Negotiating Identity: Nakagami Kenji's Kiseki and the Power of the Tale, and: Nakagami, Japan: Buraku and the Writing of Ethnicity (review)
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Negotiating Identity: Nakagami Kenji's Kiseki and the Power of the Tale. By Anne Helene Thelle. Munich: Iudicium, 2010. 246 pages. Softcover €29.00.
Nakagami, Japan: Buraku and the Writing of Ethnicity. By Anne McKnight. University of Minnesota Press, 2011. 296 pages. Hardcover $75.00; softcover $25.00.

The two volumes under review are part of the recent rise in representation and identity studies. Both examine Nakagami Kenji's (1946-1992) negotiation of buraku minority identity in relation to the Japanese mainstream, considering his works in terms of how he used monogatari (narrative/tale) to challenge and problematize his positioning within national literature. While Anne Helene Thelle analyzes one work, Kiseki (Miracles, 1989), in depth, Anne McKnight takes a broader view, contextualizing Nakagami's literary oeuvre in relation to the field of ethnography, New Aka (new academicist) criticism, and Japan's colonial relationship with Korea.

Negotiating Identity is a revision of Thelle's doctoral thesis. It focuses on Kiseki to show how Nakagami evokes and then dismantles origin myths in respect to both buraku and national communities, emphasizing his struggle with the idea of "national literature" and one of its major forms, the monogatari. The introduction provides a good summary of Kiseki as well as Thelle's own argument, which is then clearly articulated in easily identifiable parts and sections. Part 1 examines Nakagami's construction of myth in the novel using monogatari forms; part 2 analyzes his dismantling of the myth; and part 3 looks at the discrepancies in Nakagami's text in order to ascertain the significance of Kiseki in his oeuvre and Japanese literature as a whole.

The two main weaknesses of the book are an abundance of typographical and grammatical errors and a tendency toward repetition and signposting. Perhaps the argument would have been better disseminated as a journal article, where brevity and concision could have made for sharper focus and greater impact. The great strength of the book is its willingness to entertain the many contradictions in Nakagami's work, specifically the discursive violence of textual representation and the paradoxical positioning of one within a community utilizing the discourse of those outside it. Thelle asserts that when Nakagami uses the stereotypes and discursive structures of "burakumin literature" written by nonmembers of the community, his own writing enacts a kind of violence to buraku identity. This realization brings us back to Edward Said and his paradox of exteriority—can one ever critique or utilize a discourse of which one is an object? Can the written object become writing subject? Although Thelle does not directly engage with Said or postcolonial theory, her work helps investigate the main question posed by studies of Self and Other in a colonial or minority context. [End Page 189]

Thelle argues that Nakagami faced the challenge of writing against national literature "head on" (p. 21), even though Kiseki shows that he was unable to escape the linguistic systems of nation and empire altogether. Thelle succeeds in her aim to show the frustrations and discrepancies of the text, countering the overly positive views of Karatani Kōjin and critics within his circle. Her approach is very similar to that taken by three of these critics—Eve Zimmerman, Alan Tansman, and Anne McKnight—emphasizing the process of negotiation and conflict within Nakagami's work. It is sometimes difficult to tell how Thelle's analysis is significantly different from Zimmerman's, but she skillfully employs critical intermediaries in her analysis of the text: Mikhail Bakhtin is used via Linda Hutcheon's applications to parody, while Maruyama Masao's thoughts on nature and the state are filtered through Julia Thomas's analysis. This makes for an interesting and multilayered approach to the text. Thelle also makes extensive use of the Japanese critics Watanabe Naomi, Yomota Inuhiko, and Hasumi Shigehiko. English-speaking readers of Japanese literature and literary theory need this kind of summary of the Japanese reception, and Thelle is to be commended for her careful consideration of these key Japanese sources.

Thelle is also extremely clear on the features of monogatari and exactly where they appear in the text of Kiseki. She quotes from the novel at length and in detail...