Professor Eri Watanabe, Graduate School of Humanities

Professor Eri Watanabe, Graduate School of Humanities

"More than words: Fiction in literature provides hope to change our human-made society"

Professor Eri Watanabe pursues an understanding of the past and present, examining history and contemporary society through a critical approach to literature. She was once based at Tianjin Foreign Studies University, Tianjin Normal University in China teaching ‘Japanese-language literature’ which is her own perspective of capture the Japanese literature and demonstrates her attitude to recapturing the Japanese language in the context of Asia and world history by setting the culture in an autonomous space. Through her professorship in Japanese language and literature in China, she reaffirmed the significance of the language, one that deviates from the categories of ethnicity and nation-state and is deeply connected with personal voice and non-verbal surroundings and culture, individual. Further, she believes in the potential of literature to provide us with the hope that we can change what exists in front of us through ‘fiction,’ a human-made structure that can be applied to laws, institutions, and even social structures.

As an eminent scholar, she received an award from the Association for Studies of Culture and Representation in 2023 for her extraordinary work on Kenji Nakagami (1946-1992), the first Akutagawa Prize winner novelist born post-WWII. She attempted to reinvent the value of his words, which have diverse potential values, by re-contextualizing the work of Nakagami as an ideological resource against developmentalism, productivism, and “efficiencyism.”

Professor Watanabe speaks on her work.

The term "(re)development literature" is a term coined by me. It is a novel, hypothetical concept rather than a specific genre. In one sense, it refers to literature that has been produced in the context of development or redevelopment, or literature and/or literary discourses (such as novels, poetry, plays, prose, etc) that represent development or redevelopment. However, the term “(re)development literature” in this context represents a perspective for analysis, a method, so to speak, established from a methodological interest.

It can be said that Japan of the 'post-war' era has gone through a series of large-scale developments. On the new land, which had lost its colonies and been reduced the size of an imperial plateau to archipelago as a result of defeat in the war, a multilayered process of post-war reconstruction, national and regional development during the period of rapid economic growth, and the redevelopment of urban and suburban areas was undertaken. It continues to this day with transformations in character. Space, land, and place are important components of novels, but how has 'post-war' Japanese-language literature been able to confront the events of (re)development that transformed this space, and the productivist values condensed in it? Until now, the representation and context of (re)development had not been sufficiently discussed in the study of 'post-war' literature, partly because the dynamic process of (re)development is difficult to represent. With Nakagami’s work, I focused on the context and representation of (re)development in the 'post-war' period, which had not received much attention in the past, and attempted to capture the specific ways in which 'post-war' literature confronts the event of (re)development and the productionist values that underpin it.

The space depicted in Nakagami’s novels is a time and space that suffered discrimination and thus also suffered development. The space in Nakagami’s literature can be read, in one sense, as a space representing (re)development.

I attempted to saw his work’s space as a literary and theoretical vision and ideological stance against (re)development. Nakagami's vision for the space against the 'productivity' of (re)development can be said to have a de-national and de-capitalist orientation.

The perspective of (re)development also makes it possible to address the domination of the human by the human as well as the domination of the non-human by the human. I also attempted analysis of dehumanisation/posthumanism in Nakagami’s literature, critically questioning human/humanism, which encompasses the domination and discrimination of humans over humans, and emphasising that it also has an aspect of seeking a different relationship with the natural environment than that of the human-centered relationship with the natural environment. Nakagami's work's question to us today proposes a critical rethinking of the relationship between human society and the nature environment, which relates diverse forms of violence, and a vision of a world without domination and without power.

Future Research

From now on, I would like to study the literature of Michiko Ishimure, who has been focused in the context of environmental criticism from the perspective of (re)development literature.
I would also like to compare Ishimure's literature with that of other female writers from Kyushu region, such as the poet and thinker Kazue Morisaki and the novelist Kiiko Nakamura, to explore the issues of feminism and development.

Text: Saori Obayashi/Edit: Christopher Bubb

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