Collective Memory and Identity in Japanese American Literature over Three Generations


Examination Thesis, 2005
105 Pages, Grade: 2,5

Excerpt

TABLE OF CONTENTS

TERMINOLOGY

PREFACE

I INTRODUCTION

II THEORY
A Collective Memory
1. History
2.Definition
a Maurice Halbwachs
b Jan and Aleida Assmann
3.Characteristics
a Construction
b Selection
4. Trajectory
B Collective Memory and
1. Collective Memory and History
2.Collective Memory and Canon
3.Collective Memory and Trauma
4. Collective Memory and Time
5.Collective Memory and Place
6.Collective Memory and Identity
a Identity
b (Ethnic) Counter Identity
i Orientalism
ii Stereotypes
c Collective Memory and Identity
7.Collective Memory and Resistance
8.Collective Memory and Literature
C Hegemony, Dialogue, Therapy
1. Antonio Gramsci
a Hegemony
b Collective Memory and Antonio Gramsci
2. Mikhail Bakhtin
a Language
b Carnival
c Collective Memory and Mikhail Bakhtin
3. Hayden White
a Narrative
b Therapy
c Text and Therapy
d Collective Memory and Hayden White
D Collective Memories
1. History
a The US - A Nation of Immigrants
b Japanese in the US
2. Collective Memory
a Collective Memory in the US
b Collective Memory in Japanese America

III THESIS: JAPANESE AMERICAN LITERATURE - COUNTER-HEGEMONY, DIALOGUE WITHTHE PAST, THERAPY

IV JAPANESE AMERICAN LITERATURE
A Issei Literature - Violet Kazue de Cristoforo'sMay Sky: There is Always Tomorrow. An Anthology of Japanese American Concentration Camp KaikoHaiku
1. Background Information
a Haiku and Kaiko Haiku
b The Editor
c The Book
d The Historical Circumstances
2. Observations and Interpretation
a Observations: Collective Memory
i Communicative Memory
ii Cultural Memory
b Interpretation
i The Camp Experience
ii Theoreticians' Relevance
c Summary
B Nisei Literature - Toshio Mori'sYokohama7California(1949)
1. Background Information
a The Author
b The Book
c The Historical Circumstances
2. Observations and Interpretation
a Observations: Collective Memory
i Communicative Memory
iiCultural Memory
b Interpretation
iThe Camp Experience
ii Theoreticians' Relevance
c Summary
C Sansei Literature — Dale Fututani'sDeath in Little Tokyo (1996)and Perry Miyake's21stCentury Manzanar (2002)
1. Background Information
a The Authors
i Dale Furutani
ii Perry Miyake
b The Books
i Death in Little Tokyo . 55ii21stCentury Manzanar
c The Historical Circumstances
2. Observations and Interpretation: Death in Little Tokyo
a Observations: Collective Memory
i Communicative Memory
ii Cultural Memory
b Interpretation
i The Camp Experience
ii Theoreticians' Relevance
c Summary
3.Observations and Interpretation: 21stCentury Manzanar
a Observations: Collective Memory
i Communicative Memory
ii Cultural Memory
b Interpretation
i The Camp Experience
ii Theoreticians' Relevance
c Summary

V CONCLUSION

AFTERWORD

ENDNOTES

WORKSCITED

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

TERMINOLOGY

There are many terms specific to a certain field of study, and when we are speaking of a field of study most people are not familiar with, defining the most frequently used terms is an important prerequisite to understanding. Even though this thesis examines literature and is therefore part of Literary Studies, probably well-known by most readers, it is also part of Ethnic Studies, more specifically of Asian American and Japanese American Studies. Since far less people are acquainted with the terminology specific to this field, I think it necessary to recapitulate very briefly some core terms concerning ethnicity and Japanese Americans.

To begin with, Japanese Americans, also called Nikkei, are Americans of Japanese ancestry. In my understanding, this term covers not only the children and grandchildren of the original immigrants but also the immigrants themselves for, upon their arrival in the US, these Japanese, who had left their homeland to live in a faraway country, developed differently from the members of their respective families in Japan because the social, historical, and political circumstances in the US changed the immigrants' identity and thus transformed them into Japanese Americans.

