SOAS University of London

Japan Research Centre

Kanai Mieko's Textual Bodies: Dancing Girls and Inflated Men

Kanai Mieko
Dr Hannah Osborne (SOAS)

Date: 5 December 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 5 December 2018Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Seminar


In this talk Dr Hannah Osborne will be discussing a fundamental concept of Kanai Mieko’s writing: corporeal text. She argues that Kanai consciously developed this concept at the very outset of career; that it informs much of her early novellas and short stories; and, moreover, that it aims at radically transforming the way in which we perceive and engage with texts.


Kanai Mieko’s first published essay, ‘Nikutairon e jostesu dai’ippo’ (‘Towards a Theory of Corporeality’), explores the meaning of a transgressive figure – the dancing-girl-in-pain – found in both the folk stories of Hans Christian Andersen and the butō performances of Hijikata Tatsumi.  Dr Osborne describes how this essay can be read as articulating an understanding of the body’s relationship with text, whereby the body (and its consciousness) serves as a model for how text operates; the two can be understood as interacting with each other through the repeated acts of reading and writing.

Such an understanding of the materiality of text and the relationship between it and the reader can then be seen to be at work in many of Kanai’s short stories.  In her talk, Dr Osborne discusses its manifestation in a story which has yet to be translated: ‘Kūki otoko no hanashi’ (‘The Story of the Inflated Man’, 1974).

The Inflated Man is a circus act who is able to eat an obscene amount every day because, ‘[a]lthough food is something that becomes flesh and blood in normal bodies, in [his] case it becomes a kind of air, a hollow that has no substance, but that continues to expand’. The Inflated Man’s body however, is one of many images in Kanai’s story in which a ‘void’ is described in relation to its external ‘structure’. Through its repeated association of ‘voids’ with ‘structures’, the story thus evokes the Japanese term ‘fiction’ (kyokō, lit. ‘empty structure’) to signal its own status as a piece of fiction. Although the characters for fiction in Japanese gesture towards an understanding of ‘fiction’ as the structuring of void (or that which is imaginary), Kanai’s story also directs us to an understanding that such void equates to an infinite multiplicity of texts. Moreover, through referencing literary allusions that are pictorial allusions (Disney’s Pinocchio’s pastiche of Jonah’s whale, Gustave Doré’s engraving to Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty, the manga version of the Japanese folk story ‘Momotarō’), the narrative enjoins us to do the same, thus inviting us to read it as though it were illustrated.

Dr Osborne concludes by considering how the concept of corporeal text has the potential to radically effect the manner in which we approach literature and all other art forms.

Speaker Biography

Dr Hannah Osborne completed her doctoral thesis, Gender, Love and Text in the Early Writings of Kanai Mieko at the University of Leeds in 2015 and is currently Research Associate at the Japan Research Centre, SOAS.  Her research focuses on gender and the body, illustrations, the materiality of text, women's writing and translation in the field of Modern Japanese Literature.

Organiser: SOAS Japan Research Centre

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