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  • A Japanese Electra and Her Queer Progeny
  • Keith Vincent (bio)

Mori Mari's 1961 novella "Koibitotachi no mori" ("A Lovers' Forest") is the first story of a trilogy she wrote about passionate and doomed love affairs between older men and beautiful young boys.1 Mari's work is invariably cited by Japanese scholars as the antecedent of a genre of manga and popular novels written by women for women about male-male love that began to emerge in the 1970s and remains extremely popular today.2 While there are many terms to refer to the manga and fiction that followed Mari's lead (and many debates over generic classifications), for brevity's sake I use the term yaoi here to refer to the whole genre. Yaoi is an ironically self-deprecating acronym that is said to mean "no climax" (yama nashi), "no punch line" (ochi nashi), and "no meaning" (imi nashi).3 Crucially, the term is used interchangeably as a signifier both for the genre of male-male comics written by and for women, and for the women themselves. Thus to write or read yaoi is also to be "a yaoi girl." In the early 1990s, the slippage this suggests between what you read and who you are sparked an intense and still ongoing debate over sexuality and identity that I discuss in the latter half of this essay. But first I would like to turn to Mari's early work to make some preliminary observations about the kind of psychic function this genre may be serving and how it is related to the question of literary style. [End Page 64]

"A Lovers' Forest"

Mori Mari was already fifty-seven when she wrote "A Lovers' Forest." Until then, her writing had focused mostly on her famous and much-beloved father, Mori Ōgai, a towering figure in modern Japanese literature who played a major role in introducing European literature and medicine to Japan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Ōgai died in 1922 when Mari was nineteen, and she was devastated by his death. It has become a commonplace in the criticism about her that she spent the rest of her life, as Tomoko Aoyama puts it, trying to "bring the past and her father back to life through her writing."4 In "A Lovers' Forest," I argue, Mari is not only bringing her father back to life but also creating a space of pleasure in which her own (and perhaps our own) "maturation" into heteronormative adulthood can be deferred indefinitely. It is this insistence on pleasure, along with her refusal to grow up, that makes Mari the first (and still one of the best) practitioners of what would later be called yaoi.

"A Lovers' Forest" tells the story of a thirty-eight-year-old man named "Gidou" and his younger lover "Paulo." Gidou is an independently wealthy professor of French literature at Tokyo University. His mother was the daughter of a Japanese diplomat based in Paris, and his father was a wealthy Frenchman with the aristocratic-sounding name of Antoine de Guiche. Paulo's actual name is Kamiya Keiri, but Gidou rechristens him Paulo, and this is how he is referred to throughout the novel. Both of these Europeanized names are written phonetically in ornate Chinese characters in a fashion that mimics the way Mari's father named all of his children, including "Mari" herself.5 (She had two brothers named Furitsu [Fritz] and Oto [Otto] and a sister named Annu [Ann].) In the beginning of the story we are told that Paulo is "seventeen or eighteen" but "not yet nineteen."6 Nineteen, of course, is the age Mari was when her father died. After a passionate love affair with Paulo that lasts only a single year, Gidou is shot by a jealous former lover when she finds out that Gidou has left her for Paulo. Thus, as the story ends, Paulo finds himself in a situation not unlike the one in which Mari found herself at nineteen.

Gidou meets Paulo in a gay bar called "Mari," the name of which is written, interestingly enough, with the same characters as Mari's own. It is love [End Page...


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