Kanai Mieko's Textual Bodies: Dancing Girls and Inflated Men

London Bloomsbury Greater London

Wednesday, December 5 2018 from 06:00 pm to 08:00 pm

'Kanai Mieko's Textual Bodies: Dancing Girls and Inflated Men' by Dr Hannah Osborne (SOAS)

In this talk Dr Hannah Osborne shall be discussing a key concept to Kanai Mieko’s writing: corporeal text.

Kanai Mieko’s first published essay, ‘Nikutairon e jostesu dai’ippo’ (‘Towards a Theory of Corporeality’), explores the meaning of a transgressive figure – the dancing-girl-in-pain – found in both the folk stories of Hans Christian Andersen and the butō performances of Hijikata Tatsumi. Dr Osborne describes how Kanai’s first published essay can be read as articulating an understanding of the body’s relationship with text, whereby the body (and its consciousness) serves as a model for how text operates, and the two can be understood as interacting with each other through the repeated acts of reading and writing. 

Such an understanding of the materiality of text and the relationship between it and the reader can also be seen to be at work in Kanai Mieko’s ‘Kūki otoko no hanashi’ (‘The Story of the Inflated Man’, 1974). The Inflated Man is a circus act who is able to eat an obscene amount every day because, ‘[a]lthough food is something that becomes flesh and blood in normal bodies, in [his] case it becomes a kind of air, a hollow that has no substance, but that continues to expand’. The Inflated Man’s body however, is one of many images in Kanai’s story in which a ‘void’ is described in relation to its external ‘structure’. Through its repeated association of ‘voids’ with ‘structures’, the story thus evokes the Japanese term ‘fiction’ (kyokō, lit. ‘empty structure’) to signal its own status as a piece of fiction. Although the characters for fiction in Japanese gesture towards an understanding of ‘fiction’ as the structuring of void (or that which is imaginary), Kanai’s story also directs us to an understanding that such void equates to an infinite multiplicity of texts. Moreover, through referencing literary allusions that are pictorial allusions (Disney’s Pinocchio’s pastiche of Jonah’s whale, Gustave Doré’s engraving to Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty, the manga version of the Japanese folk story ‘Momotarō’), the narrative enjoins us to do the same, thus inviting us to read it as though it were illustrated.

Dr Hannah Osborne completed her doctoral thesis, Gender, Love and Text in the Early Writings of Kanai Mieko at the University of Leeds in 2015 and is currently Research Associate at the Japan Research Centre, SOAS. Her research focuses on gender and the body, illustrations, the materiality of text, women's writing and translation in the field of Modern Japanese Literature.

Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.