Histcon.se Time, Memory and Representation Tid, Minne, Representation

A Multidisciplinary Program on Transformations in Historical Consciousness

Ett mångdisciplinärt forskningsprogram om historiemedvetandets förvandlingar

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Research seminar: Collective remembrance and forgetting in Julie Otsuka’s novels

Published on 27 October, 2014

With Lena Ahlin, assistant professor of English, 5 November at Södertörn University.

Where: Södertörn university, room PC249.

When: 5 November 15.00-17.00.

Julie Otsuka’s novel When the Emperor Was Divine (2002), which has reached a large international audience and is widely taught in American universities and colleges, is about a Japanese-American family sent to an internment camp during World War II. Her second novel, The Buddha in the Attic (2011) also addresses the internment, albeit more briefly. In my presentation, I argue that Julie Otsuka’s novels impact the collective remembrance of the internment, as they bring together Otsuka’s own family past and the national past. In her texts, collective remembrance is the outcome of a negotiation between different groups with the purpose of “maintaining social cohesion and identity” (Whitehead 2009: 152), in which relations of power play a significant part.  Focus is placed on the interaction between remembrance and forgetting, which figures alternately as “a necessary and adaptive reaction to the alternative of painful or destructive memory [and as] the tacit ally of oppression and silence” (Conway and Singer 2008:279). Otsuka’s texts embody this tension, which is analyzed with emphasis on the racialization of the Japanese Americans.  The paper argues that forgetting the incarceration has been vital to the American self-image, which is based on the notion of equal rights for all citizens. The paper also queries the possibility of resistance to the internment in relation to the category of race. Finally, Otsuka’s texts are considered in relation to post-9/11 literature.
Lena Ahlin is Assistant Professor of English at Kristianstad University, where she teaches literature and writing. Her book The ‘New Negro’ in the Old World: Culture and Performance in James Weldon Johnson, Jessie Fauset, and Nella Larsen (2006) deals with representations of Europe in African- American literature. Her literary research concerns the Harlem Renaissance as well as representations of the Japanese-American incarceration during World War II.

Seminar description:

Julie Otsuka’s novel When the Emperor Was Divine (2002), which has reached a large international audience and is widely taught in American universities and colleges, is about a Japanese-American family sent to an internment camp during World War II. Her second novel, The Buddha in the Attic (2011) also addresses the internment, albeit more briefly.

In my presentation, I argue that Julie Otsuka’s novels impact the collective remembrance of the internment, as they bring together Otsuka’s own family past and the national past. In her texts, collective remembrance is the outcome of a negotiation between different groups with the purpose of “maintaining social cohesion and identity” (Whitehead 2009: 152), in which relations of power play a significant part.

Focus is placed on the interaction between remembrance and forgetting, which figures alternately as “a necessary and adaptive reaction to the alternative of painful or destructive memory [and as] the tacit ally of oppression and silence” (Conway and Singer 2008:279). Otsuka’s texts embody this tension, which is analyzed with emphasis on the racialization of the Japanese Americans.

The paper argues that forgetting the incarceration has been vital to the American self-image, which is based on the notion of equal rights for all citizens. The paper also queries the possibility of resistance to the internment in relation to the category of race. Finally, Otsuka’s texts are considered in relation to post-9/11 literature.

Lena Ahlin is Assistant Professor of English at Kristianstad University, where she teaches literature and writing. Her book The ‘New Negro’ in the Old World: Culture and Performance in James Weldon Johnson, Jessie Fauset, and Nella Larsen (2006) deals with representations of Europe in African- American literature. Her literary research concerns the Harlem Renaissance as well as representations of the Japanese-American incarceration during World War II.

Contact: Liz Kella, Senior Lecturer in English at Södertörn University, liz.kella@sh.se.

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