Part of being enrolled in the Honours program at UVic is doing an Honours thesis, naturally. It will be my first real thesis ever, and the excitement I am feeling is palpable. I have a year until I have to do it, but I am already eagerly stewing over potential topics. I have a bad, bad habit when it comes to essays of any kind of starting big, and then realizing I bit off more than I could chew, so I have to narrow it down more and more. I need to be more laser-focused on this one, and pick a topic that will give me a lot of fodder, but not so much that I never get to enjoy a day hiking or a whale watch while in Victoria.
So rather than rapidly starting out with something big, I’m going to spend the next year putting my feelers out and thinking about what it is about Japan I am truly passionate about. My gut is directing me towards Japanese literature of the postwar era, and the use of humour and the grotesque to try to make sense of a rather topsy-turvy world that Japan beyond 1945 was.
Writers like Kobo Abe and Kenzaburo Oe used each respectively in their work, to great success. Both of them have stories which are brimming with images of sex, decay, death, and absurdity, but the approach each one takes reveals a different perspective on coping with change and disaster. I personally prefer Abe’s works, he’s got a wry sense of humour I can relate to. Oe’s of interest to me though, because his son, Hikari Oe, is autistic, and disabled characters are abundant in Oe’s works, most famously in A Personal Matter (個人的な体験) and Aghwee the Sky Monster (空の怪物アグイー) I’ll be honest, to an autistic person, some of the events in both novels can be sickening, especially when you realize how normalized the attitudes present in the books are, here and now. But they’re still valuable as an insight into the cultural attitudes towards disability in Japan, and as examples of disabled characters (Though not narrators, unfortunately) in Japanese literature.
If I wanted to go after something closer to my heart, I would do my thesis on Autism in Postwar Japanese Literature. There’s manga like With The Light (Here’s a review by autism blogger extraordinaire Lindsay) Oe’s work, and a few ambiguously autistic characters in the work of authors like Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata.
The only problem with that is, I’d have to read a lot of books on autism by “autism experts” to do research for my thesis, and most of what passes for “autism research” by these experts makes me want to take a scalding hot shower after reading it. So I’ll have to consider that one carefully.