The International Literary Quarterly

August 2009


Shanta Acharya
Evgeny Baratynsky
Mary Caponegro
Peter France
Aamer Hussein
Edie Meidav
Ian Patterson
Mori Ponsowy
Jem Poster
Joan Retallack
Fiona Sampson
John Stauffer
Judith Taylor
Karen Thornber
Stephen Wilson
Leslie Woodard

Issue 8 Guest Artist:
Kenneth Draper RA

Founding Editor: Peter Robertson
Art Editor: Calum Colvin

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Rosemary Ashton
Leonard Barkan
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boulossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Jill Dawson
Junot Díaz
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Edith Grossman
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
Molly Haskell
Beatriz Hausner
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
John Kelly
Mimi Khalvati
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Suzanne Jill Levine
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Alberto Manguel
Marina Mayoral
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Susana Moore
Martha Nussbaum
Tim Parks
Caryl Phillips
Elena Poniatowska
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marina Warner
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Associate Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Assistant Editor: Jeff Barry
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Ecocriticism and Japanese Literature of the Avant-Garde
      by Karen Thornber

This article draws from my current book project – Ecoambivalence, Ecoambiguity, and Ecodegradation: Changing Environments of East Asian and World Literatures – which analyzes Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese literary negotiations of anthropogenic environmental degradation in the context of world literature on environmental problems and crises. Here I will focus on human/nonhuman dynamics in selected works of postwar Japanese avant-garde writing, integrating ecocritical perspectives into discussions of modern Japanese literature, and incorporating Japanese literature into ecocritical discourses.

            Ecocriticism can be broadly defined as “the study of nature writing by way of any scholarly approach or, conversely, the scrutiny of ecological implications and human-nature [nonhuman] relationships in any literary text, even texts that seem (at first glance) oblivious of the nonhuman world.”1 Examining artistic negotiations of these interactions in modern Japanese literature not only deepens our understanding of this corpus but also expands the field of ecocriticism. Since its launching in the 1990s, ecocriticism has contributed greatly to a more nuanced understanding of American and European literary constructions of human/nonhuman contacts. But because anthropogenic environmental degradation is well-nigh universal, it is imperative to study human/nonhuman relationships in other literatures, and those from East Asia in particular. Despite stereotypes of East Asian “love of nature,” East Asia has been home to some of the world’s most daunting environmental problems and crises. As the historian Rhoads Murphey argues concerning Asia, “All Asian cultures in the areas east of Afghanistan and south of the former Soviet Union have long been noted for their admiring attitudes toward nature . . . All of this is contrasted with the Western view . . . The Asian record, however, makes it clear that, despite the professed values of the literate elite, people have altered or destroyed the Asian environment for longer and on a greater scale than anywhere else in the world, even in the twentieth-century West.”2 Moreover, the historian Mark Elvin points out that:

