- Japanese Women’s Poetry from Interwar to Pacific War:Navigating Heterogeneous Borderspace
During the opening years of the Shōwa period (1925–1940), Japan embarked upon a mission to expand not only its sphere of influence but the bounds of its national territory, which eventually encompassed what came to be called the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere (Daitōa kyōeiken). The attempt to remake or reconfigure national boundaries had implications for all aspects of Japanese society and culture, not the least of which was the reimagining of the female body. Such a process had been underway since the early Meiji period, when the emperor was restored as head of state after more than two centuries of rule by military government. Adhering to the notion that the emperor was the “father” of the realm, officials of the modernized Japanese nation placed new demands on imperial subjects, including the designation of women as “mothers of the empire.”1 Thus Japanese female bodies were implicated, at least symbolically, in a kind of polygynous relationship with the emperor or, as one scholar puts it, “women’s [maternal] bodies were expected to function in unison with the body of the emperor.”2
Despite being enlisted in the modern nationalist project in terms of their ability to bear, nurture, and care for children, women engaged in a variety of other activities as well. Throughout the early twentieth century and into the 1930s and 1940s, women not only performed various kinds of domestic labor but also undertook work outside the home, in factories and in numerous other industries, and also entered or were sold into prostitution. [End Page 6] Not surprisingly, the actual boundaries of the maternal role could not be fully or clearly demarcated, given its intersection with other areas of female activity. In her study Women Adrift: The Literature of Japan’s Imperial Body, Noriko Horiguchi repeatedly underscores the instability of the borders or divisions between home and workplace, home and brothel, private and public, reproductive and productive, describing these boundaries as “blurred,” “hazy and overlapping,” or “in flux.”3
An examination of women’s poetry during this time reveals a close association between the national agenda and the concomitant shifting of corporeal bounds that defined female experience.4 Some poets, such as Nagase Kiyoko (1906–95), pondered the role of the mother and pursued the expression of maternal connection throughout a long career. Others, such as Fukao Sumako (1888–1974) and Mori Michiyo (1901–77), explored complex and shifting boundary areas that demarcated the domestic and the foreign, the native and the Other, and moved their poetic production into a transnational arena that encompassed Japan, Asia, and Europe. In all cases, however, the exploration of border areas was central to women’s poetry of this period, with particular emphasis on the search for relationship with the Other, whether it be maternal/familial or national/transnational.
In this respect, the work of Bracha L. Ettinger seems to have particular resonance in its focus on artistic or aesthetic practice that takes up the concept of borderspace rather than the categorical notion of binarism exemplified by such concepts as masculine/feminine, positive/negative, and so on. Borderspace is a term coined by Ettinger in order to explore marginal areas formed by such culturally or psychologically imposed binaries. Distinguished by her innovative theories on psychoanalysis and aesthetics and the implications of these views in contemporary (re)evaluation of shared affect, femininity, and the maternal realm, Ettinger challenges the divisions inherent in traditional binaristic thinking. As Judith Butler points out, Ettinger “invites us to consider human subjectivity beyond the effects of Oedipal, pre-Oedipal and even anti-Oedipal mechanisms, as well as beyond intersubjective object-relations.”5
It is important to note that Ettinger does not discount the phallic realm. Instead, she proposes a matrixial realm that exists beside/beyond the phallic order. The matrixial realm comprises the prenatal and the prematernal—that is, the realm that has been denied by Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalytic theory but that nonetheless underlies all human experience. In the case studies examined here, women poets sometimes simultaneously engage with the phallic differentiation between self (Japan) and Other (Asia/Europe...