Christine Marran - Associate Professor of Japanese Literature and Cultural Studies, University of Minnesota
This talk begins with a radical claim: that nations, particularly nations such as Japan that are imagined along ethnic lines, are incapable of solving ecological problems. This relates to the manner in which the Japanese state imagines itself and its past. To illustrate this provocative claim, I explore “ethno-environmentalism,” or the belief advocated by Japanese thinkers that had the Japanese made historical decisions in the arena of industrialization that deployed distinctly Japanese practices rather than western ones, whether indigenous technologies or natural philosophies, the horror of twentieth-century environmental problems could have been avoided. Within this ethnocentric paradigm, the right to exist for the nonhuman, or even the non-Japanese human, is lost in the assumption that a return to a distinctly “Japanese heart” can expedite the healing of Japan’s industrially mangled environment. “Unbecoming Nation” will illustrate how new alliances with the nonhuman expressed in literature, ones that subvert anthropocentric and ethnic ways of expressing identity, such as shared historical experience and a linguistic heritage, invite a more inspired philosophy of biodiversity and sharp critique of the nation and its priorities. These new alliances include, for example, those between the Japanese human and non-human, between poisoned bodies that span national boundaries, or those who speak in different languages but share poetic form.