Through more than three thousand years, the Chinese refashioned China. They cleared the forests and the original vegetation cover, terraced its hill-slopes, and partitioned its valley floors into fields. They diked, dammed, and diverted its rivers and lakes. They hunted or domesticated its animals and birds; or else destroyed their habitats as a by-product of the pursuit of economic improvements. By late-imperial times there was little that could be called “natural” left untouched by this process of exploitation and adaptation.3 
Discussions of textual constructions of relationships among human beings and the nonhuman in East Asian literatures have focused on creative depictions of “nature” (i.e. the nonhuman) as a refuge, often romanticized, from human society; the use of “nature” (i.e. the nonhuman) as setting, inspiration, metaphor, and symbol; and the Japanese “discovery” of landscape in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yet not surprising considering the region’s long history of environmental degradation, East Asian literatures – although often lauded for their “celebrations of nature” – have in fact for thousands of years also been addressing interfaces among human civilizations and the nonhuman that involve human degradation of the nonhuman. Just to clarify, I use the term “nonhuman” to refer to both the biotic (that is to say, nonhuman organisms) and the abiotic (that is to say, nonliving physical elements such as air, water, and soil). I use the term “human” to refer to human beings and to human constructions both material and intellectual, including technology. Without question, the human and the nonhuman are deeply intertwined, and borders between the two are often vague. But the extent and preventability of the environmental transformations instigated by human bodies (human beings and their tools and technology) make it imperative, in ecocritical discourse, to distinguish between human and nonhuman.
            Artistic negotiations of the more complex interactions among the human and the nonhuman are particularly intriguing in literature of the avant-garde. By “avant-garde,” I mean what French literature scholar Susan Suleiman calls diverse projects that “linked artistic experimentation and a critique of outmoded artistic practices with an ideological critique of bourgeois thought and a desire for social change, so that the activity of writing could also be seen as a genuine intervention in the social, cultural, and political arena.”4 In addition, as Peter Bürger has argued, the avant-garde artist attempts to reintroduce art into the praxis of life as well as to transform the social institution of art.5 In Japan, like Europe and North America, the hallmark of avant-gardes is “their attempt to effect radical change and innovation both in the symbolic field (including what has been called the aesthetic realm) and in the social and political field of everyday life.”6 It also is important to recognize that “there is no such thing as the avant-garde; there are only specific avant-garde movements, situated in a particular time and place.”7  
            Avant-garde creative works have been discussed as clusters of rapidly changing artistic perspectives and practices that embody the ambiguous and conflicted interactions among human beings, materials, and contexts of production.8 The focus here has been anthropocentric. But in fact, a number of literary texts that demonstrate aesthetic innovation and push for social change also address human relationships with the nonhuman, pressing subtly or not so subtly for both perceptual and practical transformations of these relationships.
            I am particularly concerned with Japanese avant-garde creative works that depict extreme human/nonhuman interactions: nonhuman entities overwhelming both other nonhuman entities and human beings; and human beings or their creations overwhelming both human beings and the nonhuman. The first dynamic is highlighted in Abé Kōbō’s (1924-1993) famed novel Suna no onna (Woman in the Dunes, 1962), which although revealing much that is absurd with human existence, also sheds new light on some of the paradoxes of human/nonhuman relationships. Literature of the atomic bomb, including the recent anthology Genbakushi 181 ninshū (1945-2007) (Collection of Atomic Bomb Poems by 181 Writers [1945-2007], 2007) edited by Nagatsu Kōsaburō, Suzuki Hisao, and Yamamoto Toshio, foregrounds the second dynamic. Atomic-bomb literature’s articulations of human-on-human violence have received considerable attention, but this corpus’s exposures of human-on-nonhuman violence are also significant. Like most avant-garde writing, both Woman in the Dunes and Collection of Atomic Bomb Poems propose radical change and innovation in the symbolic, artistic, social, and political fields. But these works – the former implicitly and the latter explicitly – also call for change and innovation in how human beings think about and interact with the nonhuman.   
            Abé’s Woman in the Dunes, one of Japan’s best known avant-garde novels, introduces Niki Junpei, a teacher and amateur entomologist who one August afternoon travels to a remote section of Japan’s seacoast to look for insects. Walking across a desolate and increasingly sandy landscape, Niki finds himself in an impoverished village where many houses are below sand level, some by more than twenty meters: “Before long, all the houses seemed to be built in hollows dug out of the slope of the sand. The slope of the sand became higher than the rooftops. Each row of houses sank deeper into the sand hollows. The slope [of the road] suddenly got steeper. It must have been at least twenty meters to the roofs of the houses. What kind of life did they lead down there?”9 Niki soon learns more than he had bargained for about this village. An elderly resident arranges for him to spend the night at the home of a local