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In Session: The Afterimages of Empire: Visual Media and Sino-Japanese Crosscurrents
1: The Imperial Shape of Haniya Yutaka's Vision
Friday, March 26, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States
The postwar Japanese novelist Haniya Yutaka is remembered primarily as the author of "Shirei," one of Japan’s most notorious intellectual novels, and as an inspiration for student activists in the 1960s who drew on 1860s Russian nihilism and Dostoyevsky’s response. Our understanding of Haniya and his worldview might further benefit by expansion in two directions. One is to take seriously his relationship with colonial Taiwan, where he was born in 1910 and lived until 1923. There his father managed to restore much of his family’s fortune working with the sugar conglomerates, which provided Yutaka with both an elite education and a first-hand view of the economic vanguard of imperial Japan. Secondly, an approach to Haniya benefits from attention to his handling of literary space (over and against narrative time), and in particular the transformation of spatial relations and representational mappings he performs with text—literature in this framework exists as a medium of transformative visualization in cultural relation to the rise of visual media and images in motion.
Haniya writes specifically about colonial Taiwan in 1940 in a short travelogue reflecting on a 1939 visit, and again in 1950 in the more developed story "Kyokū" (The Void), in which the colonial landscape of his youth is simultaneously geometrically abstract and tangibly concrete, territorializing itself against a cosmic abyss above that threatens to engulf the narrator. This "empty" or perhaps "fictional" space (kyokū) looming over colonial Taiwan might provide the key to understanding Haniya’s literary politics of envisioned spatiality.