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In Session: 'Infrastructures' of Memory in Literature, Performance and Museums: Narrating Violence in Modern Japan and Taiwan
4: Narrative of Defeat -Examining the Yasukuni Shrine through the “Debate on the Historical Subject”-.
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of California, Los Angeles, United States
Michael Foucault referred to museums and cemeteries as sites of “heterotopia” in which a place is conceived not merely as the endpoint of a linearly progressing temporality but as linking back to different moments of the past, evoking memories of now lost or dead objects. Following his argument, this paper considers war museums as performing the same function as war cemeteries in the absence of dead bodies, and investigates how these museums produce, preserve, and communicate memories of war by presenting the disembodied “voices” of the dead through material objects. By focusing on the museum as a sensory regime in which vision dominates over other senses, I explore how the viewing of museum objects leads to the visitor’s experience of listening to the disembodied voices of the dead. Three major national war museums will be examined: Showa-kan, Shokei-kan, and Yushu-kan, respectively dealing with civilian lives, soldiers’ experiences, and the commemoration of their heroic sacrifices during the Second World War. I examine how the exhibited objects are labeled and described, whose voices are created, to whom the voices are addressed, how the objects are spatially arranged, and how the museums are geographically positioned within Tokyo. By looking at war museums as sites for producing memory rather than knowledge of the past, I demonstrate how these museums, despite their different thematic focuses, converge to frame Japan’s collective memory of the Second World War, in which the experience of defeat deeply informs the entangled relationship between victim and perpetrator within Japan’s national consciousness.