Author: Tatsumi, Takayuki
Date published: September 1, 2010
1. A Racist Joke Storming Katrina
BLACK HUMOR IS A LITERARY CONCEPT THAT IS UNDOUBTEDLY VERY USEFUL for rethinking the fantastic in the arts. However, before reexamining this concept seriously in the context of multi-ethnic literary history, let me start by identifying our own allegedly post-colonialist and globalist reality as full of black humor. Let me illustrate the point with an episode that came in the wake of the apocalyptic disaster that stormed the Deep South half a decade ago. When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans on August 29, 2005, Scott Stevens, a thirty-nine -year-old Idaho weatherman and nine-year veteran at KPVI-TV News Channel 6, blamed the Japanese Mafia for the hurricane. Since Katrina, Stevens has been in newspapers across the country where he has been quoted as saying the Yakuza Mafia used a Russian-made Cold War device - an "electromagnetic generator" - to cause Katrina, in a bid to avenge the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima ("Weatherman"). This kind of ridiculously funny idea reminds us of those outrageous or preposterous books, what are called "Tondemo-bon" in Japanese, that are obsessed with conspiracy theories, pseudo-science, or historical revisionism. These are books detailing, for example, the theory that the Japanese and the Jews have a common ancestry, or the theory that locates the ethnic origins of the Native Americans in the Japanese, or the theory of what one book calls "A Final Warning from Mother Earth, a guide to the future based on the knowledge of the ancients of Atlantis and other civilizations." One might compare this with Thomas Pynchon's latest novel Inherent Vice (2009) which is full of outrageously paranoiac ideas such as the notion that President Richard Nixon is "a descendant of Atlantis" and Ho Chi Minh is "of Lemuria" (109). However, it is also true that these outrageous and preposterous books are all "amusing from a perspective that differs from what the author intends" ("Tondemo-bon") . And as the works of Jack Womack demonstrate, without this outrageous and preposterous imagination, science fiction and fantasy could not have thrived.
Therefore, although hard scientists discount as ludicrous Scott Stevens's claims about Hurricane Katrina, his paranoid conspiracy theory still seems to make sense to some US citizens wrapped in Cold War pride and prejudice, even if they don't have a taste for the fantastic. Yes, conspiracy theory has long remained the one and only tool for enjoying disasters, whether natural or artificial. To put it another way, it deconstructs the boundary between the natural disaster and the artificial disaster. Thus, whoever loves and consumes these theories deserves Mark Svenvold's designation "catastrophilia." At this point, we find Scott Stevens's racist responses to Hurricane Katrina a second-rate parody of black humor fiction. What makes this episode most blackly humorous is that given the danger of this techno-racist statement, a statement that cost Stevens his job, he felt forced to explain his paranoid conspiracy theory in detail. Sometimes people cannot help but repeat saying or doing what is contrary to their own interests. This mental history testifies to the effect of what the guru of the fantastic, Edgar Allan Poe, called "the Imp of the Perverse." In her 1984 book The March of Folly, the noted historian Barbara Tuchman illustrated our inherent folly with the examples of Troy, the Renaissance Popes provoking Protestantism, the British losing their American colonies, and the United States in Vietnam. What she proved in that book is that human history is not only a series of unreformed follies but also a sequence of black humor narratives.
There is another reason why I began with the black humor episode from the wake of Katrina. For, as Scott Stevens embedded racist discourse within his conspiracy theory about the natural disaster, the period of artificial disasters that included the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War saw the rise of the gelbe Gefahr or "yellow peril" discourse invented in 1895 by Kaiser Wilhelm II. What is more, the "Russian-made Cold War device" Scott Stevens describes undoubtedly refers to a high-tech weapon allegedly designed by the magician-like Serbo-Croatian inventor Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), a notorious competitor of Thomas Alva Edison, and a close friend and admirer of the all- American black humorist Mark Twain - especially from the 1890s through 1900s, the heyday of the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War.1 And there are more recent examples as well. In January 1995 the Kobe Earthquake, which measured 7.2 on the Richter scale, transformed the southern part of Hyogo prefecture in the western center of Japan into a wasteland. In the wake ofthat disaster, the high-tech terrorist cult AUM Shinrikyo, which was responsible for the Tokyo subway gas attack in March 1995, accused a great power, supposedly the United States, of having caused this disaster by means of an electromagnetic Doom Weapon supposedly designed by Nikola Tesla, a weapon whose blueprint AUM Shinrikyo itself was dying to discover. Whether this sinister cult was also responsible for this apocalyptic earthquake remains unknown. Nevertheless, it is plausible that the more apocalyptic a natural disaster gets, the more racist or xenophobic or conspiracy-minded one becomes; one is tempted to relate the ethnic Other with high technology as a kind of uncanny magic.
