Recently Read: Hiroshima Traces

November 11, 2008

hiroshimatraces1The concept of “in-betweenness”, mentioned early by Lisa Yoneyama in Hiroshima Traces: Time, Space, and the Dialectics of Memory is one that can be found throughout the book. She is working on the nuances and subtleties between categories, doing the memory work that resides where these binaries meet. For example, Yoneyama challenges the binary between victims and victimizers and offers a theory of national history that allows for a more nuanced reading of these categories. She utilizes Walter Benjamin’s interpretation of historiography, focusing on the counterpoints of history, those moments, events or objects that interrupt a universal and continuous narrative of history. It allows then for the disjuncture between past and present to be reconciled in a way that enables the past to affect current struggles for social change.

Yoneyama describes the conflict that resides in Hiroshima regarding its past and its future. The past, often characterized by “dark” memories of destruction and tragedy stands in contrast to the discourse of an imagined future of peace and prosperity. In the 1980s in particular the city embarked on re-imagining itself as a place for light, for brightness and cheerfulness, or “akurusa.” Public officials believed that memory could be utilized for the recasting of Hiroshima as a prosperous city that embodies both historical authenticity and a renewed push towards contemporary culture (through the Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art for example). By painting the history prior to the atomic bombing in a nostalgic light, and obfuscating the military history of the city, municipal officials and promoters of tourism cast Hiroshima as a city of peace and urban renewal. The promotion of tourism was itself framed as an act of peace, as was visiting the city as a tourist. Consumer activity in general was also incorporated into discourses of peace, which went hand in hand with economic prosperity.

Yoneyama also highlights the central myth of Hiroshima as a uniquely Japanese event. That tens of thousands of Koreans had lived in Japan as colonial subjects was largely glossed over in the discourses of hibakusha (literally translated to mean “bomb-affected people,” but usually translated simply to “survivors”). The position of the original memorial dedicated to Koreans affected by the atomic bomb and the proposal to move it to be within the Peace Park sparked much controversy and revealed the multiple subjectivities and positions in relation to narratives of survival. By exploring these complexities, Yoneyama sees the potential for these traces of Hiroshima, the testimonials, debates and representations, to contribute to a national narrative of victimhood and nationalism while at the same time undermining and obstructing the same processes. It is the dual nature of these memories of Hiroshima that give Yoneyama’s theories strength. 

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