widow, located at the bottom of a sandpit; the following morning he discovers that the ladder to the top of her sand hollow has been removed and that he has been imprisoned in the dunes. The remainder of the novel consists of Niki’s experiences in the hollow – his unsuccessful attempts at escaping, the Sisyphean battle against sand that threatens to bury him alive, his tumultuous relationship with the woman of the dunes, and his crow trap turned water supply, which in the end gives him so much hope for the future that he does not take advantage of the long-awaited rope ladder when it is lowered into his hole. The body of the novel concludes: “There was no need to escape quickly. On the round-trip ticket he now held, destination and place of return were blanks for him to fill . . . He might as well postpone his escape”(144). Seven years later, we are told, Niki has still not returned home.                               
            A sensation since its publication, translated into several dozen languages and adapted into a prize-winning surrealistic film by Teshigahara Hiroshi (1927-2001) in 1964, Woman in the Dunes has garnered considerable critical attention both in Japan and abroad. Niki has been discussed as “the very personification of the alienation of modern life,”10 as a man who, “recognizing that loneliness and impatience are nothing more than confusion and ignorance, anticipates finally being able to stand at the beginning of a new pathway of human relations”11; the village he encounters has been interpreted as “a critique of the fate of the traditional rural village in modern, urban, capitalist Japan,”12 the sand dunes as signifying the “wasteland” of twentieth-century Japan,13 and the novel itself as forcing the reader “into an acute self-awareness of the absurdity of the human condition.”14   
            And these assessments, explicitly promoted by passages in Woman in the Dunes, are well-founded. Even before arriving in the dunes, Niki had likened the world and his students to sand, noting, “I brought up the example of sand [with my students] ……because ultimately isn’t the world like sand?” (61). In addition, Niki’s obsession with insects is interpreted by colleagues and strangers as:
Proof of mental flaws. Even in children, unusual fancy for insect collecting often indicates an Oedipus complex. Children compensate for their unsatisfied desires by eagerly sticking pins into the dead bodies of insects that they never need fear will escape. And not giving this up once they become adults is a clear sign that the condition has worsened. So it is no accident that entomologists often have a great appetite for possessions and that they are extremely reclusive, kleptomaniacs, and gay. So from this point it is but a step to pessimism and suicide . . . Actually, that the man had never confided his hobby to anyone itself seemed to prove that he was aware that there was something funny about it (7-8).15
But the narrator immediately debunks these assumptions, claiming them groundless because Niki’s body was never found. Even more significantly, he follows his comment that the authorities pronounced Niki dead seven years after he went missing with a lengthy narrative on a Niki still very much alive: the remainder of the novel – which tells Niki’s story from his appearance at “S [train] station” near the dunes to his decision to stay in the dunes – partially discredits the authorities, and by extension the speculators. Not all is metaphor. Indeed, a closer look at the novel reveals much at play concerning human interactions with the nonhuman. What if instead of completely metaphorizing the sand, and reading Niki’s and the villagers’ struggles with the sand and with each other only as symbolizing the absurdities of twentieth-century existence, we also analyze the sand as emblematic of one aspect of the nonhuman? Encouraging such a reading are the novel’s many passages concerning the physical properties of sand – including the diameter of its grains, its formation, its endless movement, as well as its destructive properties. Understanding the sand as emblematic of one aspect of the nonhuman allows not only for a more comprehensive appreciation of Abé’s novel, but also a better understanding of human/nonhuman dynamics and possibilities.         
            On the one hand, Woman in the Dunes depicts the nonhuman as completely overwhelming the human; in this novel human beings are caught in a thankless struggle against a vicious nonhuman that can be restrained only by ceaseless physical labor. Niki speaks abstractly about the necessity of adapting, the importance of moving with, rather than fighting against the dunes: he wonders, “Certainly, sand was not suitable for existence. Yet was a fixed state utterly indispensable? . . . If we were to quit this fixed existence and to give ourselves up to the fluidity of the sand, competition would come to an end” (13). He even hallucinates about moving with the flow. But he quickly discovers that although possible, human survival is precarious in this environment; struggles are many and comforts few. And Niki observes that this has been true for generations; the same sand currents that threaten his new home also destroyed and devoured prosperous cities and great empires: “The ancient cities, whose immobility not a soul had doubted……could not overcome the law of the flowing 1/8 mm. diameter sand” (29). The sands also damage much of the nonhuman. As the narrator remarks, “The sands never rested. Quietly, but reliably, they assaulted and destroyed the surface of the earth” (13). Flies are one of the few species able to survive such conditions: “they were okay even in environments where other insects could not live, places like deserts, where all other living things perished” (11).
