Making Modernism Useful

Making Modernism Useful: Trans-Pacific Exchanges in Postwar Japan

Hiromi Ochi (Senshu University), Yuko Yamamoto (Chiba University), Mary A. Knighton (Aoyama Gakuin University)

This panel spotlights William Faulkner in Japan to explore state-sponsored trans-Pacific exchanges in American Modernism during the Cold War. It asks why and how the U.S. government used Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner for propaganda purposes, which shaped his reception in postwar Japan. American Modernism proved useful as a tool to promote American liberal humanism and as a weapon to combat communism. The consequences of this project for Japan’s politics, culture, society, and structures of knowledge production, persist to this day. Citizens, artists, and intellectuals in Japan continue to respond in diverse ways to U.S. propaganda efforts since the Cold War. By examining the postwar political and aesthetic uses to which both the U.S. and Japan put William Faulkner, this panel aims to ask new questions about Modernism’s relationship to politics while unraveling some tangled misconceptions about the transplanting of American values in Japan.

This panel examines the vested interests of U.S. governmental institutions in using modernist literature as cultural diplomacy in Japan. It argues that Faulkner acted as cultural ambassador on his visit to Japan in 1955, expressing a benevolent paternalism by which not only Japan’s future writers but its youth in general might learn something from the U.S. through its cultural proxy. Hiromi Ochi explicates the institutionalization of American Modernism through libraries and seminars in Japan during and after the American-led Occupation, and how that culminated in Faulkner’s visit to Japan. Yuko Yamamoto analyzes U.S. Information Agency documentary films on Nobel Laureates Faulkner and Japanese physicist Hideki Yukawa, showing how these leaders in literature and science, respectively, were portrayed as embodiments of American-style patriarchal power. Mary A. Knighton takes up the fictional works of Faulkner and Nakagami Kenji to argue that their strikingly impotent father figures act as paradoxical metaphors of resistance to modern institutional forces.

Interested scholars are invited to send their proposal, including a short bio and 300-word abstract, to modernism@ugent.be by 15 February 2023. The proposal must include the title of both the individual paper and the panel session.