- Urashimasō:Memory as Trauma and Recovery in Literature
In the following essay, Mizuta Noriko asks how traumatic events, which result in the violent repression and obliteration of personal memories, might rather be understood as the root of all artistic representation. As Freud writes in "Archaic Remnants and Infantilism in the Dream" (1920): "[latent thought] extends back to conditions of our intellectual development which we have long progressed beyond, to the language of pictures, the symbol-representations, perhaps to those conditions which were in force before the development of our language of thought." Mizuta wonders how Freud's insights on trauma might illuminate our understanding of Ōba Minako's Urashimasō (1977), and its inscription of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Ōba (1930-2007) is perhaps best known for being instrumental in reshaping female subjectivity during a resurgence of women's writing in Japan from the late 1960s onwards. However, as Mizuta's essay demonstrates, those of Ōba's writings that discuss the legacy of the Second World War, and in particular, the bombing of Hiroshima, should be reserved a special place in Japan's literary canon for their ability to confront trauma and effect healing.
2012 marks the fortieth anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and China. The negative effects of the Sino-Japanese and Pacific Wars on those relations continued well into the second half of the twentieth century. However, throughout this period and even while there were no such diplomatic relations to speak of—when neither country recognized the other's existence as a nation state—history, which is to say people's lives, their relationships with each other, including their representations of such lives and relationships, simply carried on. [End Page 221]
It could thus be argued that history is initially shaped, not by the records of an organized society or nation state, but by the records of people's lives, their traces or footprints, including the memories they harbor. How such traces or remnants are recorded, stored, and inserted into historical accounts is increasingly becoming an important subject not only for twentieth-century historians, but also for writers and critics of literature.
But how can those unrecorded traces or remnants—those internal experiences that were never spoken about, written, or explained to another person by those who were there—be brought to light? Simply by looking back at our own lives it is apparent that even if someone had no sense of the course of history and lived, as it were, unconnected to politics, they would, as if by their own personal reasoning, be guided, determined, and manipulated by it. It is for this very reason that the lives and memories of all those forgotten by history are so poignant. Living memories die alongside the body and mind of the individual.
For Japan, the devastating history of the air raids and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has become a site of cultural trauma in the postwar period—a trauma wherein a stubborn, unspoken silence, or void, has pervaded such history's documentation, occupying its center like a black hole. When catastrophic historical events occur, such as war or revolution; or major events that can change the order of world history and civilization, such as the dropping of the atomic bomb, the void left in people's minds and the silence of their memories are starker than ever. This is because their silence is the silence of those who witnessed the tragedy, and who suffered through and were made victims by the event.
The reason why the minds and memories of these victims have become a void in history, and their silence a black hole, is because no one besides those who were swept up by the catastrophe—those individuals upon whose minds such experiences are etched—can speak or write about their memories. Furthermore, it is not that those who experienced the catastrophe choose not to speak about their memories, but rather that they are unable to speak about them because those memories are "unspeakable." However, the void of their silence does not stop at the point of the individual; the unspoken, unrecorded...