            But on the other hand, Woman in the Dunes does not depict human beings as completely helpless vis-à-vis all nonhuman bodies. To be sure, Abé’s novel – in sharp contrast with Nagatsu’s Collection of Atomic Bomb Poems – does not portray significant human abuse of the nonhuman. But several metaphors and similes used to illustrate similarities between human beings and nonhuman animals suggest parallels between the impact of sand on most everything it encounters and the human impact on parts of the nonhuman. Particularly pertinent in this regard is the narrator’s claim that, imprisoned in the dunes, Niki was “an animal that finally realizes the gap in the fence through which it was trying to escape in fact is nothing more than the entrance to its cage……a fish that, after striking its snout how many times, finally sees that the glass of the goldfish bowl is a wall it cannot penetrate” (76). The powerful metaphor of the nonhuman animal caged by human beings draws attention to human confinement, even mistreatment, not only of human beings but also of nonhuman animals.
            In addition, Niki appears to take human mistreatment of nonhuman animals as a right, and one of which he actively avails himself. After all, he has enjoyed sticking pins into insects since childhood; his aim in going to the dunes is to discover and bring back to the city a new species that will grant him everlasting fame. Moreover, although he compares his initial experiences in the dunes with those of a beetle or mouse that has been lured to an inhospitable environment, he quickly reassures himself that because he is not an animal, the village leaders and their minions cannot force him to work. But of course they do, just as they have forced so many others. Somewhat more ironically, after binding and gagging the woman, Niki declares, “I am a human being and you can’t simply chain me like a dog” (65). Yet he treats this woman like the very nonhuman animal he declares he is not. The most obvious commentary here is on human-on-human abuse: the village leaders abuse Niki and the villagers, and Niki abuses the woman in the dunes. Just as the sand overwhelms most everything in its path, powerful human beings, or at least those enjoying relatively more strategic positions, overwhelm human beings in positions of lesser power.
            But focusing exclusively on intra-human relationships, as does most scholarship on Woman in the Dunes, diverts attention from the novel’s references to human mistreatment of the nonhuman. Most noteworthy in this regard is the novel’s brief yet suggestive discourse on flies. As mentioned above, flies are depicted as remarkably adaptable, the only organisms capable of surviving truly unforgiving desert environments (11). But as invincible as they are vis-à-vis the sand, they are to some extent at the mercy of human beings, some of whom imprison if not kill them. In fact, metaphorizing Niki’s incarceration in the dunes, the narrator comments that, frustrated that he cannot leave his new prison to purchase his own cigarettes and saké, Niki “was a big black fly that had believed it was assiduously flying, but that in fact was simply rubbing its snout against the window pane” (72). Human beings can be more threatening to insects than are the dunes. To be sure, Abé’s narrative does not vigorously pursue this dynamic. There is no explicit environmental message here, at least not in any conventional sense. In fact, the novel concludes with Niki discovering, via his accidental pump, how to work with, rather than against, the dunes (the nonhuman). Yet this move too is ambiguous: Niki has unearthed a relatively simple means of extracting water from the sand, but taking advantage of this finding necessitates continuing, rather than abandoning (as he originally had planned), his endless shoveling (i.e. displacing) of the sand.
            Woman in the Dunes opens space for reconceptualizing relationships between human beings and the nonhuman. By invoking human imprisonment and even destruction of the nonhuman, the very discourse that highlights human abuse of the human in fact calls attention to human abuse of both. The sand – at once demonstrating the potential destructiveness of the nonhuman (when read more literally) and the potential destructiveness of the human (when read more figuratively) – complicates matters. Its presence points to the destructiveness, the endurance, and the vulnerability of both human beings and the nonhuman. And it is these ambiguities that infiltrate, intervene, and complicate political, social, and cultural behaviors.
Like Abé Kōbō’s novel Woman in the Dunes, Nagatsu Kōsaburō’s edited Collection of Atomic Bomb Poems depicts extreme human/nonhuman interfaces. But while Woman in the Dunes highlights a nonhuman entity overwhelming and destroying both other nonhuman entities and human beings, Nagatsu’s Collection of Atomic Bomb Poems reveals the devastating afterlives of the August 1945 nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Two of the most blatant examples of enacted human desire, these bombings stand out from other atrocities not in terms of numbers of people killed or square miles destroyed; more people were killed and more square miles destroyed in the firebombings of Tokyo and other major Japanese cities during the Second World War than in the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rather, as the first tactical deployment of nuclear weapons, the strikes on these two targets revealed more than anything the fragility of existence, demonstrating just how easily people could annihilate both one another and the nonhuman. More than six decades later, policy specialists and activists continue to debate the future of nuclear weapons in the face of persistent proliferation and ominous threats of use.
