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
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.