Witnessing the side-effects of the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War more than a century ago, Mark Twain already delineated this technoracist discourse in his minor black humor pieces "Flies and Russians" (1904 or ?5) and "The Fable of the Yellow Terror" (1904-05). In the former, the author proposes that if we combine the rabbit and the mollusk and the idiot and the bee, then we get a Russian. In the latter, he contrasts the Butterflies, who hold a vast territory like the United States, with the Bees as a Yellow Peril ignorant of civilization. Thus, a grave gray Grasshopper says to a prominent Butterfly: "You have taught one tribe of Bees how to use its sting, it will teach its brother tribe. The two together will be able to banish all the Butterflies some day, and keep them out; for they are uncountable in numbers and will be unconquerable when educated" (429). The most ironic black humor imprinted within the text is that Twain's techno-racist logic turns out to be a pastiche of the logic of slavery, an institution with whose victims the writer must have felt deep sympathy in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) . Mocking the same logic as stated in Twain's black humor works, the fugitive slave Frederick Douglass states, "in teaching me the alphabet, in the days of her simplicity and kindness, my mistress had given me the 'inch] and no precaution could prevent me from taking the lelV" (154-55; italics in original). Thus, Twain's tiny black humor pieces will make it easy for us to grasp not only the discourse of the yellow peril, but also the general xenophobia pervading fin de siècle America. According to the xenophobic logic Twain transcribes very clearly from the political unconscious of his country, if we provide the ethnic Other with the chance of technological education, then we will get a disaster menacing the Caucasian countries.
2. "Another Little Boy" in the Tradition of Black Humor
Insofar as my field of American Studies is concerned, it seems self-evident that since the nineteenth century, black humor has consistently expanded the potential of literature, ending up with postmodern avant-garde narratives such as metafiction, surfiction, slipstream, avant-pop, or magic realism. It started with Hugh Henry Brackenridge's American recreation of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Modern Chivalry (1846); Edgar Allan Poe's ferocious take on fairy tales, "Hop-Frog" (1849); Mark Twain's cynical attack on Christianity, "The War-Prayer" (1904-05); Ambrose Bierce's sardonic parody of a reference book, The Devil's Dictionary (1911); Joseph Heller's absurd novel, Catch-22 (1961); Kurt Vonnegut's comic apocalypse, Cat's Cradle (1963); and Thomas Pynchon's conspiracy fiction, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), to name just a few. Nonetheless, major literary critics have tried to locate the heyday of black humor in 1960s Euro-American novels including Vladimir Nabokov, Günter Grass, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and Jorge Louis Borges, neglecting its transpacific interaction with race and ethnicity.
Why are the 1960s privileged in historical accounts of black humor? For example, Robert Scholes identified black humor with the recurrent intellectual reaction of artists to the limitations of realism, defining its writers as master fabulatore in the tradition of the Romance and its baroque configurations, writers who are all absorbed by the possibilities of playful and artful construction (35-46). Conrad Knickerbocker, one of the great theoreticians of black humor, diminishes the black humorist to "poète maudit, a scorpion to the status quo, so full of the poison of self-loathing for the 'specially tailored, ready-to-wear identities' given to us by TV, movies, the press, universities, the government, the military, medicine, and business, that he mortally stings himself, pricking the surrogate skin of society" (qtd. in Schulz 5). Furthermore, in his remarkably comprehensive work Black Humor Fiction of the Sixties: A Pluralistic Definition of Man and His World, Max Schulz considers black humor as "a phenomenon of the 1960s, comprising a group of writers who share a viewpoint and an aesthetics for pacing off the boundaries of a nuclear-technological world intrinsically without confinement" (5). These definitions are all inspiring, but they all take for granted the Western heritage of modern literature. They lack any sense of race and ethnicity. What I would like to attempt here is to renovate and expand the concept of black humor in the fantastic arts from a planetary perspective, in the context of transpacific narratology.