Japanese Americans are divided along generational lines and "defined in terms of birth order" (Takahashi 1997: 1o). The Issei, i.e. the first generation, are the original immigrants from Japan, the Nisei, i.e. the second generation, are their American-born offspring, and the Sansei and Yonsei, or third and fourth generation, are their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Nowadays, a fifth generation of so-called Gosei is slowly coming into existence. Moreover, due to interethnic and interracial mixing, the term Hapal has become an increasingly important term to refer to Americans who are one half of Japanese (or other Asian) ancestry and one half other. For them, too, the generational categories apply depending on the generational status their parents belong to. So one can, for instance, be a Hapa Nisei. I have the impression, though, that it is becoming more important for children of interracial or interethnic parents to refer to their Hapa status than to their generational status.

The last term that needs explanation is the term culture. According to Renato Rosaldo, there are two possible ways of understanding the word "culture" in an American context. When we are speaking of a certain degree of culture this derives from notions of "high culture" (Rosaldo 1993: 197). However, the concept of culture in general does not refer to high culture but is linked to the idea of the US as a "melting pot" implying that, by the process of acculturation, immigrants are stripped of their former cultures, i.e customs, norms, etc., and thus become American citizens, i.e people without culture (Rosaldo 1993: 209). This leads us to the — however incorrect — opposition of civilized versus cultural, an opposition which confines people with culture to marginal lands (Rosaldo 1993: 199):

"Curiously enough, upward mobility appears to be at odds with a distinctive cultural identity. One achieves full citizenship in the nation-state by becoming a culturally blank slate." (Rosaldo 1993: 201)

According to George Lipsitz, however, it is exactly this marginalizing culture that "exists as a form of politics, as a means of reshaping individual and collective practices for specified interests, and as long as individuals perceive their interest as unfulfilled, culture retains an oppositional potential." (Lipsitz 1990: 16 f.)

In other words, the reason why certain individuals are excluded from the American Dream becomes a weapon in the hands of these oppressed by shaping their identity and making them strong enough to reveal the contradictions between the Constitution, guaranteeing equality for everyone, and reality.

PREFACE

Before I begin with my thesis I want to make sure everyone understands that — like almost all cultural studies texts - it has fallen prey to structural functionalism in homogenizing a very diverse group of individuals for the sake of analysis. The Japanese American community is a very complex phenomenon and Japanese American identity is equally multifaceted depending on the different waves of immigration, the immigrants' origins, their religious beliefs, etc., which, themselves, are abstractions of reality. In fact,

"each diasporic community is shaped by its own specific histories of class, religion, language, race, and region. [.] dangers of totalizing tendencies." (Singh et al. 1996: 12)

With the abolition of the 1924 Oriental Exclusion Act in 1965, immigration from Japan to the US resumed and today, more than ever before, the classification of Japanese American immigrants into the generational categories of Issei, Nisei, Sansei, etc. has increasingly become confusing and useless at the same time. In the following, these terms are used in their pre-1965 usage because the literary texts I am analyzing are referring to those immigrants and their children and grandchildren who came to the US during what can be considered, according to Yuji Ichioka, the second major wave of immigration of Japanese to the US between 1908 and 1924 (Ichioka 1988: 3).

This thesis will look at a very small selection of literary works by Japanese Americans. Because it is limited in length, I consciously chose straight, male authors who grew up on the West Coast of the continental US. This allows me to circumvent the necessity to discuss the differences between Japanese Americans from the mainland and from Hawaii, from the West Coast and elsewhere, as well as double and triple oppression as, for instance, experienced by female minority writers due to their ethnicity/race and gender or by homosexual minority writers due to their ethnicity/race and sexuality, as well as — in the case of women — their gender.

Finally, I feel compelled to make readers aware of my own positionality as a German student of Japanese American Literature and culture. Having studied Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University in the Fall 2002 and Spring 2003 terms, I have been given an insight into what it means to be Asian American by Asian American instructors and fellow students. I have been confronted with diverse opinions on various issues and have tried to incorporate these different opinions into an opinion of my own. However, there is no such thing as an objective truth but we need to talk about truths in the plural for everyone's opinion is, among others, influenced by one's personal history, "embedded in local contexts, shaped by local interests, and colored by local perceptions." (Rosaldo 1993: 21)

Therefore, my own opinion, which is made up of many other people's personal opinions, is certainly not the ultimate truth in every respect but simply my personal interpretation, which may, in addition, be influenced by my own cultural and personal background and by my experiences as a student at San Francisco State, as well as the experiences of the people I met in San Francisco. I have tried to minimize the possibility that my interpretation is completely wrong by contacting those authors who are still alive, i.e. the Sansei writers, in order to avoid imposing my interpretation on them. Their responses to my questions will be included in my interpretation of their works.

