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Spatial Dynamics in Japanese Poetry amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic
September 28, 2023
Sarah Pützer, University of Oxford/DIJ Tokyo
The COVID-19 pandemic, along with measures such as social distancing, travel restrictions, and national lockdowns, has had a profound impact on our understanding of space. However, the world of reading, an activity traditionally seen as a purely cognitive act that allows readers to leave their physical bodies behind, appeared to remain relatively unaffected by these spatial constraints. Surprisingly, Japanese poets Saihate Tahi, Fuzuki Yumi, and Mizusawa Nao responded to the pandemic’s challenges by crafting works that drew readers’ attention back to their physical presence and the space surrounding them. These creations took the form of poetic installations and exhibitions, transcending conventional publishing formats and manifesting in both physical and virtual spaces. This interdisciplinary presentation closely examined poetic works like Saihate Tahi’s site-specific installation Shi no kasoku / shi no teishi (2020), Fuzuki Yumi’s sound installation Koe no genba (2021), and the online exhibition Kakuri-shiki nōkōsesshoku-shitsu (2020) by Mizusawa Nao and media artist Fuse Rintarō to explore space, proximity, and the act of reading within the context of poetry installations. As a theoretical framework, Pützer incorporated spatial theories such as Henri Lefebvre’s ‘triad of space’ and Edward Soja’s ‘thirdspace’, as well as Maeda Ai’s idea of ‘hare’ or ‘asobi’, alongside Devin Proctor’s adaptation of Lefebvre’s concepts to the internet’s space. This approach was complemented by insights from cognitive literary studies, focusing on Gillian Silverman’s article ‘Touch’ (2020) on the connection between touch and reading. The presentation suggested that the works presented here create poetic spaces that serve as a poignant reminder of the readers’ own physicality, rather than offering escapism. As a result, readers become more aware to the spaces that surround them and the far-reaching effects of COVID-19 on these settings.
Sarah Pützer is a PhD student at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on contemporary Japanese literature and poetry, with a particular interest in exploring the concept of ‘poetic spaces’ in the works of poets Saihate Tahi and Fuzuki Yumi among others. She has pursued her studies in Oxford, Berlin, and Japan, and graduated from the IUC 10-month programme of professional Japanese training in Yokohama, administered by Stanford University. Currently, she is a PhD student at the DIJ.