            Japanese literature of the atomic bomb – a socially and politically engaged corpus that rarely adheres to conventional literary forms and often is extremely fragmented – is an understudied segment of the Japanese avant-garde. Its most obvious focus is the high human cost of the bombings, both in their immediate aftermath and in following decades; many texts expose the long-term consequences of exposure to radiation, which invaded and indiscriminately damaged those human bodies it did not annihilate outright. Much literature of the atomic bomb explicitly condemns continued nuclear proliferation, as well as the world’s growing dependence on nuclear power, because of the dangers such activities pose to the future of human societies; the condition of the nonhuman is depicted as a concern only if it threatens human beings. But a number of creative texts, including selections in Nagatsu’s Collection of Atomic Bomb Poems, also portray damage to the biotic and abiotic nonhuman as itself deplorable.         
            Nagatsu’s anthology features poems on the atomic bombings and their aftermaths by 181 writers, most of whom are Japanese, produced in the six decades following the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; it also includes a handful of essays on topics similar to those addressed in the poems. This collection involves some of Japan’s most celebrated writers of the atomic bomb, including Tōge Sankichi (1917-1953), Kurihara Sadako (1912-2005), and Hara Tamiki (1905-1951), as well as a number of lesser known writers; many poems were previously published elsewhere, but some, solicited for this collection, appear here for the first time. Poets are identified by their dates, places of birth and residence, and principal publications; survivors and those who visited Hiroshima/Nagasaki shortly after the bombings and were exposed to radiation are recognized as such. The anthology is divided into six sections: poems written between 1945 and 1959, a section each for poems of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and a final section of poems written after the turn of the twenty-first century. Interestingly, this last section contains by far the most poets and poems; in fact, the total numbers of twenty-first century poems and poets both exceed those of all the other sections combined, pointing to increasing anxiety over Japan and the world’s future under the nuclear shadow, or at least to an effort to publish new writing on nuclear concerns.
            Collection of Atomic Bomb Poems offers diverse typologies of human/nonhuman interactions. As with most literature of the atomic bomb, the anthology’s principal focus is human suffering caused by the anthropogenically affected nonhuman, particularly irradiated air, water, and soil, as well as irradiated nonhuman organisms. For instance Kurihara Sunao’s (1953–) straightforward “Bakuhatsu wa mō owatta” (The Explosion Is already Finished) reads simply: “Irradiated/ air/ Irradiated/ water/ Irradiated/ milk/ Plentiful/ even in spinach . . ./ Popeye/ Cannot move/ Because he ate irradiated spinach . . ./ Every day/ Children drink 400 cc.’s/ of irradiated/ milk./ I’ve been drinking it for seven days now/ When/ will we die?”16 The explosion itself is “over” but the poisons unleashed in this explosion still threaten human beings. In contrast, a handful of poems focus on the impact of the bombings on the nonhuman, while a number call attention to the destruction of both the human and the nonhuman. Most intriguing, however, are those selections that reveal the paradoxical implications of seemingly unaffected or recovered nonhuman bodies (e.g. freshly sprouting greenery): several poems suggest that the greener the city, the more human and nonhuman devastation is concealed, and the greater the potential for relaxed vigilance and further destruction of both.
            A handful of poems in Collection of Atomic Bomb Poems focus primarily on nonhuman devastation. For instance, while Katō Shō’s (1953–) “Mururoa no shiroi nami” (White Waves of the Mururoa Atoll) describes the people of the Samoa and Cook Islands as “trembling in the sea and sky,” it portrays the biotic and abiotic nonhuman as severely damaged. The poem speaks of “corpses of thousands, no tens of thousands of fish” floating in the waters of the South Pacific and of a loudly weeping ocean “ruined by nuclear pollution” (173).17 Similarly, Shimomura Kazuko’s (1932–) poem “Bikō” (Faint Smell) reminds the reader that the bodies of human beings were not the only bodies destroyed by the atomic blasts. The poem begins, “The atomic bomb that people made didn’t kill just people. It also killed trees/ The old camphor trees at Kokutaiji, natural treasures, were blasted, and flattened at their roots” (125). Ibuse Masuji (1898-1993) likewise refers to the fate of the camphor trees in Kuroi ame (Black Rain, 1965), Japan’s most famous novel of the atomic bomb: “The camphor trees were said to be more than one thousand years old, but today they had been brought to an end.”18 
           Other poems in Collection of Atomic Bomb Poems focus on the joint struggle of human beings and the nonhuman in the wake of the atomic bombings. While Nagase Kiyoko’s (1906-1995) “Metsubō kidō” (Orbit of Destruction) merges references to human with those to nonhuman suffering, Makabe Jin’s (1907-1984) “Midori osanaku” (Young Green) moves from nonhuman to human suffering, and Kim Suson’s (1939–) “Kuroi tsume (Hachigatsu muika ikō: Hiroshima wa Hiroshima ni natta)” (Black Nails [After August 6: Hiroshima became Hiroshima]) from human to nonhuman suffering.
         Nagase writes in “Orbit of Destruction”:
         The earth became a victim . . .
         Beautiful bodies . . . into lumps
         Even surprised people into rags and rubbish. . .
         Since that time ashes minute like pollen
         have been lightly wafting in space.
         The fluttering of the poison is silently, silently drawing the curtain on the
         In the middle of the purple green out in the open sea
         voiceless plankton writhe in agony,
         and they gradually flow over here . . .