I INTRODUCTION

Scholars agree that, today, collective memory has come to be a problem (Singh 1996: 297; Assmann 2002: 11). George Lipsitz sees the

"'refusal to remember' as the characteristic vice of out time. [.] easier to forget than to take on the burdens and responsibilities of remembering." (Lipsitz 1990: 22)

He goes on to explain that this is a symptom of postmodernity where

"change increasingly appears all that there is," [where] "there is no sense of progress which can provide meaning or depth and a sense of inheritance," [and where] "both the future and the past appear increasingly irrelevant." (Lipsitz 1990: 22)

In other words, linking Lipsitz' thoughts to the concept of identity, in the past, things improved slowly and allowed people to develop a sense of identity in reference to a more or less stable past. In postmodern times, however, things change quickly and the stable past needed to develop an identity is no longer provided for. Rather than belong to one group defined by its common past, nowadays, we belong to many different groups, we inhabit different cultural, social, and other worlds according to our interests, aims, etc. Stuart Hall speaks of an identity crisis because we no longer have an identity. In his opinion, the concept of identity has been replaced, in postmodern times, by the concept of identification, i.e. we have several different identities which are called upon at different times and under different circumstances, such as our ethnic identity, our national identity, our professional identity etc. (Hall 1994: 183).

Jan Assmann argues that collective memory remains alive for about forty years and begins to disappear with the people who actively remember certain past events. It is at this point, when the "inhabited" past vanishes, that the problem of preservation arises (Assmann 2002: 11). In order for collective memory to be passed on to the next generation, it needs to be stored in a medium not threatened by death. One such medium of storage is writing. What exactly this collective memory includes changes over time according to the social and cultural contexts (Assmann 2002: 19 ff.).

In the US exist quite a number of different collective memories explaining life from the point of view of competing ethnic, racial, political, social, and religious interests (Lipsitz 1990: 103). Since "memory, identity and cultural continuity are interrelated" (Assmann 2002: 16)2 we can conclude that by exploring the collective memory of marginalized ethnic groups we will learn more about what they think is important for the following generations' knowledge of the past in order to maintain an ethnic identity and to break with oppressive master narratives (Lipsitz 1990: 158).

This thesis will show that collective memory does not pose a problem to the whole of humanity but that it still exists in some spheres of in this case American life. Moreover, we will see how Japanese American collective memory, as it can be seen in the literature of three generations, has influenced — either unconsciously or consciously — the writing of the books in question and how it has changed according to the changing social and cultural circumstances. This literature will prove to be an active effort to counter the refusal to remember and gives a voice to a marginalized cultural group.

II THEORY

A Collective Memory

1. History

According to Lillian Weissberg the idea of collective or cultural memory is based upon an

"ars memoria in which buildings, objects, and places have turned into theaters that help us both to recall and to construct our own historical identity in the process." (Ben-Amos 1999: 18)

Already in the sixth century, the Greek poet Simonides stated that for the Romans the art of memory was one of the five major parts of rhetoric. According to Cicero, its technique was to link mental pictures of what was to be remembered to certain places. This kind of memory concerned mainly the personal sphere of life. (Assmann 2002: 29 f.)

In the eighteenth century, time became more important than place. Renaissance restored what had been forgotten earlier and national historiography was created, among others in order for rulers to legitimate their rule. Romanticism brought together memory and nostalgia, the longing for an ideal past. (Assmann 2003: 31; 54 f.; 86)

According to Weissberg the nineteenth century concentrated on history in order to counter the memory not wished for, as well as to save what should be remembered (Ben-Amos 1999: 11).

It was not until the twentieth century, especially its second half, that memory has become a social obligation not to forget certain events (Assmann 2002: 30). It is exactly this kind of collective memory this paper is about.

