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Society for Intercultural Studies


Authenticities East and West
March 30 - April 1, 2001

Canon and Censor: How War Wounds Bodies of Writing
Jonathan Abel (
Department of Comparative Literature, Princeton University

Marginalized literature stands in a relation to canonized literature such that, as Jacques Derrida comments on writing (namely, "no writing without violence"), there can be no canon without censorship, no censorship without canon. Marginality is, then, paradoxically central to and constitutive of the canon, which is in the continual process of formation through acts of censorship and appropriation. Definitions of living bodies follow a similar logic, standing in binary relation with notions of dead bodies; the concept of a living body needs that of a dead one to survive. Literary representations that differ from categorical binaries and challenge received notions of the "speakable" or the "living" are inherently taboo; through the suppression and censorship of such taboo literature canons are formed and maintained.

In 1938, Japanese authorities issued sanctions against the publishers of Chûô kôron, suppressing Ishikawa Tatsuzô's Ikiteiru heitai for its graphic depictions of the casualties of the war in China and cruelty of Japanese soldiers. In 1939, Dalton Trumbo and his publishers refused calls by fascist elements in the United States to reprint Trumbo's pacifist johnny got his gun, portraying the interior monologue of an amputee. While the publication histories and the ideological circumstances of the reception of these novels differ, they share common ground as challenges to canonical master narratives of war, as iterated in Hino Ashihei's Mugi to heitai and James Jones' From Here To Eternity, novels in which the living are the living, the dead are the dead, and the twain never meet.

Drawing on recent scholarship on the body, law, and difference, this paper will argue that while taboo and canon are always historically and culturally informed, the dynamic processes by which they function across time and space. As a consequence of this transcending, there is no essential difference between writing under a "severely repressive authoritarian" regime and a "democratic" one. There is no essential difference, which is to say that there is a difference, not in kind but in degree.

Jonathan Abel is currently a graduate student in the Comparative Literature Department at Princeton University. He holds an MA from Columbia University's Department of English and Comparative Literatures. His interests lie in text production and reception, the "limits" of texts, and visual arts.

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