Mieko Anders

Dead Labor: Spectrality and Twentieth-Century Fictions of the Japanese Work Ethic
English & Sociology
Spring 2019

My thesis reads British author Kazuo Ishiguro's historical novel set in U.S.-occupied Japan, An Artist of the Floating World (1986), alongside its archival notes and drafts, which indicate that he originally intended the novel to be set in 1980s England. Focusing on the novel's depictions of laboring bodies as lifeless or ghost-like, I aim to explore the implications of conceptualizing Japanese labor and culture as constituting a unified national "geist" during the peak of Japan's economic miracle in the 1980s. I will also explore how the novel’s narrator can be read as a proxy for W.E.B. Du Bois, who advocated for the Japanese imperial project as the foundation of a global Afro-Asian alliance against white supremacy; Du Bois’ conception of Japan as what he called “an effective social organ” aptly coincides with Ishiguro’s exploration of fascist aesthetics in the novel and broaches a controversial issue that has been widely overlooked. Ultimately, I hope to historicize these formal characterizations of Japanese work in order to trace the political implications of this transnational narrative of Japanese exceptionalism throughout the twentieth century.