Fellow's Seminar: Mr. Franz D Hofer

Invitation to the Fellow’s Seminar Fiscal 2008-2009 (on November 6 , 2008)

The Japan Foundation
Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange Dept.

The Japan Foundation would like to welcome you to join us for the Fellows' Seminar for Fiscal 2008-2009. The presenter is Mr. Franz D Hofer.

Date: Thursday, November 6 , 2008
Time: 15:00-17:00
Venue: JFIC Space “Keyaki” at the Japan Foundation Head Office.

Note: The Japan Foundation headquarters moved to the new office. Please refer to the link below.

Admission Fee: Free
Language: English (no interpretation)
Contact: If you would like to attend the seminar, please notify Japanese Studies and Intellectual Exchange Dept. by November 6, 2008 with your name, affiliation, and contact information (tel., fax or e-mail).
If you would apply by e-mail, please be aware to write the name of the presenter and the date of the seminar in the title. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.
Tel: 03-5369-6069/ Fax: 03-5369-6041 E-mail
Presenter: After completing his M.A. in history at McGillUniversity in Montreal in 2001, Franz Hofer embarked upon a Ph.D. in history at Cornell in 2003. Under the auspices of the Japan Foundation, he is currently conducting research toward a comparative project exploring the relationship between history and memory in postwar Japan and Germany. Through an engagement with sources of a visual nature, he intends to study how images and representations of past events exert an influence upon the present as various social groupings shape their contemporary experience out of oft-contested memory traces of the past.
Presentation Theme: “Historical Responsibility and the Present: Mourning and the Ethics of Commemoration”

It is becoming increasingly difficult to speak of mourning in a direct sense with respect to the events of the Asia-Pacific War and the Second World War. Nonetheless, contemporary invocations of the imperative to mourn, marked by what Freud characterized as the reaction to an abstract loss which calls forth similar emotions of grief as personal loss, continue to make their presence felt. The responses to the past promoted, for example, by manga artist Kobayashi Yoshinori, the Japan Society for History Textbook Reform, and literary critic Kato Norihiro, as well as the versions of history on display at the Yushukan and the Showakan, run up against the discourse of war responsibility (senso sekinin), and are central to a problematization and understanding of the nexus between mourning, commemoration, responsibility, and the representation of the past.

Although one would be at pains to gainsay the need for mourning as a response to individual and/or collective loss, the fact of mourning need not preclude a consideration of the modes that mourning might take. Mourning the fallen in war is not merely an innocent outpouring of emotion and gratitude for the sacrifice of those heroic, but otherwise all-too-human Japanese men (and women, as the exhibit at the Showakan makes abundantly clear) who lost their lives in the war. The waters become all the more murky when those loved ones mourned by individuals or those soldiers or citizens honoured by groups or nations happen to have perpetrated atrocities.

Sounding these murky waters of responsibility in the past is inextricably linked to an ethics of commemoration and a politics of memory in the present, both of which are intricately bound up with issues of affect and representation. Legitimate mourning and grief can fall prey to manipulation by interests bent on promoting and bolstering a benign patriotism at best, or myths of national grandeur and glory at worst. Victimhood becomes victim narrative. Through this alchemic process, respect for the dead is converted into the pyrite of individual sacrifice in the service of the nation. When activated in such a way, the legitimate mourning of loss can serve, instead, to elide questions of responsibility vis-a-vis past events involving other groups and nations.

Yet as important as it is to understand how the dynamics of the continued invocation to mourn seeks to position the current and future generations in relationship to the events surrounding the Asia-Pacific War, it is perhaps equally important to rethink the parameters of the debate pertaining to responsibility as those with ‘immediate experience’ of the events surrounding the antecedents and aftermath of the Asia-Pacific and Second World War pass on. If we allow that ‘the past’ or ‘the future’ has some sort of purchase on the present, be it as an idealized ‘image’ or dynamic that affects us in some way, then we may begin to consider how one might also have an affective response – whether manifested variously as pride, shame, indignation, elation, or otherwise – with respect to images, versions, or traces of ‘the past’ in the present. By way of a discussion of affect linked to a more generalized ‘historical responsibility’ that takes its cues from earlier debates about war responsibility (senso sekinin), this presentation will begin to consider how and to what extent the discourses of mourning and responsibility carry any valence for generations born well after the conflagrations of the mid-twentieth century

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