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The Writing of Disaster - Literary Representations of War, Trauma and Earthquakes in Modern Japan


Leith Morton

This book analyzes the literature that emerged from World War II. It also examines the literature that resulted from the two major earthquakes that have struck Japan over the course of over the last hundred years. The small number of volumes previously published examining the literature of war and earthquakes in Japan have almost always focused exclusively on fiction while this volume focuses mainly on poetry. This volume breaks new ground in its attempt to draw together and analyze the literature produced by these tragedies as a single phenomenon. It provides a new template for the literature of trauma produced by such events as the earthquake that accompanied the tsunami and nuclear meltdown in northeast Japan in 2011.

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2. Writing in Extremis: Wartime Tanka Poetry

Chapter Two


It is not the “best” who survive (they are the ones who get killed first); war involves the survival of the worst—the fittest. Primo Levi (a survivor of Auschwitz) put it best: “It is the impression that the others died in your place; that you are alive gratis, thanks to a privilege you have not earned, a trick you played on the dead!” […] “We, the survivors are not the true witnesses” he added in another work; those best placed to bear witness died, not despite their valour but because of it. Those even better placed can’t bear witness; they return home mute because they have touched bottom. The survivors who can write or talk about their experiences are the ones who have survived because of their prevarications, or abilities, or simply good luck—those are the soldiers who have not looked the Gorgon in the face […]. All of which also reminds us why many soldiers choose not to survive; that those who go to their certain death running headlong into machine gun fire do so because that is what the men to the left and the right of them are doing. Over the centuries, writes Sebastian Junger, men have chosen to die in battle with their friends rather than flee on their own and perhaps, survive […]. Survival is often a choice, one that men have to live with for the rest of their lives.

From Men at War by Christopher Coker1

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