43462442 the Waiting Years | Feminism | Ethnicity, Race & Gender

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The Waiting Years: Enchi Fumiko and the Subjugated Voice of the Mother Enchi Fumiko (1905-1986) was one of post-war Japan's most prominent women novelists. Her novel entitled The Waiting Years {Onnazaka, 1949-1957; 1957; tr. 1971) is set in early modern Japan and spans the four or so decades leading up to the end of the First World War. It is a narrative of feminine constraint loosely based on the life of the author's maternal grandmother. The protagonist, Tomo, lives her life subject to the int
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  The Waiting Years: Enchi Fumiko and theSubjugated Voice of the Mother Enchi Fumiko (1905-1986) was one of post-war Japan's mostprominent women novelists. Her novel entitled The Waiting Years{Onnazaka, 1949-1957; 1957; tr. 1971) is set in early modern Japanand spans the four or so decades leading up to the end of the FirstWorld War. It is a narrative of feminine constraint loosely based onthe life of the author's maternal grandmother. The protagonist,Tomo, lives her life subject to the intransigence of the discursiveconstruct of good vdfe and wise mother (rydsaikenbo), the solenormative role permitted to women of the era. This role demandedsilent acquiescence to a set of maternal and wifely duties designedspecifically to promote the expansion of Japan's Imperial project, aproject which largely negated the independent subjectivity of women.Thus when Tomo speaks in public she can only do so in a subjugatedvoice that confirms her ontological marginalisation. Even her privatevoice passes largely unheard except in brief solipsistic monologuesshe delivers at various points throughout the narrative.In an investigation of philosophy and the maternal body, MichelleBoulous Walker examines strategies that permit the foregrounding ofthe mother's unheard voice.^ Drawing on the work of Walker, thisdiscussion examines the subjugated voice of Tomo, the protagonist,and of other significant women featured in Enchi's narrative. It mightbe noted that, almost without exception, all the adult women in TheWaiting Years are mothers. The discussion vwU, therefore, payparticular attention to the articulation between the subjugated voicesof these women and their 'motherness.'Since Walker's work draws on a strong Western theoreticaltradition, the analysis given here might be considered vulnerable tothe types of criticisms levelled against scholarship which examinesnon-Western material through an essentialising Western framework.In feminist scholarship, criticism of this nature has perhaps beenmost famously made by Chandra Talpade Mohanty in hergroundbreaking analysis of the tendency of Western theorists to erasehistorical and geographic specificity by constructing essentiahstterms such as 'third world women.' However, the invocation ofWalker should not be interpreted as advocacy for a model in whichWestern thought is used to 'other' or essentialise the position ofwomen in Japan. On the contrary, this discussion argues that bylistening intently to the subjugated maternal voices resonatingthroughout Enchi's text, researchers from diverse backgrounds canestablish collective alliances from which to develop understandings ofthe common lived experiences of women, particularly as these relateto mothers and maternity. 34 HECATE  Enchi Fumiko^ was one of post-war Japan's most prominentwomen novelists. Active as a playwright in her youth, Enchi made aconscious decision in the 1930s to switch to prose fiction in order tomore fully probe the interiority of her protagonists.3 The vastmajority of her narratives feature women who are either birthmothers or who have a mother type relationship with a young womanor man.4 While it would be misleading to claim that Enchi's materialis autobiographical,5 the author herself, who gave birth to a daughterin 1932, has noted a dependency on her own life experiences as theprimary source for many of her texts.^ In addition, a number of criticscomment on the oblique articulation between the experiences of thewomen in Enchi's narratives and the experiences of the author andother women in her family.7 This discussion focuses on thesubjugated maternal voice in one of Enchi's most well-known works. The Waiting Years. Originally an intermittently serialised novel. TheWaiting Years drew widespread critical acclaim when published inbook form in 1957.^ The work is loosely based on the life experiencesof Enchi's maternal grandmother passed on to the author inconversation with her mother. In other words, it is a text in whichEnchi speaks the body of her grandmother using material providedby the speaking subject of her mother. The Waiting Years is set in the period of Japan's modernisationand emergence as a nation-state during the last two decades of thenineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth. This wasan era during which the new nation, Japan, victorious in conflictsagainst China and Russia, sought parity with the United States andGreat Britain as a 'great power' of the world. In addition to seeking ahighly visible international profile, there was considerable domesticactivity to ensure that citizens on the home front contributed to thenational effort. The sole normative role designated for women inJapan at this time was that of 'wise wife and good mother.'9 This wasa discursive entity constructed by the authorities to ensure that allwomen bore sons for the nation and created a home sanctuary towhich men could retreat to re-gather their energies in readiness forthe next stage of national growth. As often noted,'° the 'wise mother'element became significant in Japan only with the introduction ofWestern thought in the early Meiji Period (1868-1912). Pre-modernConfucian-based texts used to educate girls were largely silent on theissue of maternal responsibility- Instead, these materials focussed onthe production of women who would graciously submit themselves tothe rule of their fathers, husbands, and fathers-in-law. However, thearrival in Japan of Western theories advocating 'mother-love' as anessential element in the child's attainment of its full potential, sawthe role of wise parent relinquished by Meiji Era lords and masters totheir good wives. Although Enchi provides no specific dates, HECATE 35  peripheral clues in the text indicate that The Waiting Years commences around 1888 and closes in approximately 1918.