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Reviewed by:
  • Japanese Fiction of the Allied Occupation: Vision, Embodiment, Identity
  • Eve Zimmerman
Japanese Fiction of the Allied Occupation: Vision, Embodiment, Identity. By Sharalyn Orbaugh. Leiden: Brill, 2007. xvi + 520 pages. Hardcover £156.00/$231.00.

Sharalyn Orbaugh's study of Japanese fiction written during the Allied Occupation begins with a simple question: how did the Japanese rebuild their world in the aftermath of World War II? Her answer, delivered over the course of nearly five hundred pages, is appropriately complex. Orbaugh does not minimize the damage done by Japan to its "subjects" in East Asia, but, at the same time, she records the experience of an "epistemic rupture" of defeat that shook Japanese society to its foundations and turned its symbolic structures upside down (p. 88). What Orbaugh adds to the rich body of history written on this period is the viewpoint of the literary historian. She asserts (rightly) that literary texts can open doors for us that would otherwise remain closed and that the literary imagination yields a wealth of material for the cultural, political, and social record.

In three distinct sections of the book, "Vision," "The Body," and "The Visible Body," Orbaugh leads us through a nuanced discussion of primary sources—short and longer pieces of fiction. In the first section, for example, she employs theories of visuality to decipher common themes that thread through disparate works of postwar fiction. Drawing on Lacanian models of subject formation and work on "looking" by film theorists and others, Orbaugh links visuality with dramatic changes in postwar Japanese identity. How did the American forces control the populace through observation and supervision (the panoptic model)? How did the Japanese male attempt to negotiate his own identity through the body of the woman he would (but might never) possess? When the Japanese male subject internalized the gaze of the occupier, how did he in turn "see" the world around him? In close readings of works by Yasuoka Shōtarō, Kojima Nobuo, and Ishikawa Jun, Orbaugh explores the ways in which visuality is used to express what she calls a "power differential." At the same time, she suggests that power relations cannot be distilled into a binary scheme of active doer and passive receiver, and she turns to the knotty material of individual texts to catalogue the complexity of social relations in occupied Japan. In her words:

These [fictional] depictions therefore seem to underscore the complexity of the power relations of Occupation-period Japan. Rather than a simple dichotomous social structure of empowered and disempowered groups, these stories depict a multi-level structure of power and authority, with (white) American men at the top, other Allied-nation white men and American women next, other Allied-nation women next, then Japanese women, and so on, with Japanese men at the bottom of the heap.

(p. 152)

The second and third sections of the book are devoted to the theme of the body. Given the focus on the body in many works of postwar fiction and the category of nikutai bungaku (literature of the flesh), Orbaugh's theme resonates. She begins by articulating premodern notions of the body in Japan, highlighting their emphasis on ritual purity. Recounting the history of the burakumin and earlier outcaste groups from before the Edo period, Orbaugh argues that the idea of a pure body can only be posited [End Page 434] in opposition to an impure body—the body of the economically and social marginalized "other." This dynamic, the interplay of pure and impure as constituting meaning, was smashed during the war, resulting in severe dislocations to Japan's identity. In further study of works by Yasuoka, Kojima, and Ishikawa, Orbaugh details concretely how breached bodies, diseased bodies, and wounded bodies testify to the shock of dislocation in the aftermath of Japan's defeat.

Finally, in one of the book's strongest chapters, Orbaugh turns to the issue of how women writers inscribed the experience of defeat. As in the preceding chapter on male writers, Orbaugh first examines the ways in which women's bodies were employed in the effort of national mobilization and war, particularly for their childbearing abilities. Orbaugh makes two points about postwar female writers: first...


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