         Should our distress go unheard by people
         Like the distress of the plankton?
         Our mingled screams sucked into the whirlpool (36).

People and plankton here are both in agony, but their screams risk going unheard.
            Makabe Jin’s “Young Green,” on the other hand, moves from nonhuman to human suffering. Although the poem ties the latter closely with the former, the significance of damage to the nonhuman transcends its impact on human beings. “Young Green” begins with observations on the condition of the nonhuman in Hiroshima a decade after the bombing, contrasting the material prosperity of the city with its besieged vegetation; the poet, then turning primarily to human struggles, vows to repair, and to prevent, what damage he can:
            Did you see?
            the prosperity of the city of deltas after ten years? . . .        
            Did you see?
            that Hiroshima’s green is young?
            Did you see that the earth does not nurture green and that the green
                still does not cover the earth
            Did you see the injured trees of Mt. Hiji? . . .

            You probably saw.
            The summer flowers of Hiroshima, red crepe myrtle and oleanders.
            They look destitute, pale, like lost seasons,
            Trembling in the distress of the decayed earth.
            Come back, come back, life of flowers!
            My screamed desire is useless . . .

            When poison has passed into the sky, into the ground,
            and the body is a living ruin that at any moment could melt like thin ice
            can we believe,
            that the world is not a ruin? . . .

            I will block the cloud, the ashes, the black rain,
            and the invitation to destruction
            with the scab made by the fires.
            With this skin, I will testify to the merchants of death
            so that no one will lose again
            what I have lost (48-49).

            Kim Suson’s “Black Nails” moves in the opposite direction, the poet focusing for most of the text on the extreme human suffering that resulted from the atomic bombings, suffering experienced by both Japanese and their colonial Korean subjects. But he ultimately acknowledges that this suffering transcends the human:    
            Colonial Korea
            Forcibly taken away     atom-bombed
            Resentments piling up twofold, threefold
            Return home
            newborns have a high count of white blood cells
            and are left lying without treatment

            Thanks to radiation,
            there are people sprouting black nails
            that grow longer and longer,  curl up, and become strings.
            I knit the strings into a hat . . .
            The hat looked like the earth.

            go to apologize to the earth (181-182).

