- Body as Battlefield
Memories that cannot be narrated or historicized. Memories as fragments. Memories that resist being treated as such. Memories that bridge the lives of present individuals with those of the past. The lives, in other words, that cannot manifest the processes for turning themselves into history, or the lives that embrace fragmentary memories while unable to historicize themselves. The crucial fragments for life.1—Lee Chonghwa, Tsubuyaki no seiji shisō
Even after the defeat of the Japanese empire in 1945, many Koreans continued to live in Japan, where they came to be known as Zainichi Koreans. Today, a number of fifth- and sixth-generation Zainichi Koreans are living in Japan. Yet despite the durability of this minority population over time, Zainichi Koreans occupy a fraught, tenuous position in Japanese society, history, and imagination; master narratives of Japanese identity and history—who and what, exactly, constitute Japan and Japanese-ness culturally, [End Page 391] ethnically, socially—provide, at best, only a marginal place for Zainichi and their history.2
Zainichi women, in particular, are doubly repressed; as male Zainichi struggle with their lack of social, economic, and political agency and mobility, some of them tend to vent these frustrations in the only place they can: their homes, upon their Zainichi wives and mothers. The patriarchal structures that subjugate women in Japanese society are redoubled upon these minority women, such that Zainichi women have become conspicuous by their absence from Japanese historiography. Fragile and resilient by turns, they have been grossly ignored, marginalized, and abused—yet, paradoxically, even worshipped at times. The margin is always a part of the whole. As any structure demands alterity within itself for its total formation, Japanese historiography (and identity) needs "outsiders" and "others" like the Zainichi within in order to define itself against those it excludes. Zainichi women, as "insider-outsiders," are critical figures in the construction of identity in both Japanese and Korean societies and cultures, intrinsic to narratives that need to both claim and exclude them simultaneously. These women thus possess a unique power to disrupt normalizing discourses of nationhood in both Japan and Korea, opening up the possibility of negotiating new futures and new subjectivities.
The work of Akutagawa Award–winning author Yi Yang-ji (1955–1992) reveals this rich potential. In Yi's novella Kazukime (Woman Diver, 1983),3 the Zainichi woman Ane and her mother employ the physical body as a political battlefield, where the struggle for and with subjectivity, belonging, history, and power is negotiated. Through their bodies, Ane and her mother negotiate ethnic, national, and class differences, which combine, compete, [End Page 392] and complicate each other throughout the novella. For Ane, these battles are seen, for example, in the abuse she suffers at the hands of her stepsiblings (including rape, which leads to pregnancy and abortion); her excessive and defiant expressions of sexuality; and her efforts to prevent reproduction and boycott motherhood. Ane's mother's battles are manifested in both her violent marriages, her choice to wear kimono as an attempt to pass as Japanese, and in her defeat by uterine cancer. However, it is ultimately Ane's narrative in Kazukime that works against or resists Japanese biopolitical power and asks ethnically Japanese nationals to reconsider nation-building activities such as the coming-of-age ceremony. In this way, Yi crafts new narratives that cut through and across processes of masculine nationalist discourses, disrupting and eliding the linear temporalities that are endemic to such discourses.
Yi Yang-ji Who?
Born in Japan in 1955, Yi Yang-ji was a Zainichi Korean writer. Naturalized as a Japanese citizen at the age of nine, Yi wrote in Japanese (her first language) but maintained an uneasy relationship with the country of her birth throughout her short life (Yi died in 1992, at the age of 37). In a short memoir-like essay titled "Contempt Against Koreans That Is Passed Down to Younger Generations" (Wakamono ni denshō sareteiku Chōsenjin besshi, 1979), she observed that her parents' naturalization as Japanese made her "aware of the harsh reality, permeating through Japan, that they could not live otherwise."4 She also describes how her...