2. Definition

Collective memory, also called cultural memory at times, is based on Maurice Halbwachs' idea of the "mémoire collective," which is itself linked to Pierre Nora's idea that

"memory is something societies are imbued with" (Ben-Amos 1999: 17)

Jan and Aleida Assmann have reformulated and developed Halbwachs' views a little further.

a Maurice Halbwachs

For Maurice Halbwachs, memory is a social phenomenon. Referring to Aristotle for whom the human being is a social animal different from the animal as such because of its ability to communicate, Halbwachs claims that memory is created by communication and interaction in so-called "cadres sociaux," or social frames (Assmann 2002: 36 ff.).

b Jan and Aleida Assmann

Jan and Aleida Assmann took Halbwachs' concept and split it up into communicative and cultural memory (Assmann 2002: 45 ff).

Communicative memory concerns the recent past. It is natural, transmitted by actual witnesses, and disappears with its bearers when they leave the working world after about forty years. It covers the memories of everyday life of individuals and may persist as oral history for about three to four generations, or eighty to one hundred years. Over these three to four generations, however, what is remembered may change. After eighty to one hundred years, a "floating gap" occurs, followed by the official written history.

Cultural memory, on the other hand, does not recall everything concerning the past but only certain crucial events. Moreover, factuality of events is secondary to how they are remembered. This remembered past is transformed into a formative absolute, often mythic, past and elevated into art and literature. Its transmission is secured by particular people whose job it is to perpetuate memory. This transmission often takes place in the form of writing.

Communicative memory can be transformed into cultural memory. One example is the extinction of Jews in Europe during World War II. The historical fact, endured by Jews living in the 1940s and communicated to their children, has turned into the founding story of Jews in America in the form of "the Holocaust."

Both Jan and Aleida Assmann consider collective memory as functional because it is used to make sense of reality and to define one's identity and because it is aimed at cultural continuity (Assmann 2002: 297; Assmann 2003: 408 f.). By showing what we have in common with others we feel as part of a community, which provides us with an identity (Assmann 2002: 139).

In terms of what collective memory may contain, Aleida Assmann claims that collective memory unconsciously preserves what caused a maximum of emotion. After resting in forgetfulness for a certain period of time some kind of shock may cause it to resurface. Depending on the circumstances of remembering the original sense of what is remembered may be preserved or it may be given a new sense.

3. Characteristics

a Construction

Scholars agree that memory is not an identical copy of the past but that it is a socially constructed image of the past due to a current need for sense and the necessity to maintain a stable identity. In other words, authenticity is partly replaced by constructedness. The Assmanns have already noted that cultural memory has a predilection for the written word and this is so because language is the number one means of reality construction (Assmann 2002: 141). Some memories, or "managed misappropriations" (Lipsitz 1990: 80), can have such an impact as to become what E.J.Hobsbawm called "invented traditions." Already in the 19th century, these invented traditions were designed to "ease anxieties about disconnection from the past." (Lipsitz 1990: 180)

b Selection

Since memory is a construct different from reality with the aim of maintaining one's identity the person who remembers will select and highlight specific details of what really happened. These details are chosen according to the principle of difference and continuity because they are to help maintain or establish a much-needed sense of identity (Assmann 2002: 42).

4. Trajectory

According to Dorothy Noyes and Roger D. Abrahams collective memory goes through a four-stage process in its way towards invented traditions. The first level is customary memory based on a calendar schedule that makes people remember collectively certain events. The second level is practical traditionalizing, a process that inscribes the calendar custom in narrative, art, or custom. Due to a certain context, a group of people arrive at a consensus to remember certain things and these recollections serve as a guide as to how to interpret present actions and events. The third level is that of ideological traditionalizing, establishing a group of people as a unique community even if there may be similar ones somewhere. The fourth and last level is that of the invention of tradition. This stage is reached when the group whose existence was established in the third level is inscribed in memoirs, local histories, etc. As a consequence, different Americas are constructed by different groups. On the one hand, this reassures the center of the periphery's submission to hegemonic definitions, on the other hand, this may give power to the group concerned, maybe even enough power to become the center. (Ben-Amos 1999: 80 ff.)

