Concrete Abstractions: GotÃ´ Meisei's Hapless Danchi Dwellers and Japan's Economic Miracle
This essay discussesâ€”and introduces to English-reading audiencesâ€”the short story â€œDare?â€ (â€œWho's There?,â€ 1970) by GotÃ´ Meisei (1932â€“99). GotÃ´'s story exemplifies his danchi shÃ´setsu, 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 â€œnew townsâ€ built on the outskirts of Japan's rapidly growing cities during the high-speed growth period (1955â€“73). Central to my reading of â€œDare?â€ 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 GotÃ´'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 GotÃ´'s depiction of the sterile concrete world of the danchi as evincing howâ€”largely through the unconscious movements of their daily livesâ€”people lived increasingly reified existences, effectively becoming â€œconcrete abstractions.â€ GotÃ´ elicits an awareness of this condition through two competing chronotopesâ€”spatio-temporal axes of narrativeâ€”that are central to â€œDare?â€ One of these is â€œnatureâ€ in a reductive guise. The other is â€œdanchi dailiness,â€ which comprises the intersection of danchi space with the newfound banality characteristic of nichijÃ´sei, â€œdailiness,â€ a term that critics of the time increasingly used to reference everyday life. Qualitatively different from the everyday life (nichijÃ´ seikatsu) of earlier points in Japan's modernity, nichijÃ´sei connoted banality as a newly all-subsuming condition. Through the juxtaposition of such chronotopes, GotÃ´ deconstructs the discourse of â€œmiraculousâ€ economic growth.
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