Impossible Mourning: the Struggle to Forget in Postwar Okinawa

Impossible Mourning: the Struggle to Forget in Postwar Okinawa

Christopher Nelson - Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, University of North Carolina

Friday, January 29, 2010 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Room 212, Department of Anthropology See map
10 Sachem Street
New Haven, CT 6511

In Okinawa, as perhaps anywhere else, the past exists uneasily alongside the present. It can pass unnoticed, occasionally rising for a moment of recognition, slipping away again under the weight of the routine tasks of daily life. Like the unexploded bombs that still lie close to the surface of the Okinawan landscape, it can erupt into the present with painful and unexpected and consequences, casting its shadow over a future not yet experienced. For many years, I have worked with performers who did not simply shoulder the burden of their traumatic history: they engaged it, contested it and changed it. In doing so, they turned to a past charged with promise and hope as well as horror and loss. Drawing on the possibilities of the past, they struggled to rebuild the present.

While I remain concerned with those who are able to carve out a moment for meaningful activity, I feel it is equally important to consider those for whom the burden of the everyday becomes unbearable. How do ordinary Okinawans, haunted by memories of resignation and failure, live with their history of devastation and loss? Is the past theirs to forget? Can memories ever be consigned to oblivion? Caught up in a network of actors and practices—living and dead, visible and immaterial—they are subject to powerful forcers that are often beyond their control. My paper will discuss my new ethnographic project, a study of dreams and visions, trauma and madness, melancholy and loss.