B Collective Memory and

1. Collective Memory and History

According to Gurleen Grewal memory

"mak[es] us aware of the limitations of conventional historiography [.] elisions [.] repressions [.] silences [.] silencing also takes place within the oppressed community [.] deliberate amnesia." (Singh 1996: 141)

In other words, memory is not identical with history because history makes a coherent singular history out of the many facts that happen at a given time in a particular place. Depending on the context and the author, this coherent singular history excludes certain events and highlights others. Since contexts can change, history, itself, may have to endure changes. This singularity also brings with it "destructive binary oppositions," considered to be at the core of the historical method by Derrida (Lipsitz 1990: 29).

In the context of US history,

"den[ying] the memory of minorities and neglect[ing] the plurality of personal stories that shaped the American past" (Lipsitz 1990: 32) these destructive binary oppositions translate into bipolar race relations opposing black to white (Okihiro 1994: 33; 49). Foucault expressed it slightly differently in linking history to power and control (Lipsitz 1990: 29).

Collective memory on the other hand is not singular like history but plural. It is aimed at supporting identity and securing continuity.

2. Collective Memory and Canon

The concept of canon has changed quite a lot in recent times. Earlier, it was supposed to be there for guiding artists and critics of art regarding the question what art should be like and what it should be about (Assmann 2002: 119). However, this has changed in so far as nowadays the idea of a canon has come to be more concrete and focused not so much on a certain work of art but rather on a certain topic art should be about. Goody suggests that "the concept of sameness may be looser [.]; it may refer not to verbal identity but to some kind of unspecified structural similarity." (Singh 1996: 96)

This structural similarity is repeated in different variations over and over again and guarantees the continuity of the connective structure of a culture. It is this culture's "mémoire volontaire," i.e. it contains what the culture wants to remember because it provides a sense of identity and cultural continuity (Assmann 2002: 18).

The canon is constantly changing because every time and every group has their own canon. In the twentieth century, many different canons have emerged, either as transformations of existing canons or as contradictions to them, among them are anti­communist, anti-nationalist, religious fundamentalist, as well as feminist, ethnic and other thoughts (Assmann 2002: 129). According to Bloom, what these different canons have in common is a certain kind of "strangeness" or difference to other canons (Assmann 2003: 352).

3. Collective Memory and Trauma

Following Heiner Mueller, Aleida Assmann notes that memory and pain are interrelated. She reminds us of Proust's comparison of the impression a traumatic experience leaves in our subconscious with the way a camera turns reality into a picture. She continues to explain that what we remember in our minds is not as reliable as the memory of our body for scars and injuries and that, with Rousseau, feelings have come to be no longer just a reinforcement of memory as in Ancient Rome but have turned into the very core of memory itself (Assmann 2003: 245 ff.).

Moreover, trauma stabilizes an experience inaccessible to our mind but still existing somewhere in our subconscious like a shadow (Assmann 2003: 259). There are taboo words such as sin, infamy, coercion, fate, and shadow that cover up the traumatic experience and increasingly banishes it from our minds (Assmann 2003: 329).

Finally, according to Warburg, art and the collective memory stored in our subconscious are closely linked (Assmann 2003: 373) which is why it can, among others, be found in literature. Expressing this memory in art is an important step towards empowerment because the memory expressed in literature

"frees memory, even tragic memory, and transforms pain and denial into strength and power." (Singh 1996: 258)

4. Collective Memory and Time

Collective memory and time seem to be closely linked even though it does not look like critics agree how they are related to one another. Italo Stevens says, for instance, that the present rules the past, whereas, according to Proust, the past rules the present (Assmann 2003: 17) and Tamar Katriel considers memory

"a perpetually actual phenomenon, a bond tying us to the eternal present; history is a representation of the past." (Ben-Amos 1999: 100)

After reading quite a lot of different views as to the relation of collective memory and time, I have come to the conclusion that all of the above statements are true and that I would even go one step further and add a relation to the future. So, in my opinion, the past rules the present, the present rules the past, and both the past and the present influence the future.

Already Karl Marx stated that

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past." (Rosaldo 1993: 105)

This means that the present circumstances are always a consequence of past events, however, not only do we make our own history according to circumstances transmitted from the past but we also remember this history according to present needs. Since these present needs are constantly influenced by the changing because linearly progressing past, however, they may change and with it changes the way we remember a certain historical event. In the context of ethnic cultures, Lipsitz claims that

"ethnic cultures remain tied to their pasts in order to explain and arbitrate the problems of the present." (Lipsitz 1990: 135)

Changing political or social circumstances, for instance, may therefore translate into a shift in focus when remembering the past. This will later explain why and in how far the works of the Issei differ from that of the Nisei and Sansei, how we can explain a change in focus from internal to external and from ethnic to mainstream political.

