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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien
September 12, 2019

Wielding Toxic Discourse: Insanity in the Nuclear Narratives of Chernobyl and Fukushima

Environmental scholar Lawrence Buell defined toxic discourse as a mode of writing that expresses “anxiety arising from a perceived threat of environmental hazard” (2003, 30-31). Fictional works from the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents feature characters who appear to be mentally unstable because of this anxiety. Rather than their insanity discrediting them in the eyes of the nuclear industry, this presentation draws inspiration from Buell to consider how insanity can be used by victims of nuclear disasters to claim authority through toxic discourse by crafting narratives of resistance. One of the most controversial images stemming from nuclear disasters is of people who remain in highly irradiated areas unfit for human habitation. In novels by Kimura Yūsuke (Sacred Cesium Ground and Isa’s Deluge) and Alina Bronsky (Baba Dunja’s Last Love), the so-called insanity of these characters allows them to comment critically on the postdisaster situation, specifically the evaluation of risk and the bankruptcy of credibility. They provide insightful voices of resistance to the narratives of containment and safety perpetuated by the government and nuclear industry. The presentation ends with a consideration of actual residents in contaminated zones in Kamanaka Hitomi’s documentary Little Voices from Fukushima.

Rachel DiNitto, University of Oregon