There is no doubt that the 1960s saw the rise of nuclear fiction intertwined with literary avant-gardism. Its origin might be located in J. D. Salinger's longtime bestseller The Catcher in the Rye (1951), whose sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield challenges his "phony" society at every turn. Despite his adolescent and innocent outlook, however, Holden sometimes performs just like a typical suicide terrorist. Let us listen to him at the end of chapter 18: "Anyway, Vm sort of glad they've got the atomic bomb invented. If there's ever another war, I'm going to sit right the hell on top of it. I'll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will" (141; italics added). Whether Holden Caulfield is serious or not, it is certain that he not only approves of the disasters in Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also looks forward to participating in the next World War, that is, World War III. Yes, The Catcher in the Rye is not so much an adolescent novel as a crypto-nuclear fiction filled with black humor. We might even assume that it is Salinger's post-apocalyptic imagination in 1951 as well as the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 that inspired Peter George and Stanley Kubrick to produce the greatest black humor film, Dr. Strangelove: Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), which coincided with Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle (1963) and Sakyo Komatsu's The Day of Resunection (1964), the original story for the film Virus (1980). Salinger's novel also prefigures Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, whose alternate history of World War II incorporates the possibility of nuclear attack on Nixonian America in the early 1970s.
And yet, today I would like to single out another black humor masterpiece, written by Brian Aldiss, "Another Little Boy," published in New Worlds in 1966. This story is set in the year 2044, when humans have entered the "CM age," in which the newly discovered energy source "Coherent Matter" has revolutionized life. Humans have reached and colonized Mars, Venus, Mercury, and Jupiter, with discoveries in space distracting them from their own past. Meanwhile, an increasing number of conflicts keep murdering millions of people, making them dismiss the wars of a hundred years ago as trifles. Against this backdrop, the head of Zadar Smith World, the largest advertising agency in existence, agrees with J. J. Spillarne, President of the United States of Both Americas to produce on August 6th, 2045 the most impressive festival ever held on Earth in order to commemorate the centenary of the birth of the modern age, that is, the age of nucleonics or Nuclear Power. However, Zadar's international executives have no idea how to produce the event, for they are all unfamiliar with what happened on that day in history one hundred years ago, August 6th, 1945. Some mistake that date for the bicentenary of Abraham Lincoln, others misconceive it to be the centenary of the discovery of radio, the first moon landing, the birth of Arthur C. Clarke, the foundation of the Scandinavian Republic, or the birthdays of Grace Metalious, Ho Chi Min, Picasso, and even Walt Disney (249-50). At a loss about what to do, Thora Peabright from Bonn, the German member of the company's executive board and the heroine of the story, begins conducting research on the date by means of the satellibrary's encyclopedia. The entry on "the Cold War" initially reminds her only of the Contained Conflict between Australia and Antarctica. But it is this entry that finally explains what happened on August 6th, 1945. Aldiss writes:
More references met her eye. She chased them down with increased éclat, and was finally confronted with the history of the Second World War, of which she had never even heard - but then it had been a smaller world in those days, and no one had even set foot on Mars and Venus and Mercury, not to mention the New Planets. After a few moments, she began skimming, bored by accounts of national groups of which she had never even heard, Estonians, Belgians, Croats. She tumbled on to Japan. That was more interesting. United Germany had a lot of trade with Japan; indeed, since the Japanese-Korean debacle of '39, the Japs were competing rather unpleasantly in world markets. In spaceware particularly, Jap ablation shields, LORs, stargaffies, glitch baffles, space suits, and even Molabs were sweeping the market, and particularly squeezing Mei [one of the world's largest microelectronic firms] whose spaceware department had emitted down-falling graphs every one of the last five accountancy years.
Finally Thora caught up with the date again. August 6th, 1945. First nuclear device, a small atomic bomb, delivered by plane from an American airstrip on Tinian Island and dropped over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. As a result of this, and a second bomb dropped later on Nagasaki, the Japanese emperor capitulated. (253-54)
Even further research using pre-electronic hard copies of old historical books at the Museum of Pre-CM History does not lead her to feel empathy with the defeated nation, but only to expand her detachment from the people of the past: "the denizens of the mid-twentieth century were a poor lot, reeking of a million guilts and repressions" (257). Reading the biography of Major Eatherly, who dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima, and who became mentally deranged in the postwar years, Thora finds him "an unmitigated idiot" (257). At this point, she feels convinced by the reasoning of the Museum librarian who discourages her from reading past books: "Our immediate ancestors were bores, don't you think - crippled with guilt about sex and war and food and drugs and all the things we most enjoy" (256). Thus, the point of the story turns out to be the transformation of common sense.
