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2020.12.07

The 2nd Meeting of Mishiko Ishimure Reading Group

The second meeting of the Michiko Ishimure Reading Group was held via Zoom on July 6, 2020 at 3p.m. Ching-yuen Cheung (The University of Tokyo), Masahisa Suzuki (The University of Tokyo), Shiho Maeshima (The University of Tokyo), Akihiro Miyata (The University of Tokyo), Mizuki Uno (The University of Tokyo), and Hanako Takayama (The University of Tokyo) participated in this session.

This time, Hanako gave a presentation focusing on acoustic descriptions in the first part of Kugai Jodo. Thanks to Professor Suzuki’s advice, we always have several supplemental articles that add to our reading of Ishimure’s text itself. For this session the article below was chosen.

・Karen Thornber, Ishimure Michiko and Global Ecocriticism, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Volume 14, Issue 13, Number 6, July, 2016, p. 1-23.

After referring this article, Hanako remarked on the possibility of reading Ishimure’s work as world literature as well as the difficulty of translating her writings. According Thornber’s article, Ishimure’s Kugai Jodo, Paradise in the Sea of Sorrow, initially received worldwide reception similar to that seen for other literature on pollution and ecology such as the work of Rachel Carson. Ishimure’s work was read as world literature and not viewed as specific to a culture or nation. On the other hand, the fact is that most of her writing, including poems, plays, and essays have not yet been translated to other languages. Regarding this difficulty of translation, Hanako pointed out that there was a tendency for Ishimure’s tanka or haiku to take on a slightly warped form. She also noted the similarity with Imayo or songs / uta by fisherman, which have existed from the Middle Ages to the present. She wondered if the difficulty of translating Ishimure partly came from Ishimure’s primary interest being in the voices themselves in her writing, which took precedence over the literary elements of her work. During our discussion, the correlation between world literature and translatability was reconsidered. Also, in reference to Ishimure’s relationship with Shizuka Shirakawa, a Classical Chinese scholar, the act of writing itself for Ishimure was discussed.

Secondly, we focused on auditory descriptions in relation the rural / urban problem, such as those found in Tenko. Based on Thornber’s article, Hanako analyzed multiple voice descriptions and auditory motifs in the first part of Kugai Jodo. Selecting examples that emphasized the difference between natural and artificial sounds, the citation of songs, and the voices of Minamata disease patients, she argued that Kugai Jodo itself works as memory system in order to evoke the memories of the people in Minamata. Lastly, she suggested the possible relevance between the epic aspect of Ishimure’s work and the Maurice Blanchot’s theory on epic narrative.

During our discussion, we talked about the effect of the overlapping technique rather than that of contrasting binary ideas, and that this technique enables the production of novel-space, which is not defined only by a local area. Here, we also discussed the importance of the mixed structure of many citations such as medical reports and traditional songs used in prayers for rain. The particularity of cats among animals in the text, the similarity with the Heike tale — the ambiguous subject and the polyphonic structure — were also suggested.

Our discussion was a new attempt to read Ishimure focusing on auditory aspect. Hanako’s presentation also paid attention to goeika and nenbutsu. The question of local Buddhism in Minamata arose as a subject to be examined in the future.

Mizuki Uno (EAA Project Research Fellow)

(Translated by Hanako Takayama)