This article tells the story of one reader’s search for an environmental humanities approach to the work of Ōe Kenzaburō. When the Fukushima Power Plant melted down in March 2011, Ōe had already been an antinuclear activist for almost fifty years. Yet the conviction that drove his opposition had always been humanist rather than environmental. Even after the disaster, he continued to address nuclear toxicity as a problem to be tackled with the power of language: the power to resist, to speak truth, to participate in democracy. But what if what Ōe has been saying for decades implicitly about his disabled son Hikari’s musical sensibility were more interesting for an ecological politics than what he repeated explicitly after the disaster? This article discusses the Hikari figure’s relation to music in two texts, both referenced by Ōe in his post–3.11 activism: a 1991 short story called “Hi o megurasu tori” 火をめぐらす鳥 (“Light Circling Bird”), and a 2009 novel called Suishi 水死 (Death by Water). I read these texts along with Isabelle Stengers’s 2009 ecomanifesto In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism to argue that the disabled musician offers powerful tools for environmental engagement.
Humanism and the Hikari Event: Reading Ōe with Stengers in Catastrophic Times
Margherita Long is an associate professor in the East Asian Studies Department at the University of California, Irvine. This essay is from her current project titled Care, Affect, Crackup: Literature and Activism after Fukushima.
Margherita Long; Humanism and the Hikari Event: Reading Ōe with Stengers in Catastrophic Times. positions 1 May 2020; 28 (2): 421–445. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-8112496
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