Redacted: The Archives of Censorship in Transwar Japan

Redacted: The Archives of Censorship in Transwar Japan

Redacted: The Archives of Censorship in Transwar Japan

Redacted: The Archives of Censorship in Transwar Japan

Synopsis

At the height of state censorship in Japan, more indexes of banned books circulated, more essays on censorship were published, more works of illicit erotic and proletarian fiction were produced, and more passages were Xed out than at any other moment before or since. As censors construct and maintain their own archives, their acts of suppression yield another archive, filled with documents on, against, and in favor of censorship. The extant archive of the Japanese imperial censor (1923-1945) and the archive of the Occupation censor (1945-1952) stand as tangible reminders of this contradictory function of censors. As censors removed specific genres, topics, and words from circulation, some Japanese writers converted their offensive rants to innocuous fluff after successive encounters with the authorities. But, another coterie of editors, bibliographers, and writers responded to censorship by pushing back, using their encounters with suppression as incitement to rail against the authorities and to appeal to the prurient interests of their readers. This study examines these contradictory relationships between preservation, production, and redaction to shed light on the dark valley attributed to wartime culture and to cast a shadow on the supposedly bright, open space of free postwar discourse. (Winner of the 2010-2011 First Book Award of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University").

Excerpt

Censorship destroys texts, removes them from sight, places them beyond reach. Even worse, it can render entire avenues of thought off limits. The realms of discourse entirely obliterated by censorship can never be known; our only access to the deep havoc inflicted by censors is what remains after they have done their work. But what exactly does censorship leave behind? Where do we find its remnants? How can we measure these traces? What might they reveal about the censor? Is searching for the material behind the Xs and asterisks of censorship a treasure hunt or a futile quest?

Censorship is perhaps the most thoroughly documented mode of modern literary reception in Japan. In the 1870s, modern press laws regulating expression were promulgated to control both sedition and obscenity. Over the ensuing years, the office of censorship grew gradually. Under the consultation system of this period, publishers could meet with censors to discuss specific texts. But a sea change occurred a half century later following the devastation of the Tokyo earthquake and fires in 1923; in the wake of the fires that destroyed many libraries, technological innovations in binding and printing seemed to enable cheaper book production and the rapid replacement of lost cultural artifacts. Those in power quivered at the thought of this new mass culture carrying so much information to so many so quickly. Global events such as the Russian Revolution in 1917 had contributed to a rise of leftist activity in Japan, which in turn produced a conservative backlash against seditious behavior, as in the Peace Preservation Law of 1925, which sought to defend the national polity from anarchists and communists. In this context, the censorship office doubled in size and budget in an attempt to keep pace with both the burgeoning publishing world and the narrowing political landscape. By 1927, the censors could no longer keep pace with the increased volume of . . .

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