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In Session: Sex and Gender, Performance and Collaboration: The Works of Tomioka Taeko
2: In the Voice of Amanojaku: Tomioka Taeko's Poetry of Refusal
Friday, March 26, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Lee E. Friederich
Akita International University, Japan
Tomioka Taeko's refusal to adopt fixed or "naturalized" gender categories, "feminine" voice, clearly discernable sexual identity, and standardized Japanese in her poetry marks her as a poet well ahead of her own time. “In the Voice of Amanojaku” foregrounds Tomioka’s strong sense of refusal (kyohi) that permeates her poetry, through a close examination of her poem “Mi [no] ue banashi” (Story of my life), the first poem in her first collection Okaeshi (Return gift), marking the beginning of her meteoric poetic career, which, though short-lived, would dramatically alter the landscape of Japanese women's poetry to come. Tomioka’s use of the traditional trickster Amanojaku in “Mi [no] ue banashi” epitomizes this notion of refusal. Refusing linguistic, gender and identity categorization throughout the poem, Tomioka ironically positions Amanojaku, who embodies the perverse in contemporary parlance, on the vanguard of intellectual pursuits. This subversive valorization of deviancy can be productively illuminated by Judith Butler's notion of the abject, insofar as the narrative voice that defines Tomioka's poetic world often defies any notion of unitary identity, the stringent categorization that so often accompanies gay and lesbian identity politics, for example, during the era in which Tomioka penned her poetry. The narrator of “Mi [no] ue banashi” unabashedly enacts this gender fluidity as the story of her life, an act, or performance, which, as Mizuta Noriko so accurately writes, places contemporary Japanese woman poets on the vanguard of “gender culture,” as “foreigners (ihōjin) or “refugee/defectors” (hōmeisha) (Nijū seiki no josei hyōgen 1).