Concerned not just with human suffering, “White Waves of the Mururoa Atoll,” “Faint Smell,” “Orbit of Destruction,” “Young Green,” and “Black Nails” employ varying artistic strategies to call attention to the devastation the atomic bombs have wreaked on the nonhuman. Unlike the majority of creative writing on the atomic bombs, these poems depict damage to the nonhuman not only as negatively impacting human beings, but also as something to be lamented, and prevented, for its own sake.
            Most interesting, however, are those poems that call attention to the paradoxes inherent in (apparent) recovery of the nonhuman. As Chris Pearson notes in Scarred Landscapes: War and Nature in Vichy France, the nonhuman can just as easily conceal as reveal atrocities: “The natural environment is not a reliable preserver of memory. As well as being oblivious to human concerns to remember the past, nature is an active force with the ability to cover up, change or challenge sites of historical significance.”19 For instance, as the poet asks in Makabe Jin’s “Young Green”:  “You likely saw./ The seven rivers that run so clearly/ reflecting the image of every butterfly, missing not a one,/ flowing into the ebbing tide of the sea./ Where do they harbor the afterimages of the bloody river, the valley of corpses?”(49). Other poems in Collection of Atomic Bomb Poems suggest that although a (re)flourishing nonhuman can give hope to people in despair, it also can camouflage very real damage. In so doing it can give people near and far implicit license to continue their battles without deeper consideration of the disparate consequences of their actions. The sentiments of a Japanese principal shortly after World War II concerning the rapid recovery of some nonhuman species, cited in Isakawa Masomi’s (1930–) “Kosumosu no hana” (Cosmos Flower), echo numerous voices in postwar Hiroshima and Nagasaki; ultimately, however, the recovery (human and nonhuman) of the bombed city is linked to the failure to prevent the outbreak of war in other sites: 
For ten years even grass won’t grow at the epicenter of the blast
Despite rumors like this
already by autumn weeds had sprouted from the rubble
In a corner of the desolate ruined school building
I saw a cosmos flower . . .
All right, [I thought], I’ve somehow got to quickly rent a school building 
and start up classes again . . .
It’s already been thirty years [since that speech]
Hiroshima has been remarkably restored
but there always is a war going on, somewhere in the world (72).
Seeing a blooming flower a decade before he thought he would inspires the principal to resume educating the city’s children. But the final lines reveal the paradoxes and suggest potential unintended consequences of rapid recovery: thirty years after the blast, and in fact long before that, the city looks nearly “normal.” And so, it is implied, outsiders have little incentive to resolve their own conflicts peacefully.
            Nakaoka Jun’ichi’s (1937–) “Midori ga shitatari” (Green Trickles) addresses this conundrum more directly. The poet criticizes the makeshift measures to control radioactive waste that were implemented at Chernobyl following its 1986 nuclear power-plant disaster. He then remarks: “The dripping green of ‘Beautiful Japan’/ Completely conceals this danger-filled scene” (227). “Green Trickles” reveals how by covering up the past, the recovered landscape almost invites continued abuse, both of its own and more distant bodies.   Nakaoka’s reference to “Beautiful Japan” (utsukushii Nihon) also mocks the Japanese writer Kawabata Yasunari’s (1899-1972) Nobel Prize acceptance speech “Utsukushii Nihon no watakushi” (Myself of Beautiful Japan, 1968) and anticipates the irony both of former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzō's (1954–) remarks, upon assuming office in 2006, concerning Japan’s “beautiful natural environment,” and of the recent poetry anthology Genbaku shishū – hachigatsu (Collection of Atomic Bomb Poems, August, 2008), which juxtaposes poems on the horrors of the atomic bombings with color photographs of a thriving nonhuman.20 The “dripping green” of many landscapes, both physical and textual, conceals anthropogenic abuse and destruction of both human beings and the nonhuman.
            The full extent of the impacts of enacted human desires on human beings and the nonhuman likely will never be known. But one of the great challenges for twenty-first century scholars is to attain a deeper understanding of human/nonhuman interactions across time and space, including how societies have perceived and constructed these interactions, an understanding without which we will not be able to alleviate the pressing problems, much less crises, that have faced both human beings and the nonhuman for generations and that are becoming increasingly acute. As I show in Ecoambivalence, Ecoambiguity, and Ecodegradation, literature provides few explicit solutions. In fact, it often raises more questions than it answers. But this is perhaps precisely the point. Literature’s deep engagement with the many paradoxes of the experienced world, as well as with the diverse and often conflicting scientific, social scientific, and humanistic narratives of this world, offers multiple perspectives on human/nonhuman interactions, perspectives that are vital to transforming consciousness, understanding, and ultimately behavior.               