^^ Thiswas precisely the era during which the political notion of institutionalmotherhood was introduced and entrenched in the consciousness ofthe citizenry of the emerging nation-state. It is perhaps notsurprising, then, that the mother has strong significance in thenarrative. With the exception of the concubine, Suga, all the womenfeatured are mothers and are identified by Enchi as such. Even thelascivious Miya, the daughter-in-law of the protagonist notable forengaging in a long-term sexual relationship with her father-in-law,Tomo's husband, is identified immediately upon her entry to the textas the mother she will soon become.^3The power of the good wife, wise mother discourse was such that itobliterated the right of generations of women in early modern Japanto voice their desires or to assert themselves as active speakingsubjects. Instead, women were required to exhibit mythologicalmaternal attributes such as an innate capacity to nurture, voluntarydependence on a male head of the household, a modestly asexual anddemure demeanour, and affiliation with the home and the child. Itshould be noted that Koyama Shizuko stresses the fact that 'child'here inevitably meant 'son.'^^ Wise mothers were required to producethe sons who would contribute to the 'national wealth and militarymight.'is Daughters remained peripheral to the national narrative.As the paragon of socialised femininity, the mother who was also awife was required to follow the phallocentric script prepared for herby the national authorities. Accordingly, the only legitimate publicspeech in which she could engage was that which confirmed herposition as ontologically marginalised. In seeking to theorise thissubjugation of the maternal voice in Japan it is useful to turn thework of Michelle Boulous Walker. Drawing particularly on the workof Luce Irigaray and also Michele Le Doeuff, Walker has theorised anotion of silence which foregrounds the absent or unheard voice. Sheaccordingly rejects a speech/non-speech dichotomous model ofsilence in favour of one which allows for silence itself as having thepotential for speech. She labels this model as 'readable absence.'^^Walker argues that silence of this nature 'entails a spoken yetunheard voice,' a voice that is structured by a 'logic of oppression' andclosely tied to denial. Walker is interested in denial since:It opens the whole question of silence out onto more complexterrain than the question of exclusion would allow. The processof denial enacts a silencing by attempting to cover over repressedor troubled voices.*''Tomo, the protagonist of The Waiting Years, is possessed byprecisely the sort of repressed and troubled voice to which Walker 36 HECATE  refers.The discourse of the 'good wiie and wise mother' operates tostifle any inclination she may have to articulate desires which deviatefrom those prescribed by the authorities. Should she publicly attemptto engage in subversive speech the legitimacy of her voice would bedenied by the paradigm which inscribes women with the mark ofcompliance and passivity. Such denial might range from mildcastigation in the case of submissive women to the violent censure of'insanity' often made against assertive and determined women.Nevertheless, neither denial nor dismissal can stem the private voicewhich, forced into subterranean mode, continues to speak forth;particularly, as we shall see later in the discussion, in response toestablished catalysts. Regardless of the logic of oppression whichstructures Tomo's existence, she will speak. However, the mutednature of this voice can make interpretation difficult without theassistance of strategies such as those suggested by Walker.The use of Western theoretical material to support the analysis ofnon-Western material in a manner that universalises the former andthat can both particularise and essentialise the latter has rightlydrawn extensive criticism from non-Western scholars. Such criticismhas notably been levelled in the Japan context by the prominent poetand thinker, Yoshimoto Takaaki (b. 1924, also knovm as YoshimotoRyumei), who accused his fellow intellectuals in post-war Japan ofclouding their thought with a universalising Western filter whichrendered them incapable of appreciating the local context. ^^ In thefield of feminist scholarship, criticism of this nature has beenfamously made by Chandra Talpade Mohanty. Mohanty argues that,through their relative control of the 'production, publication,distribution, and consumption of information and ideas,'i9Eurocentric feminists are liable to construct fictitious and monolithicmodels of women outside their ovra group, models which eraseimportant differences between women. Thus, when drawing onWestern theoretical material to support an analysis of material fromnon-Western sites, care is necessary to ensure that the discussiondoes not slide into the same sort of imperialist turn that afflicts, forinstance, Julia Kristeva's account of the women of China. Kristeva'senterprise here has been justly dismissed by Gayatri Spivak as,among other things, 'macrological nostalgia for the pre-history of theEast.'20 In her examination of the situation of women in China,Kristeva purports to speak in their collective voice. However, sinceshe is familiar with neither the experience nor the discourse of thewomen (or their men) who are the object of her writing, her wordsnot only lack authenticity, but are patronising and offensive. Ratherthan offering emancipatory solutions, Kristeva in fact engages in aprocess labelled by Arjun Appadurai as 'metonymic freezing,'^! that HECATE 37
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