From this perspective, the seemingly shocking but final and definitive proposal for the Centenary of Nuclear Power makes sense. While other senior executives propose funny but modest ideas like "Auroral display in ionosphere visible everywhere spelling BLESS OUR EARTH"; "Rebuilding Stonehenge and placing enlarged plastic reproduction of same on Moon"; "Setting fire to Jupiter with supe r-CM -bomb to provide new mini-sun"; and "Great Orbital Electronic World's Fair" (257); Thora makes up her mind to persuade the head of the company to attempt a far more radical but spectacular project:
The bomb stopped the war, [...] and paved the way for all the better bombs, like the Coherent Matter bomb, and the quickly contained conflicts with which we are now familiar. It certainly was progress. Yet our queer old ancestors went crazy with guilt about it, wanted to ban it, made a martyr out of Eatherly, wrote books and sick novels and dislocated prose and gonnows - what about it. [...] We get a replica of the Enola Gay and find if one of the minor nations don't still have an atom bomb, and we fly it over with a blaze of publicity and we drop it on Hiroshima again smack on 8.16 in the morning! How do you like it, Morgan?! (258-59)
Her radical idea is approved not only by Morgan Zadar but also by the Universal Board, which might be the twenty-first-century version of the United Nations, over the objections of the Japanese delegate, who is shouted down. The reason is economic: "most of the nations present had suffered too much unfair trade competition to listen to him" (259). Thus, the project ends up with a shaky old Tunisian Dakota dropping a rusty old British H -Bomb over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which excites everyone but the Japanese. For them this is nothing more than a gigantic fire-ball like fireworks "brighter than a thousand suns" (260).
It is very natural that in 1969 when this story was translated into Japanese and published in Hayakawa's SF Magazine (Feb. 1970), "Another Little Boy" caused a heated controversy in the Japanese sf community. For example, one of the founding fathers of Japanese sf Mr. Tetsu Yano, who is very well known for being the translator of R. A. Heinlein and the author of a highly admired story "The Legend of the Paper Spaceship," attacked the story as a type of white supremacy (2).
Moreover, only a couple of months later, author Aritsune Toyota published a counter work entitled "Another Prince of Wales" in the April 1970 issue of Hayakawa's SF Magazine, which describes a twenty-first-century media-saturated reality providing people with wars to satisfy their desires. Thus, the year of 2041 sees the simulation of the Pacific War, featuring a replica of the battleship Prince of Wales and its nine escorts totally devastated by Japanese planes, repeating their fate in the battle of the Malay Straits a hundred years before. In the wake of the war, Pakistan, India, Australia, China, Egypt, and Russia all come to declare war on England. Furthermore, Malaysia, Korea, and Both Americas, as well as Scotland, Ireland, and Wales declare war against England. The reason is very simple. In the new century, England is reconsidered as a poor old country and "The world's scapegoat, just as the Jews, the blacks and, at one time, the Japanese, had been in the twentieth century" (141). Toyota's story not only mocks the consumerist ideology Aldiss foregrounded, but also subverts the logic of white supremacy Yano felt so uncomfortable with.
Yano's and Toyota's responses to "Another Little Boy" could themselves be considered highly nationalistic.2 However, I would like to emphasize that these kinds of counter-racist attacks are not necessarily typical. For instance, Takumi Shibano, Yano's close friend and another founding father of Japanese sf, admires "Another Little Boy" by noting there a type of hardcore science - fictional imagination that relativizes everything, rendering the most serious things today the most trifling in the next age (61). What is more, "Another Little Boy" was championed by no less than a member of the Japanese imperial family: Princess Asaka Fukuko, who made her semi-professional debut as an sf writer in the early 1960s under the pseudonym Bien Fu, and who criticized Yano and reconfirmed the science -fictional privilege to mock everything.
Furthermore, mentioning Toyota's own alternate historical novel Pax Mongolica (1967), which proposes a huge Chinese empire of yellow supremacy abusing two million white slaves, this female writer Bien Fu assumed that even some of Japanese sf is incomprehensible from the Western perspective (65). It is very interesting that a member of the Japanese imperial family kept writing sf featuring cyborgs and Native Americans, fully understanding the essence of sf as embodied by the black humor of Brian Aldiss. Deeply identifying herself with the vanishing Americans described in Hollywood films of the postwar era, she apparently found it necessary to reconstruct her imperial subjectivity as a transnationalist cyborg, the phantasmagoric chimera of the emperor system and American democracy. This is why she could so easily comprehend the black humor aspect of sf.
