Unnatural Elements in Works of Tawada Yōko and Ogawa Yōko

Marcel Konicek 1*
1 Institute of Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Náměstí Jana Palacha 2, 116 38 Prague 1, Czechia
* Corresponding author: mortles@seznam.cz
Key words:
Tawada Yōko, Ogawa Yōko, unnatural narratology, fictional worlds theory, Japanese literature, postmodern literature, fantastic literature.
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DOI: https://doi.org/10.51337/JASB20231206001
A woman growing scales which must be removed using skin-care products, or a man whose body disintegrates into dust after he left an elevator where he had spent his whole life. Modern Japanese literature is full of elements that run against our everyday experience such as these and writings of female writers Tawada Yōko and Ogawa Yōko are especially inundated by disconcerting and puzzling dreamlike scenes. What meaning are they trying to convey? What function does their inclusion in the text fulfil? How do they influence structure of their worlds? These questions pose a vexing problem for anyone attempting to analyse many of the works of contemporary Japanese literature as it is not easy to find a suitable theoretical approach to answer them. In this paper through interpretation of two shorter works by both authors E.B.'s Unfulfilled Wish by Ogawa and The Bath by Tawada) using a theoretical framework based on unnatural narratology and fictional world theory I attempt to answer these questions and show the central role these elements fulfil in both world-formation and meaning-formation of the texts. I will also point out how the usage of unnatural elements places both authors firmly into the realm of the ontology-dominated postmodern literature as defined by Brian McHale.
In the framework of unnatural narratology, the elements of a fictional narrative that go contrary to our real-world knowledge and violate our conceptual boundaries are called unnatural elements. These elements can function on the level of the fictional world as unnatural characters (speaking animals, living dead, characters existing in several versions at the same time etc.), as supernatural occurrences (resurrections, ghost sightings, metamorphoses) or as an antirealist modification of rules of time and space (reversed flow of time, spaces that are bigger on the inside or countries that exist nowhere and everywhere at once). But they can also exist on the level of narration as in case of a story narrated by an impossible narrator (an animal, an inanimate object) or a second-person narration (e.g., “You are an old man living in Texas. When you heard about the accident...“). These elements have always been present in literature but with the development of postmodernist literature in last few decades they have seen a stark increase in prominence both qualitatively and quantitatively. Since they run contrary to our experience of the world, they present questions of how they should be interpreted and what purpose they serve. Unnatural narratology states that these elements attract reader’s attention and proposes various reading strategies (reading as a metaphor, reading as a parody, reading as a genre element etc.) to interpret their explicit and implicit meaning. In this way these elements may become powerful means of expression in the toolbox of the postmodernist writer. Contemporary Japanese literature is no exception to this phenomenon, containing many writers who use unnatural elements in this way. This paper analyses three shorter works by two contemporary Japanese female authors – The Bath by Tawada Yōko and E.B.’s Unfulfilled Wish by Ogawa Yōko – with focus on these elements and their importance for both the meaning of these works and their structure. Using the frameworks of unnatural narratology, the paper discusses different layers of meaning created by various reading strategies of unnatural and distinctively postmodernist structures of their worlds.
Marcel Koníček is a PhD student at the Faculty of Arts of the Charles University, Prague. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in English and Japanese studies from Masaryk University, Brno, and master’s degree in Japanese studies from Charles University. His dissertation research is focused on fantastical elements and postmodern narrative techniques in modern Japanese literature. Between 2020 and 2022 he conducted his research at The University of Tokyo as a Japanese government scholar.