L'ère nucléaire: French Visions of Japan, from Hiroshima to Fukushima

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0001-6327-3725
Holtzman, Hannah, French - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Levine, Alison, French, University of Virginia

France has a long-standing cultural fascination with Japan, from the nineteenth-century tradition in the visual arts of Japonisme through the influence of Japanese fashion, cuisine, and animation on French culture today. As I trace the historical arc of what is admittedly a mutual fascination between the two cultures, I am interested in what I see as particularly French ways of invoking Japan and in how these conceptions have changed over time, specifically in the nuclear era. The approach in this study shifts from discourses of Japonisme and Orientalism to formal and ecocritical analyses of French films and literature about Japan from the postwar era through today. I argue that the visions of Japan in several works made during this period move beyond the primarily aesthetic interests seen in earlier French art and literature about Japan to environmental concerns that center around the nuclear question. This study focuses in particular on how the nuclear disasters at Hiroshima and Fukushima have affected French cultural productions and on the consequences these events have had for filmic and literary form in France. I propose and develop the concept of a “nuclear narrative” to reframe our understanding of films by Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, Keiko Courdy, and Philippe Rouy, and a novel by Michaël Ferrier. My analysis uses M.M. Bakhtin’s concept of the chronotope and Timothy Morton’s hyperobject to consider how the nuclear events at Hiroshima and Fukushima have influenced filmic and literary form and representations of spatiotemporality. I argue that these nuclear narratives present fragmented accounts of everyday life in the nuclear era and serve as instances of Franco-Japanese solidarity while also commenting on concerns regarding nuclear energy in France. In the postwar era, nuclear development offered a means to rebuild the nation and sense of national identity in France and Japan. Before the 2011 meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, France and Japan were the world’s two most nuclearized countries in terms of energy. Today, nuclear policy is a particularly pressing concern in Japan as it continues to deal with fallout from the 2011 disaster, and in France as its aging nuclear reactors near retirement. Nuclear materials and technologies have long linked France, Japan, and the United States in scientific, economic, political, and cultural endeavors. The recent disaster at Fukushima Daiichi calls for greater transnational reflection on nuclear power. By focusing on the cultural implications of the nuclear era as seen in French filmic and literary form, this study joins an emerging body of critical reflection on nuclear culture at a crucial moment in history as environmental imperatives lead to a turning point in energy policy and practice and as narratives offer ways to envision and respond to these pressing concerns.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
France, Japan, Japonisme, Nuclear , Nuclear Criticism, Ecocriticism, Fukushima Daiichi, Hiroshima, Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, Keiko Courdy, Philippe Rouy, Michaël Ferrier, Chronotope, Cinema, Documentary, Digital Media
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