To me, "Another Little Boy" seems to gain more significance today. What has happened in the past fifty years is a huge paradigm shift from ideology through representation, a shift whose seeds could be rediscovered in 1960s speculative fiction. Now let me give you several reasons for this shift.
First, on the topic of nationalism, when Heinlein's 1959 novel Starship Troopers, which is now well known for introducing the concept of the "powered suit," was translated by the aforementioned Yano in 1967, the novel spawned a stormy ideological debate about whether Heinlein's ideas were fascist, especially between the translator Yano, who supported the novel by transfiguring Heinlein's fascism into a Japanese patriotism cultivated through his own experience of military service, and the critic Takashi Ishikawa, who completely repudiated the novel from the viewpoint of postwar democracy. It is very ironic that while Yano felt sympathy with the fascist aspect of Starship Troopers, he attacked the black humor aspect of "Another Little Boy." Nonetheless, what matters most is that when Hayakawa Publishers issued a new paperback edition of Starship Troopers in 1977 with a cover illustration of the powered suit beautifully drawn by Naoyuki Kato of Studio Nue, this image had a profound impact on the design of "mobile suits" in Japanese robot anime, starting with "Gundam," whose global influence is widely known. This is the way design philosophy gradually replaced political ideology in the transition between the High Growth Period and the Advanced Capitalist Period. Tired of 1960s agonizing over abstract problems such as nationalism, patriotism, or racism, problems with no solution or conclusion, people became entranced by the aesthetics of a technology that symbolized such stylish agility - the mobility to outflank any opponent.
Likewise, as Akira Mizuta Lippit's insightful book Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) points out, we can easily trace the paradoxical way visual technology came to express the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and transfigure their impact into the aesthetic tropes of invisibility or transparency. In chapter 4 of the book, "An Atomic Trace," Lippit reconstructs Paul Virilio's theory about the photographic legacy of the atomic bombing and reinterprets Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the photographic moments where "a blinding flash vaporized entire bodies, leaving behind only shadow traces" (86). Furthermore, Lippit asserts, "There can be no authentic photography of atomic war because the bombings were themselves a form of total photography that exceeded the economies of representation, testing the very visibility of the visual" (95). This paradigm shift enables us to develop new ways of reading the fantastic. As hardcore sf writer Hiroshi Yamamoto attempted to describe in his 2009 story "Another Little Girl" (itself a homage to "Another Little Boy"), which dramatizes Japan as another nuclear-armed state in the year of 2109, what we believe to be self-evident now is very likely to be displaced with some brand new absurdity, which will be naturalized in the near future. Today's common sense is nothing but tomorrow's uncommon sense.3
Second, reading Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl's first and last collaboration The Last Theorem, I feel fascinated with the novel as well as Pohl's preface recollecting the International Science Fiction Symposium held in Japan in 1970. According to him, in the summer ofthat year, Judith Merril had earlier come to Japan and told the other guests about what she had already seen in Hiroshima, especially the Atomic Bomb Memorial Dome, whose "twisted ironwork the Japanese preserved as a memorial when every other part of that building had been blown away by that first-ever-deployed-in-anger nuclear bomb" (xi). As if endorsing Akira Lippit's theory mentioned earlier, now Pohl recalls the picture everyone knows, that is, the picture of "the shadow of a man that had been permanently etched, onto the stone stairs where he had been sitting, by the intolerably brilliant nuclear blast from the overhead sky" (xi). Inspired by this topic, the Anglo-American Science Fiction masters started a casual discussion:
"That must have been bright," someone said - I think Brian [Aldiss] .
Arthur [C. Clarke] said, "Bright enough that it could have been seen by a dozen nearby stars by now."
"If anyone lives there to be looking," someone else said - I think it was me.
And, we agreed, maybe someone might indeed be looking ... or at least it was pretty to think so. (xii)
It is important that here Aldiss allegedly said, "That must have been bright," conjuring up his own story "Another Little Boy." His comment also relates to The Last Theorem, a story of Overlord-like super-intelligent aliens called the Grand Galactics who feel so disturbed by microwave emanations and far brighter fire bursts from Earth that they begin to wonder whether to invade and exterminate the planet. In this near future, the United States invents a super weapon called "Silent Thunder," which is to deprive North Korea, Venezuela, and Colombia of electrical power and defeat these whole nations totally and irrevocably "without anyone hurt" (233). It is this super weapon that the aliens assumed could "endanger parts of the Grand Galactics' own armorarium" (235). Since the aliens "had encountered some 254 similarly dangerous races, and terminated some 251 of them" (237), they feel no hesitation about exterminating the occupants of Earth. Just the way "Another Little Boy" depicted how the Universal Board took economic sanctions against Japan by repeating Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a comically apocalyptic show, The Last Theorem also seems to suggest the possible extermination of problematic nations and even the very race of Earthlings with post-nuclear weapons, as if renovating the narrative of Clarke's apocalyptic novel Childhood's End (1953). Mocking Karl Marx's formulation that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce, this time I feel like replacing the term "farce" with "black humor."
