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Dissertation Project Yuqi Chen (Abstract)

Reshaping the War: Landscapes of Postmemory in Contemporary Japanese Fiction

(Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Evelyn Schulz)

In postwar Japan, war memories are facing two main challenges: Japan's selective remembering and forgetting, as well as the disappearance of communicative memory due to the rapid decrease in the number of war survivors. As the Asian context has been playing an increasingly important role as a framework within which to establish Japanese modernity after the end of the Cold War, the quest for a reconception of the “Asian” past has caused significant repercussions. While Japan’s history of imperialism has been downplayed in the political and social sphere, literary texts provide a discursive space for narratives of the dark past within the postwar present and from a broader perspective.
This dissertation applies the concept of postmemory coined by Marianne Hirsch, which has been widely incorporated into the critical discourse of Holocaust studies, to works of three contemporary Japanese writers: Murakami Haruki (1949-), Okuizumi Hikaru (1951-), and Nakajima Kyōko (1964-). Identifying two aforementioned challenges facing memories of the Asia Pacific War in contemporary Japan, this dissertation explores how Japanese writers who have no direct war experiences re-examine and recreate the past. Coming at a time when memory is shifting to postmemory, and the so-called “experiencing generation” to the “confessing generation”, this dissertation argues that the way in which Japanese postwar generations understand war memories challenges the conventions of historical narrative and may shed light on the actuality, legacies and after effect of the war.
Based on theories of literary narrative, memory studies, and trauma theory, this dissertation scrutinizes how self-reflexivity in these postmemorial texts traverse competing perspectives on war memory such as history and fiction, past and present, perpetrators and victims, remembering and forgetting, in order to explore the characteristics of contemporary Japanese war fiction and the problems and possibilities their approaches raise in terms of ongoing debates over Japanese war memories. Furthermore, being aware of recent tendencies of traumatic memories moving away from a historical focus towards ethical concerns, I attempt to uncover the new attitude that authors of the third generation introduce towards war memories.