Gender Is Fair Game: (Re)thinking the (Fe)male in the Works of Oba Minako

Gender Is Fair Game: (Re)thinking the (Fe)male in the Works of Oba Minako

Gender Is Fair Game: (Re)thinking the (Fe)male in the Works of Oba Minako

Gender Is Fair Game: (Re)thinking the (Fe)male in the Works of Oba Minako


This is a critical study of the major novels and short stories of Oba Minako (1930-), the undisputed leader in the resurgence of women writers in Japan. A winner of the coveted Akutagawa Prize, Oba has reclaimed a celebrated position for Japanese women writers, a legacy left by Lady Murasaki and her Heian (900-1100 A.D.) sisters.

By focusing on Oba's postmodernist rethinking of gender and culture, Wilson examines the theme of female Bildungsroman. She demonstrates how Oba draws on "marinated memories, " how she recovers the past (her experiences abroad) in depictions of refreshingly articulate, sober female protagonists who capitalize on overstepping their native socio-cultural boundaries, women who "use and abuse" the system and conventions that nurture and at the same time threaten their identity.

Another important point of emphasis in this study is Oba's playful and absurdist style which reinforces the appropriation of the Bildungsroman form. Oba's writing combines the artistry of a humorist/satirist, a poet, and a painter, with the subversive spirit of a shrewd cultural critic. The rhythmic dialogues and dramatic monologues that abound in her works are continually interrupted by the intrusion of an omnipresent authorial voice. Ideas and musings, sometimes lofty, sometimes verging on the absurd, merge and clash in comic, free-for-all repartee.


Although Minako's principal literary mode changed from poetry to prose early in her career, she has always been a poet at heart. Prose and poetry coexist and blend seamlessly in a continuous point and counterpoint in her stories. Impregnating the textual fiber with a poetic perspective that is at the same time full of psychological nuance, she relies heavily on the lyric mode, with its associative connection of events, images, scenes, or memories, and a "feminine" style that is "discursive, fluid, sensual."

Along with the associative feature of the lyric mode, the plotless, open-ended, and nonlinear pattern of the Heian feminine literary tradition dominant in her work has also been identified as a major characteristic of the modern Japanese prose narrative, shōsetsu. We find in Minako's writings many of its formal characteristics, as defined by Masao Miyoshi: like shōsetsu, her fiction strives neither for formal coherence--as understood in the West--nor a central event. Consisting of episodes and anecdotes, her work defies the "formation of a center and structure." In addition to the "plot" being "sequential, but hardly consequential," we see "no preparation" being made by the author "toward a climax or denouement," because "causality. . . is not a focus of concern." What determines the direction of events and actions is . . .

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