Has Tomomi Lost Her Mind? Psychosis, Femininity, and the Universal Appeal of Kazumi Yumoto's the Spring Tone

Article excerpt

This essay offers a psychoanalytic reading of Kazumi Yumoto's novel The Spring Tone in order to explore the issue of femininity in young adult literature. Even though Yumoto's story is not a product of a western consciousness (she is a Japanese author), her work has found a large audience in the West, particularly in America and Europe. Thus, there appears to be a strong universal appeal to her writing that transcends cultural difference, especially where the representation of femininity and the development of the young female subject are concerned. Yumoto's novel also explores the contemporary issue of the "broken home," since the father has left the family and is living in a separate apartment. The main character is quite upset about his absence and this, too, may have something to do with the novel's broad appeal since the dissolution of the modern nuclear family is a cultural formation that most young readers would recognize and perhaps even identify with.

The central character and narrator of the story, a pre-adolescent girl named Tomomi, is an unusual protagonist, however; for she is presented in the novel as suffering from a profound emotional disturbance. In the story, Tomomi exhibits a severe identity crisis that at times seems as though she is on the verge of losing her mind. While her emotional issues might be blamed on the terrors of adolescence or even a bout with clinical depression, her complaints come across as much more serious than that. Tomomi is not just a troubled pre-teen; her problems appear to extend far beyond depression as she reports to her reader that, in addition to debilitating headaches, she often experiences a strong sense of unreality, she hallucinates, and she has lost all sense of direction and happiness in her life. In many ways, Tomomi is presented as if she were slipping into a state of psychosis. She is, as Jacques Lacan would say, cut loose from the signifier, and she seems to be losing her connection to the symbolic world.

Given both Tomomi's psychic turmoil, which makes her an unlikely heroine, and the adolescent's general horror of anything that stands out from the norm, it would seem a miracle that this story managed to find a publisher in the young adult book market, much less international critical acclaim and a series of translations. What is it then about Tomomi's apparent struggles with the symbolic order that appeals to a young female reader? Why would a quasi-psychotic pre-teen make an engaging heroine for her audience? How does this particular protagonist, with all of her psychological baggage, come to have so much appeal for the young adult reader, especially given the novel's cultural specificity? While Yumoto's novel was originally written in Japanese for a Japanese audience and therefore would presumably have a fairly specific audience, it is clear that her protagonist's dilemma evokes a more universal response in the adolescent female reader precisely to the extent that it offers a representation of the emotional turmoil of developing femininity that transcends cultural and geographic difference.

With her characterization of Tomomi as a young girl who struggles with the collapse of what Lacan calls the paternal function, Yumoto also shows the elemental role that paternity plays in Tomomi's (and, presumably, any girl's) psychic life as she grows into a young woman. Thus, I explore the significance of Tomomi's relation to paternity as I consider how her apparent struggles with psychosis and the failure of the signifier are part of her feminine development. Pursuing my analysis of both psychosis and femininity, I further consider how Yumoto's novel appeals to the young female reader as she, too, grapples with the instability of the signifier in her evolving subjective structure.

In the story, Tomomi's father has left the family due to unending arguments with his wife concerning his inability to secure the family property and maintain the legal boundaries of the family's backyard. …

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