Doctor of Philosophy in Asian Studies (PhD)
Fostering Awareness of Marginalized People through Literature: A Case Study of Critical Literary Pedagogy by a Marginalized Instructor
Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.
Dazai Osamu (1909–1948) is a celebrated Japanese author who is most known for his postwar novels of despair and decadence, such as The Setting Sun (1947) and No Longer Human (1948). He is recognized as one of the literary greats by the academy and his work has been praised by scholars and critics. However, his star image also has a familiar presence in mass culture and his texts have been labelled as popular literature for anomic youth who are struggling to define themselves. While Dazai’s place in canonical literature is well established, I argue that it is Dazai’s multi-faceted, mutable image as a decadent anomic figure that has been mobilized by popular culture networks to expand his star text, adapt it to new mediums, and generate interest among youths in the historical “original.”I first contextualize Dazai’s literary celebrity in his historical moment of early twentieth-century Japan to highlight how the author self-fashioned himself as a social outcast vis-à-vis the literary establishment, and how the details of his life and death have been “re-authored” by publishers and readers to intensify his image as an anomic figure. Specifically, I engage in paratextual analysis to see how reprints of No Longer Human emphasize narratives of autobiography, suicide, and youth literature; and how this, in turn, has led to Dazai’s star text becoming synonymous with the novel and its protagonist, Ōba Yōzō.Then, through a close reading of the multimedia series Bungō Stray Dogs (2013–) and Bungō and Alchemist (2016–), I explore how Dazai’s “character-ification” has embodied the author’s abstract image in the collective imagination and brought it into in the world of manga, anime, and video games. Because the author-characters are constructed from biographical details with new elements added on top, there is still room for audiences to translate the semiotic signs assigned to each character. This has made Dazai visually “knowable” to audiences and encouraged many fans to seek out the original author. In this fashion, popular culture adaptations of literary star texts have played a significant role in revitalizing youth interest in modern Japanese literature and its authors.
The birthrate decline (shōshika) of Japan is seen as a social crisis that may, without intervention, lead to drastic population decline and eventually the extinction of humans in Japan. While policies that support working parents have been implemented since the 1990s, many still believe that shōshika is caused and exacerbated by women not carrying out their reproductive and caretaking duties. In response, contemporary women writers Kawakami Hiromi (b. 1958) and Murata Sayaka (b. 1979) have created reproductive dystopias where reproductive continuity is held up as a social priority and people are seen as literal spawning machines. This thesis concentrates on the utopian urges and dystopian realities in the fiction of Kawakami and Murata, and in particular women’s roles in these pronatalist systems.In the introduction, I define dystopia as an apocalyptic imagination that is systematically planned and controlled by means of violence and dehumanization, and then examine its utopian impulses. In Chapter One, I focus on Kawakami’s Do Not be Snatched by the Great Bird (Ōkina tori ni sarawarenaiyō, 2016), tracing the evolution of its dystopia through the eyes of female characters and their nonnormative sexual experiences in order to unpack society’s utopian desire for stability and the dystopian reality of dehumanization. In Chapter Two, I read Murata’s Dwindling World (Shōmetsu sekai, 2015) as a dismantlement of existing heteronormativity, the sexual order, and reproductivity. The utopian impulse for total reproductive efficiency leads to the totalitarian city of Eden, which demands that everyone be a child-bearer. In both texts, women who are doubly oppressed by patriarchy and dystopia have non-reproductive sex with taboo partners, thereby disturbing pronatalist ideologies. These narratives underscore and critique existing patriarchal structures, gender inequities, and heteronormativity in contemporary Japan and question the desirability for total reproductive efficiency.
In the history of crime-and-mystery fiction in Japan, few are as influential as Edogawa Ranpo (1894-1965). Despite this, Ranpo is often left out of discussions on crime-and-mystery fiction as a global genre; further, when he is discussed, his more orthodox detective fiction tends to be the focus of study. By examining four of Ranpo’s non/pseudo-detective early narratives, this thesis seeks to expand and nuance academic understanding of his significance in both the broader context of crime-and-mystery fiction and that of late Taishō (1912-1926) and early Shōwa (1926-1989) Japan. In critiquing tendencies to sum up Ranpo as an Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) facsimile, I propose innovation as a mediating factor between the analytic categories of “imitation” and “inspiration.” Exploring Ranpo’s sociohistorical background and positioning him within the nascence of ero-guro nansensu (“erotic-grotesque nonsense”), I elucidate how Ranpo at once influenced and was influenced by ero-guro sensibilities.Most crucially, I consolidate the concept of the literary fetish. Drawing on previous academic theorizations of the fetish, which position its critical aspect as an implicit, paradoxical, and inherently epistemological duality—the simultaneous recognition and disavowal of knowledge—I reformulate the fetish as a narrative device, arguing that, in these four stories, Ranpo elevates the plot twist to a literary fetish. Sensational and often sensual, the plot twists of these narratives occupy the climactic position in their narratives, and the climax they express cannot be satisfactorily resolved. Instead, the plot twist foregrounds questions of subjectivity, reality, and Truth, speaking to ero-guro sensibilities and to Ranpo’s contemporary sociopolitical flux. It is through intertextual analysis of Ranpo and Poe’s respective plot twists that I address their complicated history of identification, ultimately locating in those twists the strongest case for Ranpo’s distinction from Poe. And it is through intertextual analysis of Ranpo’s own works, and close examination of his plot twists, that I suggest narratives like these—which I term “mystery-plays” for the way that they play with mystery—most seductively encourage his readers to think critically of what they have read, of their world, and of themselves.