Third, to tell the truth, I started rereading "Another Little Boy" in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. After a lapse of ten years, it seems to me that this short story and this fearful event have become intertwined with each other more closely, not because 9/1 1 cannot help but recall Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but because the term "Ground Zero" now tightly attached to the site of the demolished World Trade Center is nothing other than a kind of abuse of metaphor, that is, a catachresis for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which will undoubtedly accelerate the forgetting of these origins. Back in the 1980s, Jacques Derrida's influential essay on nuclear criticism "No Apocalypse, Not Now" (1984) presupposes that total nuclear war has never taken place, trivializing Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the typically Western rhetorical perspective (see Nagano 134), whereas the current site internationally known as "Ground Zero" further helps erase the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and promotes global amnesia, by associating that term exclusively with the 9/1 1 terrorist attacks. This rhetorical reading invites us to rediscover "Another Little Boy" as a story of amnesia caused by too many wars, which could have included the 9/1 1 terrorist attacks and the subsequent Iraq War - an amnesia which has helped trivialize what took place on August 6th, 1945 in Japan. Yes, it is this catachretic term "Ground Zero" that positioned the 9/1 1 terrorist attacks as pseudo-nuclear attacks, providing the United States with a cause for waging a small scale nuclear war; the Bush Administration rationalized the declaration of the Iraq War by cunningly supposing that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, and employed its own depleted uranium ammunition in the Iraq War. In this sense, rereading "Another Little Boy" will lead us to recall how we have lived the postwar history of amnesia, and how we've been forced to naturalize the fictional history of faked nuclear war.
3. Transpacific Writers, Transpacific Imagination
Although I'm neither nationalistic nor patriotic, I find the diaspora of the Japanese nation peculiar to postwar Japanese sf. Just as William Faulkner appealed to the Japanese audience in 1955 by identifying himself as a descendant from another defeated nation, postwar Japanese writers endowed with a talent for the fantastic came to expand the sensibility of what I have designated "Creative Masochism," as detailed in my own book Full Metal Apache. In fact, the Japanese boom in sf in Japan was triggered by Sakyo Komatsu's million-selling novel Nippon Chinbotsu (Japan Sinks) in 1973. More than thirty years later, the year 2006 saw a stimulating revival of Komatsu's Japan Sinks, which involved not only Koshu Tani's publication of the sequel to the novel but also Shinji Higuchi's ambitious remake of the film version, and Minoru Kawasaki's film version of Yasutaka Tsutsui's black humor short story "Nippon Igai Zenbu Chinbotsu [Everyone Other Than Japan Sinks]" published in 1973 as a parody oí Japan Sinks. Tsutsui's parody ironically narrates the diaspora of all non-Japanese people on Earth and the fate of their immigration into the Japanese Archipelago.
Here let me note that back in the 1960s Tsutsui had already published a typical black humor sf story entitled "Vietnam Travel Bureau" (1967), in which the hero selects for his own honeymoon not Mars or Saturn but Vietnam, where the Vietnam War is kept going on to entertain visitors, without any connection whatsoever to its original causes. Tsutsui's "Vietnam Travel Bureau" redefines war as a spectacular commodity and precedes Sarajevo Survival Guide (1993) by twenty-five years. "Another Little Boy" and "Vietnam Travel Bureau" were roughly contemporaneous. While the former excited Japanese nationalist and patriotic readers, Tsutsui's seemingly antiwhite supremacy black humor would have infuriated their North American counterparts. Starting from Tsutsui's sense of black humor as represented in "Everyone Other Than Japan Sinks," Kawasaki visualizes the way it becomes more and more difficult for non-Japanese people to survive the diaspora unless they decide to go native in Japan. Despite its counter-racist taste, this is one of the black humor critiques of Western sf from a planetary perspective. I'm not sure if this kind of radically subversive literary experiment was considered nationalistic or patriotic by serious readers. However, it is true that this black humor writer Tsutsui ended up receiving the Medal with Purple Ribbon for academic or artistic excellence from the Japanese government in 2004.
