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Abstract

This dissertation attends to music, literature, and lived experience in order to reveal critical voices singing, writing, and speaking from disparate sites and contexts in modern and contemporary Japan. The historical period under consideration herein – 1970 to the present day – is significant because it constitutes a moment during which scholars have tended to view popular critical practice in Japan as largely moribund. By moving beyond well-worn notions of “protest” as street-centered, oppositional practice and considering some of the ways in which these voices pursue an active, productive, and re-forumulative engagement with the terms and conditions of living in the world (what I call critique herein), this dissertation attends to some of the complex critical tactics that are deployed by contextually-embedded social actors grappling with the precarious terms and conditions of life in contemporary capitalist Japan. It argues, in short, that this moment harbors incisive critical interventions that demand scholarly attention – even if (or, precisely because) these voices do not speak/sing in familiar registers. I understand these voices to be “homesick,” but they do not strive for a home that has been lost. Rather, “home” for these actors is yet to be, as they conjure alternative possibilities in response to conditions of crisis. In Chapter One, I travel to Kagoshima to consider the musical and lyrical artistry of Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi, one of Japan’s most enduring folk-rock musicians and sharpest critical voices. Often dismissed as a ‘nationalist’ or ‘rightist’ for his close engagement with ideas of Japan, Nagabuchi’s voice in fact seeks to intervene in a ‘Japan’ that is understood according to universalizing, foreclosed capitalist narrative – what this dissertation calls “Japan’s Japan,” or History – and to infect it with other possibilities, and with its own disavowed historicities. I suggest that Nagabuchi’s embedding of the experiences of his home prefecture of Kagoshima into much of his music helps the artist to “provincialize” ‘Japan,’ forcing it to accommodate the unevenness and precarity that History disavows, thus rendering it malleable and susceptible to redefinition. I term this tactic critical spatiality herein. In this Chapter, I also visit individual social actors in Kagoshima and beyond, in order to consider some of the ways in which they understand and put Nagabuchi’s music to use in their own critical engagements with the world. Chapter Two grapples with Japanese “folk” music legend Ryo Kagawa, and considers some of the ways in which he has worked to maintain the bite of a critical musical tradition that, like critique itself, is widely believed to have fallen silent around 1970. “Folk”’s strong association with the late sixties and early seventies, and with specific modes of critique dominant in that moment, has led Kagawa to resist characterization as a “folk singer.” Rather than taking up what he sees as a predictable position along a normatizing Historical narrative, Kagawa aims to upset the authority of History altogether by unleashing powerful critiques that speak/sing in terms transgressive of “folk”’s own formulae, and by deploying untimely texts (his own and others’) to circulate through moments in which they seem to have no business at all. This is a tactic that I term critical temporality herein. I reveal this tactic through textual analyses and through discussions with the artist himself, and consider its deployment in the context of the Haruichiban, an annual music festival that is rooted in the “folk” era, and that continues today. In Chapter Three, I expand upon the notion of critical temporality by returning to Ryo Kagawa protégé Nagabuchi Tsuyoshi, and following him to the foot of Mt. Fuji for an all-night concert that was held in August of 2015. This musical event forefronted critical texts and commentary, and was orchestrated to reach its climax at the moment of the sunrise the following day. Laying claim to this moment, at the foot of one of Japan’s most powerful national symbols, became a way for Nagabuchi to insist upon other, concomitant ‘Japanese’ histories and possibilities, troubling History’s claim to authority. By ruthlessly embedding this critical event into a hijacked moment in (Historical) time, Nagabuchi furthered his projects of re-imagining the terms of ‘Japan,’ and of positing what I call alternative collectivity. This chapter also explores some of the ways in which the event has reverberated in the lives of some of its attendees. Finally, Chapter Four takes up the writing of zainichi Korean author Yū Miri, and considers some of the critiques that she mounts in two of her key works: Full House and Gold Rush. Pressing back against the scholarly tendency to define Yū’s critique according to questions of race, ethnicity, or nationality, this Chapter understands these works as speaking back against broader terms of the everyday in 1990s Japan, including consumerism and capitalism. By attending to the appearance and deployment of noise in these texts, the Chapter argues for a tactic that I term critical sonority, which I understand as a literary device by which such terms and conditions are revealed and made susceptible to critique. Further, by considering some of the ways in which the timbre of Yū’s noise shifts from the dissonant to the melodious at key moments and in association with specific characters in her works, I explore the ways in which hints pertaining to other possibilities for living in the world can be read in these texts, as well.

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