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Militarized Vision and the Critique of War in Murakami Ryū’s Umi no mukō de sensō ga hajimaru (Over the Sea, the War Begins)
Individual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Toronto, Canada
Murakami Ryū's Akutagawa prize-winning novel Kagirinaki tōmei ni chikai burū ("Almost Transparent Blue") was widely acclaimed and translated into multiple languages, yet its 1977 sequel of sorts, Umi no mukō de sensō ga hajimaru (“Over the Sea, the War Begins”), has received far less critical attention. In this paper, I argue that the later novel offers an underappreciated and important critique of militarism in the Vietnam Era through its problematization of vision. Murakami highlights the ways in which the visual field is instrumentalized in this historical moment as a means of falsely distancing war’s observer from the site of violence using the perspective of two beach-dwelling tourists who consistently fail to recognize events on the island “over the sea” as scenes of war, despite their ability to see these events with an uncanny precision. Critical to forging a false sense of separation from the war, this failure of perception produces the beach-dwellers’ failure to understand their own ethical implication in the war zone, and thus expands the concept of “total war” to include an acceptance of the war “over there” as the condition upon which the reproduction of everyday life in the imperialist metropole resides. By explicitly invoking the images of both Vietnam and World War II on the island, Murakami ultimately conjoins this visual problem with its historical correlate, highlighting the false distantiation of the historical witness from the repetition of war in the Vietnam era and offering an important intervention in our understanding of contemporary militarism.