Now that black humor has been naturalized in contemporary literature, how can we recuperate the original power of the subversive imagination? Let me conclude this talk with a few transpacific examples.
First, the Yasusada Araki hoax storming American poetry. The mid-1990s saw a variety of splendid poems published in poetry journals by a Japanese poet and Hiroshima survivor named Yasusada Araki. However, in 1997 this poet was revealed to be a complete fake. Kent Johnson, who submitted the poems to the journals, disclosed that Araki's poems were actually written by one of his translators "Tosa Motokiyu," itself a pseudonym of a person whose national or ethnic identity still remains unknown. Although American literary history has cultivated a heritage of passing narratives, this Araki hoax, what Brian McHaIe designated a typical "mock hoax," is exceptional, for the author tried to pass not only for Yellow but also for an atomic bomb survivor. Of course, this kind of passing must have disgusted Japanese survivors of Hiroshima. Whether the real author is racially Mongoloid or not, however, the black humor of the Araki hoax, as Yunte Huang pointed out, leads us less into the problem of empathy than into the problem of "nuclear universalism," what I would like to rephrase "nuclear planetarity," through which Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be "remembered from the transcendent and anonymous position of humanity" (149).
My second example is from the Asian American feminist black humor author Karen Tei Yamashita's metafictional piece "Siamese Twins and Mongoloids: Cultural Appropriation and the Deconstruction of Stereotype via the Absurdity of Metaphor." Yamashita's story is based upon the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker, who were born in 1811 in Meklong in the country then known as Siam, and who were brought to America and Europe as a circus attraction and briefly hired by P. T. Barnum, one of the greatest entrepreneurs in Victorian America. Yamashita recreates Mark Twain's story of Extraordinary Twins with a story of Asian American Siamese twins named "Heco" and "Okada" - after Hikozo Hamada, the first Japanese to become an American citizen, and John Okada, author of the great Asian American novel No-No Boy. Although these kinds of ethnic freaks have recently been considered post-nuclear monsters or mutants, Yamashita deconstructs the black humor stereotypes of the freaks and depicts them as perfect boys endowed with exceptional talents. Very successful in the field of business, Heco and Okada wind up marrying two sisters: "Heco married a strangely beautiful Eurasian with green eyes and perfect hair," while "Okada's sister was one -quarter Cherokee, one -quarter African, and one-eighth Palestinian and three -eighths Micronesian" (134). Just as the original Siamese twins used to signify the close bond between the North and the South, these Asian American twins disclose the catachretic limit of "Siamese Twins" and represent the multiethnic unity of the whole planet. Hence, Yamashita's twins succeed in transcending the boundary of conventional racism.
Finally, there is Shelley Jackson's Half Life, which intrigued me so much that I nominated it for the Tiptree Award in 2007. This highly intricate and superbly hypertextual novel provided us with an incredibly intertextual space inhabited by a number of literary and cultural figures such as: Edgar Allan Poe, P. T. Barnum, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Vladimir Nabokov, Leslie Fiedler, Katherine Dunn, and Allen Kurzweil. The author contrasts the "twofers" in the story, that is, the Siamese twins naturalized in the post-apocalyptic age and their contemporary "singletons" who are dying to have a couple of heads just like the twofers. It sounds weird enough to recall the grotesque garden of freaks represented in The Obscene Bird of Night, a magnum opus by the major Latin American magic realist José Donoso. Reappropriating post-Twain and post-Vonnegut black humor in her own nuclear fiction, Jackson skillfully compares the rise of twofers to the rise of ethnic or sexual minority groups involved with the Civil Rights Movement. And yet, what attracted me most is not only the idea but also the narrative, in which the heroine Nora Olney, who succeeded in erasing her twin sister Blanche, becomes unable to distinguish between her waking world and Blanche's dream one. Moreover, just as the title of the novel refers to both the double life of the Siamese twins and the amount of time that a radioactive substance takes to lose half its radioactivity, so the name of the heroine's sister metafictionally connotes the "carte blanche" Nora abuses and the "blank pages" she fills up by scribbling away at her autobiography. The author's speculation on Hiroshima and Nagasaki makes the novel more philosophical, inviting us to consider what will happen to sexuality and ethnicity in the post-nuclear future.