5. Collective Memory and Place

Already the art of memory in Ancient Rome linked certain places to particular events in order to facilitate remembering. Pierre Nora spoke in this context of "les lieux de mémoire," or places of memory (Assmann 2002: 59 f.). Jan Assmann links this idea of a place of memory to identity in claiming that in order to establish itself as a community, a group of people tries to secure places that do not only provide the group with a social frame of interaction but also function as symbols of their identity and clues for remembering (Assmann 2002: 39).

However, Weissberg warns us that the places of memory are not to be mistaken for real places for even when time passes by and places disappear or change, the places of memory remain where they are (Ben-Amos 1999: 17). In other words, unlike real, material places places of memory are more like mental images of a real place and therefore time resistant. In Aleida Assmann's words, this development from a real place to a mental image of this place is the step from a generational place to a place of memory at the time social and cultural contexts change and the distance between the past and the present increases with the slow disappearance of actual witnesses (Assmann 2003: 338).

6. Collective Memory and Identity

a Identity

There are basically three different notions of identity: individual identity, personal identity, and collective identity.

According to Manfred Rosenbach, identity [in the sense of individual identity] is a person's conviction to remain the same person even if they or the world around them change. Moreover, identity defines a person as unique: neither can they be mistaken for someone else by their social surroundings, nor can they believe to be someone else themselves (Rosenbach 2003).

Personal identity, as defined by Jan Assmann, is a person's role or function in the social structure, along with their qualities and know-how (Assmann 2002: 131 f.)

Collective identity, on the other hand, is defined as a person's awareness of being part of a social structure.

All these different kinds of identities, however, share several characteristics: they are always a social construct and the product of a process of cultural differentiation that requires the existence of one or more other, opposed identities. Lisa Lowe argues that

"the articulation of differences dialectically depends upon a socially constructed and practiced notion of identity." (Singh 1996: 286 f.)

Moreover, they are all determined by a sense of cultural identity: In the case of individual identity, a person's sense of uniqueness may come from their cultural origin different from another person's cultural origin. In the case of personal identity, a person's role may be determined by their cultural background, as, for instance, when colored people are given fewer responsibilities than white people. And finally, as far as collective memory is concerned, there are two options: For ethnic Americans seeing themselves as part of their ethnic community's social structure, collective identity equals cultural identity, i.e. participation in their cultural heritage. However, if we consider Americans who see themselves as being part of the American social structure as far as their collective identity is concerned, their cultural identity may differ from their collective identity and may therefore concern only the spheres of life dealing with their participation in or identification with their cultural background, i.e. certain common rules and norms (Assmann 2002: 16 f.; 134).

b (Ethnic) Counter Identity

As already mentioned, one feature of identity is the existence of a different kind of identity we can oppose ourselves to. Once an identity is established by differentiation other identities may, in turn, be crafted by a group of people setting themselves apart from this newly established identity. According to Jan Assmann, in the case of minorities a "counter-identity" is established against the dominant culture by the hands of which they encountered oppression (Assmann 2002: 154). Omi and Winant call this counter identity "rearticulation."

"Social movements create collective identity by offering their adherents a different view of themselves and their world; different, that is, from the worldview and self-concepts offered by the established social order. They do this by the process of rearticulation, which produces new subjectivity by making use of information and knowledge already present in the subject's mind. They take elements and themes of her/his culture and traditions and infuse them with new meaning." (Omi 1994: 99)

I would add that in the case of the US the oppression of minorities does not so much come from the fact that Americans or better American supremacists have defined their own identity but that by defining their own identity they impose a different, clearly defined identity upon the minority culture. For Asians in the US, this imposed identity is very often a result of Orientalism and/or stereotyping.

