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Panel 1 | 8:30-11:00 | ROOM B

8:30-11:00 ~ Panel 1 ROOM B

1 - In Hands, Tears, Sleep: The Gendered Labor of Japanese Textual Reproduction

Panel abstract  

  • In their introduction to Releasing the Image: From Literature to New Media, Robert Mitchell and Jacques Khalip argue that it is crucial to understand “images as something other than […] copies of other things.” Images are aesthetic “modes of manifestation that can be understood only with reference to that which becomes visible in the image and that which is simultaneously rendered invisible” (4). This panel takes this account of images as “modes of manifestation” to tackle a key problem for queer and feminist critique: the problem of how images can “make manifest” reproductive labor, a gendered form of labor that is often devalued or rendered invisible.

    This panel draws together the work of three junior scholars who each focus upon visually and haptically charged “modes of manifestation”—hands, tears, and sleep. We trace how close examination of these three modes can make manifest gendered labors of sexual and textual reproduction that might otherwise be dismissed as valueless or immaterial. Our discussion opens with Andrew Leong’s analysis of performative hand gestures (teburi) by the eponymous protagonist of Osato-san, a Japanese-language newspaper serial novel written and published in Los Angeles by Nagahara Shōson during the mid-1920s. Leong’s account of Osato’s gratuitous “backhanded tear-wiping” provides a segue to Grace Ting’s reading of the repetition of sparkling tears in the contemporary fiction of Ekuni Kaori, tears whose “twinkling” may seem banal, but might provide the minimal conditions for an “everyday queer politics.” The night-time labor of tears in Ting’s readings of Ekuni will set the stage for Kim Icreversi’s inquiry into the plethora of recent international cinematic adaptations of Yasunari Kawabata’s “House of the Sleeping Beauties.” Icreversi asks how these “adaptations” themselves “visualize the constitutive forgetting of the sexual division of reproductive labor.”

“Osato-san's Hand: Gendered Labor in a Japanese American Serial Novel,” Andrew Leong, Northwestern University

  • In 1942 Martin Heidegger declared, “Man himself acts through the hand; for the hand is, together with the word, the essential distinction of man.” Heidegger’s essentialist, masculinist, and Eurocentric conceptions of the “hand” have since played a foundational role in the writings of media theorists such as Friedrich Kittler, deconstructionists following the lead of Jacques Derrida, and “object-oriented ontologists” such as Graham Harman.

    This paper argues that the “hand” should not be left to continental theorists. To make this case, I show how new work on Japanese-language American literature can lead us towards more gesturalist, feminist, and non-Eurocentric alternatives to Heidegger’s unduly influential “hand.” I work towards these alternatives through a reading of onna-de (women’s hand[s]) in Osato-san, a Japanese-language novel by Nagahara Shōson originally serialized in the Rafu Shimpo (Los Angeles Japanese Daily News, 1925-1926). Told “in the style of a monogatari,” Osato-san recounts the life of Osato from her arrival in San Francisco as a seventeen year-old to her eventual rise and fall as a speakeasy owner in Los Angeles’ Japantown. Although onna-de in a restrictive sense denotes a kind of script used by court women to write monogatari, Osato-san draws upon another discourse of women’s gestures (teburi) as crucial for marking and establishing performative spaces for birth and transformation. Attending to Osato-san’s onna teburi reveals how she transforms the spaces around her--from a steerage passenger bunk to the banquet rooms of her speakeasy. This paper proposes that the transformative effects of Osato-san’s onna teburi need not be restricted to the novel itself, but might contribute to the broader work of transforming the world in terms that imagine the “hand” as something other than “the essential distinction of man.”

“Tears in the Night: Finding Queer Politics in Ekuni Kaori’s Texts,” Grace Ting, Macalester College

  • In my paper, I argue for the potential of reading a queer politics of tears in popular writer Ekuni Kaori’s (1964—) texts. Specifically, I suggest that the crying woman—or the woman intimately acquainted with tears—gestures towards a logic of tears necessary for the affective structure of queer approaches and struggle in today’s political climate. As a crucial part of my analysis, I begin by drawing upon the visual, but also aural and tactile features of “twinkling” tears for Ekuni, starting with the onomatopoeia “kira kira” in her 1991 novel Twinkle Twinkle (Kira kira hikaru). In my readings of Twinkle Twinkle and As the Evening Falls (Rakka suru yūgata, 1996), I show how tears, in their excess or absence, mark the emotional lives of women desperately protecting mundane spaces of intimacy in the everyday. These works, as well as the title story of I Was Prepared to Weep (Gōkyū suru junbi wa dekita ita, 2003), provide an opportunity to rethink feminized images of weakness, failure, and depression. My work engages with earlier interventions on affect and emotion from queer studies, particularly Jack Halberstam’s rethinking of failure and Ann Cvetkovich on depression and ordinary habit. Accordingly, my reading is an imaginative, reparative one that takes up the banal and the trivial, the ineffective and inefficient, to breathe an everyday queer politics into our experience of them.

“The Adaptations of Japanese Women’s Somnambulant Labor,” Kim Icreverzi, Reischauer Institute, Harvard University

  • In 24/7: Late Capitalism and the End of Sleep, which has become the referent for thinking about the expansion of labor into zones of rest and recovery, Jonathan Crary reproduces a cherished assumption within theories of capitalism since Marx: namely, the idea that Marxist feminists have long since taken to task, that the only labor recognized as such is waged labor. The invisibility of other forms of labor reveals a foundational disavowal of the gendered unwaged supporting and generally domestic labor that supports the sexual division of labor.

    Elsewhere I have identified a new trend in Japanese cinema that fixates on women’s somnambulant labor—that is, where women offer others the supporting work of renewal while themselves neither asleep nor fully alert, but somewhere in the liminal space between the two. This paper takes advantage of the coincidence of a transnational chain of narratives of women’s somnambulant labor congealing around Japan in the adaptation of literary works to the screen to ask how we might think of adaptation shaping somnambulant labor. In the very recent cinematic adaptation of such works as Kawabata Yasunari’s “House of the Sleeping Beauties” in the Australian Sleeping Beauty and Javiar Marias’ “While the Women are Sleeping” for Wayne Wang’s film of the same title, what is yielded when we transport adaptation’s problems of fidelity, originality, transference, and translation to the representation of somnambulant labor? What can the confusion of textual adaptation with social adaptation instruct us about through whom and where the labor of recovery and renewal is imagined to take place and how it is assigned value? How do the cinematic adaptations visualize the constitutive forgetting of the sexual division of reproductive labor?

Discussant: J. Keith Vincent, Boston University