Oba’s writings will be read through the lens of Tawada’s motives. Biographically these two writers share a transcontinental (transpacific, trands-Siberian) crossing at the foundation of their creative careers.  The osmosis of the geographical and literary reveals a problematization of the borders of the territory of “Japan”. Particularly edifying is the spatial notion of “island” as in Tawada’s drawing of Japan as “this child of Siberia that had turned its back on its mother and was now swimming alone in the Pacific”. 

      This geopoetic element coincides with Oba’s stay on the island of Sitka and with her empathy for the small islands rimming the contours of Japan as in her “the islands of the island country”; and is the spatial kernel of her unfinished tetralogy from Funakuimushi to Shichiriko. A focus on geographic borderlands introduces a vision of serrated, eroded borders and a sensibility for the crumbling crust of Japan. Tawada’s novel conceptualizing the space of an island as the site for translation offers an invaluable notion: “island of translation”, instrumental in our understanding of interiority/identity as translation. 

Combining two relatively isolated literary spaces will open up an opportunity to reflect on the borders of representation, approached from the opposite direction (the un-representable and the self-representable) by these two authors. Such an approach will also contribute to the reconsideration and the erosion of the category of women writers in contemporary Japanese literature. 

Discussant: Yoichi Komori, University of Tokyo