When ethnic minorities assume an ethnic identity, this identity is usually very complex and serves to show that they can be many different things at the same time. (Singh 1996: 57). Especially today, however, the main purpose of this distinct identity is political, i.e. in assuming the identity the ethnic minority wants to achieve certain goals concerning their place in society (Assmann 2003: 140). The perpetuation of this identity, which is first of all a cultural production trying to explain why the group is the way they are depends on the creative labor of each generation (Singh 1996: 107).

i Orientalism

According to Edward Said, Orientalism is a way of defining and 'locating' Europe's "others." This enables Europe to define its own identity as the as the opposite of the Orient and the characteristics attributed to it. The Orient is either fascinating or abhorring to Europeans. In this way, the Orientalist images of primitivism, exoticism, mystery are held to be true and become the intellectual rationale for European control over "Orientals." This Eurocentric essentialization is usually based on binary moral absolutes.

ii Stereotypes

A stereotype basically pretends to be an authentic description of a person. This description is clearly defined and invariable. If the person thus described does not conform to the description, he or she is to believe that there is a need to conform to it and that he or she is expected to change in order to conform.

According to Lippmann, stereotypes are preconceived images, a kind of shortcut in our minds that allows us to react rather quickly in situations in which we are unable to verify reality.

Racial stereotypes in the US are aimed at the maintenance of the status quo of a (Western) society, i.e. a racial hierarchy with whites at the top and non-whites at the bottom. Their ultimate aim is the internalization of the stereotypes by the stereotyped. With time passing by and the stereotyped group accepting the stereotypes, white supremacists do not have to take care of the perpetuation of the stereotypes any longer for the stereotyped group has become passive and is no longer a socially, culturally, or creatively strong entity. This is what is generally called assimilation, acculturation, or simply integration into US society. c Collective Memory and Identity

Since identity is a social construct and based on the memory of a shared past (Assmann 2002: 16 f.) as well as of shared forgetfulness (Assmann 2003: 62) and since memory is constantly changing according to the present circumstances, we can conclude that identity is not static either but "always in the making" (Singh 1996: 71). Therefore, as identity depends on memory, we arrive at Locke's definition of a subject — contradicting the Cartesian view that you are because you think — claiming that you are because you remember (Assmann 2003: 97). The sense you give to your past and your present by remembering is the very backbone of lived identity (Assmann 2003: 257). In order for the memory to create a distinct identity, the memory needs to be memorized, recalled, and communicated, or, in other words, translated into literature, read, and collectively relived (Assmann 2002: 56).

7. Collective Memory and Resistance

When Hobsbawm speaks of invented traditions he is mainly talking about the context of national resistance (Assmann 2002: 83). According to David Palumbo-Liu for ethnic subjects

"Memory is the only way [.] to challenge the history covering up reality." (Singh 1996: 215)

In other words, rather than contradicting official history ethnic memory seeks to recover the histories of the ordinary people that are excluded from dominant historiography and provide new perspectives of history, i.e. an alternative history, in order to make people aware of the fact that there is no such thing as History but that there are only histories to be recalled from different points of view.

The purpose of this decontextualization of the historical fact and its recontextualization in a minority context is to possibly counter discrimination and to give a voice to the silenced (Ben-Amos 1999: 22). What is to be remembered, however, is often charged with emotions and cannot be expressed directly. So,

"A detour [is] the way to confront emotions very close to home. [.] reflect[s] the core contradictions of our lives indirectly enough to make discussion of them bearable." (Lipsitz 1990: xiv)

8. Collective Memory and Literature

This detour, very often takes the form of literature because, as we have already noted, memory has an affinity to the written word. To link this characteristic of memory to literature I want to refer to Mallarmé who said that everything in the world existed in order to end up as a book (Ben-Amos 1999: 210). Since we quite frequently have to remember traumatic events that are inaccessible to our minds language serves as an instrument of externalization expressing things we cannot speak about so easily (Assmann 2003: 188). The further advantage of writing memory down is that once written down what is transmitted remains independent from living people and can, therefore, outlive human beings as long as people can read (Assmann 2003: 137; 184).

One example of the fact that writers have come to be very important in keeping alive memories able to support identity is Walter Scott, the inventor of the historical novel. He reconstructed, i.e. remembered, history imaginatively and cofounded a new national consciousness in Scotland (Assmann 2003: 321).

