Dissociative entanglement: US-Japan atomic bomb discourses by John Hersey and Nagai Takashi
ABSTRACT This paper explores John Hersey’s Hiroshima (1946) and Nagai Takashi’s The Bells of Nagasaki (1949). These two best-selling books published in the US and Japan in the late 1940’s portray the experiences of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Although they appeared in a similar period—a postwar transition and a herald of the Cold War—, their reception was strikingly different. Hersey’s piece acquired international currency when the representations of the atomic bombings in Japan were censored under the US Occupation. Since then Hiroshima has virtually remained the “first and only” text about the atomic bomb victims widely read in the US. Nagai’s memoir, a rare exception allowed to be circulated nationwide under the censorship, and elevated to a canonical voice of Nagasaki’s experience, however, has been the subject of controversies in Japan from the 1970’s. The paper argues that despite these differences, both works share parallels in narratological strategies such as historical emplotment, the personalization of the event, compassionate identification, the valorization of the power of the atomic bomb, and the promotion of compartmentalized knowledge. These effects create a psychological deterrent for readers not to confront larger political and ethical problematics of Japanese colonialism and postwar US hegemony in Asia. Their discursive entanglement and ostensible dissociation symbolize the ways in which trans-Pacific knowledge on the atomic bombings has been shaped postwar for many decades.
KEYWORDS: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, atomic bomb, hibakusha, knowledge production, censorship, canonization, national sentiment, colonialism, John Hersey, Nagai Takashi
Yuko Shibata is an assistant professor at the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, Asian Studies Program, and Gender Studies Program at Saint John’s University. She received her Ph. D. in East Asian Literature at Cornell University in 2009. Her article, “Postcolonial Hiroshima, Mon Amour: Franco-Japanese Collaboration in the American Shadow,” is forthcoming in an anthology entitled The Trans-Pacific Imagination: Rethinking Boundary, Culture and Society. She is currently working on a book manuscript whose title is Transnational Images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Knowledge Production and the Politics of Representation. She received her M.A. from The University of Hong Kong, and worked for the Asahi Shimbun for nine years as a journalist.