Tanigawa Gan and the Poetics of the Origin


The work of the poet, theoretician, and political activist Tanigawa Gan (1923–95) played a decisive role in postwar Japanese intellectual and political life, deeply influencing the politics of 1968. By interrupting the prevailing discourses of democratic reconstruction, high economic growth, and the cosmopolitan Marxism of urban life, Tanigawa (along with the other members of his commune) practiced a rigorous subtraction from the dominant ideological and aesthetic discourse of postwar Japanese life. Remapping their politics by imbricating activism with the line of writing, they moved into the rural and isolated villages, the utterly deprived and depleted "forgotten" zones of the countryside, where Tanigawa attempted to discover an "origin," not in a romantic or nativist sense, but as a source of human energy for the active aesthetic creation of life practices in exodus from the dominant society. Tanigawa's writing itself—his practice of holding politics and poetics immanent to the flux or energy of the historicity of the struggle of the oppressed, to the historical event of their dispossession—remains a powerful site of analysis for us today. In contemporary Japan, where the struggles of the unemployed, the homeless, and the semipermanently underemployed have emerged sharply against the backdrop of the turn to neoliberalism and dismantling of social policy, Tanigawa's work has seen a sudden resurgence. But his work is frequently being presented as "utopian," "nativist," "romantic," and so forth. In examining a sequence of Tanigawa's poetry and certain of his critical essays, the author tries to disrupt such readings by arguing that his attempt to conceive of a practice of writing, not focused on the substantialization of "the people" or the region but, rather, on the dynamic flux of energy produced by this tension of exile itself, inaugurates a series of potential moments through which the possibilities of resistant mappings can be understood. For Tanigawa, the political potential of this mapping rather lies in mobilizing the histories of the affective memory of struggle that are sedimented in the communities of the dispossessed, what he called "operating" (kosaku) on the situation.