In 1951, saddened by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and recognizing the need for a national activity of penance, a despondent American government commenced organized hostilities against itself. For three years, they hammered a sparsely populated part of the Nevada desert with the most powerful bombs in existence. The cratered sand turned to glass. In it Uncle Sam could see his own, still grief-stricken face. Stronger measures were called for. (225)
Yes, featuring the double life of the twofers, this seemingly sororophobic novel also grapples with the future of race, class, and gender in general. Just the way James Tiptree, Jr., was a writer who enjoyed his/her "double life," this black humor post-apocalyptic fiction about brand-new Siamese twins gives us a wonderful way to reinvestigate - now from a planetary viewpoint - the after-life of the human race and the double life of post-humans.
2. At the International SF Symposium held in Japan in 1970, Takashi Ishikawa, a leading sf critic who once repudiated Heinlein's fascist vision in Starship Troopers, had a chance to argue with Aldiss himself about "Another Little Boy." Ishikawa recollects: "Under the influence of liquor I started accosting Brian for having written 'Another Little Boy'. Admitting his literary guilt, he said 'sorry', and dove into the Biwako Lake with his clothes on" ("Bungaku" 129-30).
3. In coming up with the figure of "Little Girl," Yamamoto is undoubtedly aware of the disfiguring effect of the term "Little Boy." Here Fumika Nagano's analysis of Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle (1963) is very helpful:
As the playful naming suggests, the midget Newton is intimately connected with this scientific disaster, for his father, like Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, was an influential scientist who worked for the American military machine, inventing both the A-bomb and ice nine. [...] The science fiction of the same period saw the birth of boy-robots depicted as freakish and therefore alienated even from their producers. However, unlike Brian Aldiss's "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" (1969) and Osamu Tezuka's Tetsuwan Atomu (Mighty Atom 1951-1968), Vonnegut's Newton is a human character who is transformed into the equivalent of a scientific invention through the writer's narrato logy. [...] In comparison with the human nickname "Little Boy," this little boy is transformed into something like a scientific invention, a disfiguration of the bomb: he certainly serves Jonah's purpose since he embodies the "human" side of the superweapon. (127-28, 132)
1. Without the help of Nikola Tesla, Hugo Gernsback could not have envisioned the new literary genre of sf. For the impact of Tesla's imagination, see also Christopher Priest's 1995 novel The Prestige, which was made into a 2006 movie featuring David Bowie as this mad scientist.
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_____. SF no Jidai [The Age of Science Fiction]. Tokyo: Kiso-Tengaisha, 1977. Print. Jackson, Shelley. Half Life. New York: Harper, 2006. Print.
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_____. Inherent Vice. New York: Penguin, 2009. Print.
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_____. "Vietnam Kanko Kosha [Vietnam Travel Bureau]." 1967. Vietnam Travel Bureau. Tokyo: Hayakawa, 1967. 255-79. Print.
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Yamamoto, Hiroshi. "Little Girl Futatabi [Another Little Girl]." Shosetsu Gendai (Aug. 2009): 219-37. Print.
Yamashita, Karen Tei. "Siamese Twins and Mongoloids: Cultural Appropriation and the Deconstruction of Stereotype via the Absurdity of Metaphor." Yellow Light: The Flowering of Asian American Arts. Ed. Amy Ling. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1999. 126-35. Print.
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TAKAYUKI TATSUMI, PhD, was born in Tokyo and is now a literary critic and professor of English teaching American literature at Keio University in Tokyo. He is the author oí Cyberpunk America (winner of the 1988 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission's American Studies Book Prize) , the co-translator of Cyborg Feminism: Haraway, Delany and Salmonson (1991, the 2nd Japan Translation Award: Philosophy Section), and the co-editor of the Japanese Science Fiction issue of Science-Fiction Studies (November 2002). He won the 5 th Pioneer Award (SFRA) in 1994 for the collaboration essay with Larry McCaffery "Towards the Theoretical Frontiers of 'Fiction': From Metafiction and Cyberpunk through Avant-Pop" (1993, Science FictionEye #12), and the 21st Japan SF Award (SFWJ) in 2001 for Japanese SF Controversies: 1957-1997 (2000). Having published a variety of essays in SF Eye, Extrapolation, Para*Doxa, American Book Review, Mechademia, PMLA, and elsewhere, he published a book entitled Full Metal Apache: Transactions between Cyberpunk Japan and Avant-Pop America (2006), and a co-edited book, Robot Ghosts, Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime (2007). His recently edited books include NipponCon File 2007 (The Official Report on Nippon 2007, the 65th World Science Fiction Convention [the 40th Seiun Award: Nonfiction Section]).