1. Scott Slovic, Going Away to Think: Engagement, Retreat, and Ecocritical Responsibility (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2008), p. 27.

2. Rhoads Murphey, “Asian Perspectives of and Behavior toward the Natural Environment,” in Landscapes and Communities on the Pacific Rim: Cultural Perspectives from Asia to the Pacific Northwest,ed. Karen K. Gaul and Jackie Hiltz (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2000), p. 36.

3. Mark Elvin, The Retreat of the Elephants: An Environmental History of China(New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), p. 321.

4. Susan Rubin Suleiman, Subversive Intent: Gender, Politics, and the Avant-Garde (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), p. 12.

5. Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), pp. 56-57.

6. Suleiman, p. xv.

7. Suleiman, p. 18.

8. Tyrus Miller, Singular Examples: Artistic Politics and the Neo-Avant-Garde (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2009), p. 3.

9. Abe Kōbō, Suna no onna, in Abe Kōbō zenshū 6 (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1972), p. 10.

10. David Pollack, Reading against Culture: Ideology and Narrative in the Japanese Novel (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), p. 128.

11. Sasaki Kiichi, “Gūwa ni shika kokuji dekinai: Ningen kankei no atarashii katachi,” in Abe Kōbō zensakuhin 6 (Tokyo: Shinchōsha, 1972), p. 3.

12. Pollack, p. 128.

13. Susan J. Napier, Escape from the Wasteland: Romanticism and Realism in the Fiction of Mishima Yukio and Ōe Kenzaburō (Cambridge: Harvard University, Council on East Asian Studies, 1991), p. 13.

14. J. Thomas Rimer, A Reader’s Guide to Japanese Literature: From the Eighth Century to the Present (New York: Kodansha International, 1988), p. 179.

15. Much scholarship on Woman in the Dunes addresses Niki’s interest in insects, but for the most part reads this connection symbolically (as indicating, for instance, an obsession with details), rather than as pointing to human/nonhuman interactions.

16. Nagatsu Kōsaburō, Suzuki Hisao, Yamamoto Toshio, eds., Genbakushi 181 ninshū, 1945-2007 (Tokyo: Kōru Sakkusha, 2007), pp. 190-91.

17. The Mururoa Atoll was only one of several sites where France conducted nuclear tests from the 1960s through the 1990s.

18. Ibuse Masuji, Kuroi ame, in Ibuse Masuji zenshū 5(Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1975), p. 97.

19. Chris Pearson, Scarred Landscapes: War and Nature in Vichy France (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), p. 168.

20. This anthology is divided into three parts: children’s poems on the atomic bombings, poems on the atomic bombings, and poems calling for peace; the three parts are separated by several pages of background on the bombing of Hiroshima, that of Nagasaki, and subsequent nuclear testing and the antinuclear movement, respectively. Interestingly, most of the poems are accompanied by color photographs, almost all of which depict a thriving nonhuman. In contrast, the collection contains only six photos of atomic ruin, all of which are in black and white; these photographs are separated from the poems and appear in three sets of facing pages: a burnt watch, a schoolgirl’s summer dress, human bone buried in melted tile, a student’s jacket, a second watch, and a cluster of half-melted bottles. Sakai Izumi, ed., Genbaku shishū – hachigatsu (Tokyo: Gōdō Shuppan, 2008), pp. 13-14, 42-43, 88-89.