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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

FAMES Room 8/9
Event date: 
Monday, 6 February, 2023 - 17:00 to 18:30

Stories of the Periphery: Literature, Memory, and Politics in the Fiction of Ōe Kenzaburō and Abe Kazushige

Image shows a rural train platform by the coastOn various occasions, the Japanese writer Takahashi Gen’ichirō has commented on how, in contemporary public discourses, memory is often instrumentalized to feed one-sided views, thus diminishing complex realities by selecting what should be remembered. When read through the focus on memory, the Japanese novels Death by Water (2009) by Ōe Kenzaburō (b. 1935), and Sin semillas (2003) by Abe Kazushige (b. 1968) respond exactly to the issues evoked by Takahashi. Ōe’s and Abe’s works stem from the culturally marginal areas of the island of Shikoku and the North-Eastern Yamagata Prefecture, respectively. In the settings of these peripheral regions, the novels intertwine local legends and myths, functioning as prisms of multiple (hi)stories to contrast the “centre”, the capital Tokyo. Be it through Ōe’s narrator trying to remember and come to terms with the death of his father, or through Abe’s different stories of secrets and vices spanning three generations of the Tamiya family, both novels use personal stories as acts of remembering that return complexity and wholeness to memories. Their voices narrate marginal realities that are often neglected, thus challenging politically a centralising discourse that selectively chooses to forget. The presentation shows how the authors’ stories in/of peripheral environments generate alternative memories to official histories, contributing to shape a sense of solidarity among marginalised communities; at the same time, it discusses how this act of storytelling participates in the broader relationship between literature and politics. 

Filippo Cervelli received his PhD in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford, and is currently Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Japanese Literature at SOAS University of London. His research focuses on modern and contemporary Japanese literature and popular culture. He has written on the fiction of Takahashi Gen’ichirō, Abe Kazushige, on post-Fukushima literature, and on animation. He recently co-edited an interdisciplinary special issue on representations of nerds and loneliness