C Hegemony, Dialogue, Therapy

1. Antonio Gramsci

a Hegemony

Whenever ethnic or other groups make contact with another group the question of integration and acculturation comes up. In this process, one of the groups will be dominated by the other and hierarchies of high culture, i.e. the dominant culture, and low culture, i.e. the dominated culture, are established. According to Omi and Winant, Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony is a condition necessary for this rule. The dominated group accepts the hegemony of the dominant group partly as a consequence of coercion, partly as a result of consent. This consent is a consequence of norms introduced by the dominant group and accepted as common-sensical by the dominated group. (Omi 1994: 66 f.)

Despite the norms inducing common sense introduced by the dominant group

"the hegemonic order is not monolithic or totalizing; the dominant tolerate alternative world views and, even more important, the dominated have a potential for resistance that might produce change, perhaps even a different hegemonic order." (Ben-Amos 1999: 180)

In other words, the US social and racial order is a highly "unstable equilibrium." This means that the dominant group can never be sure the social and racial order they have established will last. Any minute, emancipation on the part of those oppressed due to their race, gender, and/or class may occur that disrupts the existing order and establishes a new order that will be disrupted itself by the restoration of the old order. Omi and Winant claim that this movement between two orders is cyclical. However, they see a development in the way emancipation takes place from what they call a "war of maneuver" to a "war of position." The idea of a war of maneuver comes from the fact that earlier, i.e. until the 1960s, dominated groups either resorted to nostalgia or created an internal society as an alternative to the repressive social system. The war of position, i.e. political struggle, has become the new way of dealing with a repressive social order since the 1960s (Omi 1994: 81 ff.).

The change brought about by emancipation is encouraged by so-called "organic intellectuals." Unlike traditional intellectuals who, as experts of legitimation, reinforce social hierarchies, these organic intellectuals, usually members of subordinated groups, attempt to "pose a 'counter-hegemony' by presenting images subversive of existing power relations." (Lipsitz 1990: 152)

b Collective Memory and Antonio Gramsci

In his essay "Film and Popular Memory" Michel Foucault spoke of the connection between memory and popular resistance (Ben-Amos 1999: 178) and Laura Mulvey made clear that this resistance cannot come alive from one second to the next but needs to go through a threshold area of counter-myth (Lipsitz 1990: 233). One such counter-myth can be posed by ethnic memory that tends to remember what the dominant group would prefer to forget (Singh 1999: 5 f.). So memory can counter oppression by posing a counter-hegemonic force to the dominant group.

In the US, the Black Power movement has given an ideal example for other minorities to emulate

"Black Power led the way and established guidelines for the upsurge in marginal constituency politics in the US during the last twenty-five years. Black Power decisively broke, sometimes in problematic ways, the lock on national definitions of "America" and "American" that had been held for centuries by wealthy, academically and socially privileged white males. The possibilities of a new and structurally significant visibility became and empowering model for initiatives by women, gays and lesbians, Chicanos and Chicanas, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and other groups in the US. All followed Black Power's lead into a radical politics of visibility, as the politics has already been defined." (Ben-Amos 1999:294)

Aleida Assmann has noted that in the US today a literature is developing that changes dominant views of the past in order to create the image of an America different from that of the mainstream (Assmann 2003: 302).

2. Mikhail Bakhtin

a Language

Contrary to the view of French linguist Frédéric de Saussure, the Russian scholar Mikhail Bakhtin claims that language is not uniform and neither is the novel, a (verbal) reproduction of society and its language. Rather, Bakhtin argues that the novel has a polysemic nature. (Bakhtin .: .)

For Bakhtin, there are two forces attempting to control language, one of them standardizing such as academies, the other differenciating, such as jargons or technical languages. The latter is the force usually encountered in novels. (Bakhtin .: .)

[...]

Excerpt out of 105 pages

Details

Title
Collective Memory and Identity in Japanese American Literature over Three Generations
College
University of Tubingen  (Amerikanistik)
Grade
2,5
Author
Year
2005
Pages
105
Catalog Number
V138114
ISBN (eBook)
9783640465118
ISBN (Book)
9783640462223
File size
1505 KB
Language
English
Tags
Collective, Memory, Identity, Japanese, American, Literature, Three, Generations
Quote paper
B.A. Stephanie Wössner (Author), 2005, Collective Memory and Identity in Japanese American Literature over Three Generations, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/138114

Comments

  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Collective Memory and Identity in Japanese American Literature over Three Generations


Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free