Concrete Abstractions: Gotô Meisei's Hapless Danchi Dwellers and Japan's Economic Miracle


Peter Tillack




This essay discusses—and introduces to English-reading audiences—the short story “Dare?” (“Who's There?,” 1970) by Gotô Meisei (1932–99). Gotô's story exemplifies his danchi shôsetsu, works of fiction critics found striking for the fact that they were set in spaces heretofore unrepresented in Japanese literature, not least because they were still so new. This was the space of the danchi, enormous apartment complexes designed to house thousands of people and essentially comprising self-contained “new towns” built on the outskirts of Japan's rapidly growing cities during the high-speed growth period (1955–73). Central to my reading of “Dare?” as social critique is the notion, propounded by Henri Lefebvre, that each mode of production produces spaces through which its imperatives are enacted. For this reason, I regard the danchi space as metonymical of the productivist ethos (seisansei) integral to Japan's postwar economic resurgence. Prior to engaging Gotô's story, I demonstrate that the danchi was but one aspect of a thoroughgoing attempt to rationalize all aspects of urban existence; this was essentially Taylorism on a macroscopic scale. I move on to discuss Gotô's depiction of the sterile concrete world of the danchi as evincing how—largely through the unconscious movements of their daily lives—people lived increasingly reified existences, effectively becoming “concrete abstractions.” Gotô elicits an awareness of this condition through two competing chronotopes—spatio-temporal axes of narrative—that are central to “Dare?” One of these is “nature” in a reductive guise. The other is “danchi dailiness,” which comprises the intersection of danchi space with the newfound banality characteristic of nichijôsei, “dailiness,” a term that critics of the time increasingly used to reference everyday life. Qualitatively different from the everyday life (nichijô seikatsu) of earlier points in Japan's modernity, nichijôsei connoted banality as a newly all-subsuming condition. Through the juxtaposition of such chronotopes, Gotô deconstructs the discourse of “miraculous” economic growth.



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