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  • Canon and Censor:How War Wounds Bodies of Writing1
  • Jonathan E. Abel

In 1938, Japanese authorities issued sanctions against the publishers of the magazine Chūō kōron, suppressing TatsuzŌ Ishikawa's Ikiteiru heitai (Living Soldiers) for its graphic depictions of the casualties of the war in China and the cruelty of Japanese soldiers.2 In 1939, Dalton Trumbo and his publishers refused calls by fascist elements in the United States to reprint Trumbo's pacifist Johnny Got His Gun, portraying the interior monologue of an amputee. While the publication histories and the ideological circumstances of the reception of these novels differ, they both blur distinctions between living and dead and thereby share common ground as challenges to canonical narratives of war, exemplified by Ashihei Hino's Mugi to heitai (Barley and Soldiers, 1939) and James Jones' From Here To Eternity (1951). Unlike the banned narratives of war where the thresholds between living and dead are sought, in these bestselling novels the living are the living, the dead are the dead, and the twain never meet.

Comparison of the processes of censorship and canonization during and after the Second World War in both Japan and the United States enables an assessment of the literary casualties of the period. Though such an approach cannot absolve us from the ethical responsibility of deciding in the end whether one regime is worse or more repressive than another, it does begin to close the critical gap between discussions of wartime and postwar Japanese literature, as well as the analogous divide between approaches that focus either solely on the canon or on the margin in the wider field of cultural studies. [End Page 74]

Ties that Bind: the Canonical Living and the Censored Dead

Where literary critics such as Shūgo Honda and Jay Rubin tend to focus on the repression of Japanese literature by the prewar and wartime regimes and to describe a flowering of literature in the immediate postwar, Jun Etō (followed more recently by Norihiro Katō) finds harsh ideological boundaries beginning in the Occupation. Etō argues that the imported, "false" taboos of Occupation censorship imprisoned all of postwar literature in a linguistic space closed off from true freedom, and that, therefore, Japanese democracy bears the taint of its undemocratic inception. While the former view may be considered a standard liberal position on regime change, the latter is more complicated—a potentially right-wing move in Japan, but one seemingly justified by post-colonial theoretical premises in the North American academy.3 The divisions these critics seek to draw between war and peace, independence and occupation, imperialism and occupation, or fascism and democracy become blurred when we consider the presence of repression and censorship at the scene of writing under any regime or conditions. This recognition of a trans-historical repression does not displace the necessity of judgment and justice when confronted with an instance of violence to texts. Rather, it foregrounds the ethical importance of reading one kind of historically-located censorship as worse or more worthy of resistance than another.

Marginalized, "unspeakable" literature stands in relation to canonized literature such that there can be no canon formation without the attendant process of marginalization; no canon without censorship. The doubled process of canonization and marginalization is elided by scholars who seek to privilege the quality of being underprivileged, that is, of marginality, without recognizing the necessity of reading this historical process. While we might revel in privileging of the formerly banned literature for a moment, the radical moment of such a move is evanescent if not balanced by the continual remembering of the historical process by which that dismembering of the text occurred. To simply reverse the situation by declaring the once unreadable now readable repeats a violence to texts which can be mitigated by an approach that accounts for the process, reading both the excised and that which was constructed through excision.

On the subject of the process and moment of writing in Freud, Jacques Derrida writes: [End Page 75]

Writing is unthinkable without repression. The condition for writing is that there be neither a permanent contact nor an absolute break between the strata: the vigilance and failure of censorship. It...


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