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Gender, race, and nation in modern Japanese and Taiwanese literatures : a comparative study of women’s literary production Chen, Mei-Yao

Abstract

This dissertation examines and compares representations of female subjectivity in selected literary texts by women writers from modern Japan and Taiwan. Particular attention is paid to narrative constructions of gender, race, and nation as these configure subjectivity. The use of a comparative framework of analysis provides a more nuanced understanding both of the specific authors addressed and the gendered nature of modern literary production in these two countries that share such a complex colonial and postcolonial history. The dissertation begins by situating the literary works addressed in the socio-historical context from which they emerged. The analysis of the literary works incorporates critical concepts and insights by postcolonial theorists such as Gayatri Spivak, and Trinh T. Minh-Ha, as well as feminist and gender theorists such as Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray. The five critically-acclaimed women writers under discussion are Kanai Mieko, Enchi Fumiko, and Oba Minako from Japan, and Li Ang, and Zhu Tianxin from Taiwan. In each chapter one writer from Japan is paired with one from Taiwan according to the thematic similarities of their works. Themes that I have chosen for comparison include the female body, feminine sexuality, man-slaughtering, women's language, and geographic/temporal displacement. These themes appear frequently and conspicuously in the fiction of the most important female writers of postwar Japan and Taiwan, and as such provide valuable points of entry for the critical exploration of identity issues of gender, race, and nation. Apart from similarities of theme, structure, and writing strategy, this comparative study also explores the differences between Japanese and Taiwanese women's writing in the modern period. As Taiwan's complicated colonial history differentiates its postcoloniality from that of Japan, national identity often emerges as a crucial issue in Taiwanese women's writing; this is less often the case in the work of Japanese women writers. My elucidation and discussion of these differences counters the Orientalist tendency to treat all non-Western countries as a homogenous block, on the erroneous assumption that there is one fundamental experience of coloniality that all colonized nations share. By examining the residual influences of colonialism in postcolonial Japan and Taiwan, this dissertation contributes to the critical exploration/interrogation of the features of both extra-Asian and intra-Asian colonialisms in general, and their effects on gendered literary production in particular.

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