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  • IntroductionLiterature and Trauma after Hiroshima: A Japanese-English Bilingual Issue
  • David Miller

And worse I may be yet. The worst in notSo long as we can say "This is the worst."Shakespeare, King Lear, 4.1.28

The emergence, reception, and cultural evaluations of Japanese writings, both literary and critical, on the A-bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the mainland firebombing campaign on Tokyo and other major Japanese cities, have been subject to a number of suppressions, evasions, and complications both in Japan and in the Western context of literature and trauma and studies. This bilingual issue has a threefold purpose: to expose, map, and encounter the primary moment of the catastrophe from a Japanese perspective—made available here to most Anglophone readers for the first time. The concomitant and secondary effort is aimed at examining some of the patterns of evasion and repetition that characterize the suppressed moment of cultural and historical adaptation and reaction to the catastrophe, with the final hope of opening up the debates surrounding the critical responses to the atomic bombings, understood as one of the central traumatic "limit events" of our epoch, to an alternative set of cultural, critical, and literary perspectives.

The ramifications—ethical, cultural, political, and even technological—of the air-war and mainland strategic "carpet" bombing campaigns conducted in Europe during World War II, especially those directed at cities, have been the subject of a number of literary, critical, and historical commentaries.1 These commentaries have, in turn, generated a series of more theoretically inflected studies that have had an impact [End Page vii] on trauma, memory, and literary studies. Many of these debates and encounters have involved scholars, survivors, and critics from Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and France. No such pattern is discernible for trauma studies in the case of the Pacific mainland bombing campaign and atomic bombings of Japan, despite the fact that more aerial destruction was inflicted in that area than in any other theater of the war.2

Scientific, military, and even medical reactions to the incendiary bombings and the atomic bombings of Japan were quite prompt, with doctors, physicists, various "atomic" scientists, and air-war "experts" allowed access at the impact sites, with studies conducted and data "collected." The literary and cultural responses were subject to a series of evasions and what can be termed a deliberate and orchestrated critical amnesia, especially and curiously in the realm of literature and poetry. Japan was an occupied country in the immediate aftermath of the bombings, and the task of reconstructing the postwar Pacific settlement was not an issue that the United States was inclined to take casually.3 Certainly one of the first published influential accounts that can be taken as having literary qualities was published in the United States and not in Japan.4 The outright horror of the atomic bombings was, in many ways, evident enough from the number of casualties, the nature and extent of the human suffering inflicted, and the widespread level of deep mass destruction. Yet, the meaning and impact of the bombings on Japanese cultural memory and literary consciousness has taken time to emerge.5 We are certainly now, finally, at a stage in which the literary, scholarly, and artistic responses to the trauma of the bombings in Japan can engage fully with what has emerged in literature and trauma theory from within Japan, with many of the main scholars in these areas writing here, and with those working in trauma, art, and literature elsewhere, especially the main currents in the West. The altered critical trajectories and potential insights that may be fashioned for literature and trauma studies out of and from within this dialogue can only benefit the emerging global community of scholars working in the field. [End Page viii]


1. W. G. Sebald's book of essays, Luftkrieg und Literatur (1999), published in English as On the Natural History of Destruction (2003), first delivered as series of lectures, is the most notable example. Heinrich Boll's 1947 novel The Angel Was Silent, the principal early German literary work centered on the air war, was not published until 1992.

2. Edwin P. Hoyte's...


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