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In Session: Spaces Seen and Unseen in Literature in Japanese 1989-2019
3: Intimate Heterotopias: Revisiting Tawada Yoko's Early Fiction
Friday, March 26, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Stanford University, Japan
This paper rethinks Michel Foucault’s conception of the heterotopia via the problematic of intimacy in Tawada Yoko’s early short stories, Inu muko iri (“The Bridegroom was a Dog”) and Kakato wo nakushite (“Missing Heels”). Foucault theorizes heterotopias as places that represent, contest, and invert those real sites found within a culture; they are counter-sites that provide a point of reflection for a given culture, simultaneously reifying and challenging its norms. Both ubiquitous and overlooked in the many examples Foucault lists, however, is the relationship between heterotopias and intimacy. Honeymoon hotels, boarding schools, ships: Foucault’s examples call to mind intimacies whose form, length, or degree of intensity shed their normative strictures.
Tawada’s stories, set in heterotopic spaces on the margins of society, place physical intimacy—its variances, its lack, and its alternative forms—front and center. Kakato wo nakushite is often read as a feminist rewriting of the romance plot as absurd quest, but it also reveals alternative modes of intimacy, suggesting the liminal world of the dreamscape as a site of physical touch and arousal. Inu muko iri has similarly been read as feminist for its centering of female pleasure, but these readings disavow the violence toward, and silencing of, the female body. Tawada’s text here implicitly demands a new language for theorizing intimacy in heterotopic sites. Taken together, however, Tawada’s stories begin to delineate the contours of intimacy and affect that compose the heterotopia.