Academic journal article ARIEL

Sharing Worlds through Words: Minor Cosmopolitics in Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being

Academic journal article ARIEL

Sharing Worlds through Words: Minor Cosmopolitics in Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being

Article excerpt

Ruth Ozeki's novels engage with contemporary issues and events. Her first two novels are issue-driven: My Year of Meats (1998) responds to the use of hormones in the United States meat industry and All Over Creation (2003) delves into genetic modification in agriculture. Her third novel, A Tale for the Time Being (2013), though described by Ozeki as "philosophical" and enacting "a performance of certain aspects of Zen philosophy" (Stanford Humanities Center; The Wheeler Centre), does not withdraw from the dialectics between the actual and the fictional. (1) In addition to the autobiographical elements (i.e., Ozeki wrote herself and her experiences as a novelist into one of the main characters, Ruth), Tale encompasses a number of real-life events, the most obvious being Japanese military aggressions during World War II, the global Internet bubble in the late 1990s, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US in 2001, and the earthquake/tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. Indeed, the impact of the real world on Ozeki's writing became indelible when Ozeki decided to give up the draft she had worked on since December 2006 to start all over again after the devastating earthquake/tsunami hit Japan on March 11, 2011 (henceforth referred to as 3/11). Ozeki explained her decision in interviews: "There are certain catastrophes of such a magnitude. They draw lines in time" (Kenower). The "post-tsunami" reality made the manuscript she wrote in the "pre-tsunami" time "no longer relevant" (Kenower). (2) These statements compel us to read Tale as a post-3/11 text--a text called upon to respond with a new set of sensibilities to the time ushered in by an event as catastrophic as the 3/11 earthquake/tsunami.

Two questions arise: How did the 3/11 earthquake/tsunami and its repercussions change our conception of the world, and how did Tale respond to this change? While a complete answer to the first question is beyond this article's scope, the beginning of Ozeki's novel casts into relief the border-traversing impact of the earthquake/tsunami: a Hello Kitty lunchbox, which contains a diary written by the sixteen-year-old Nao in Japan, is washed ashore on an island in Desolation Sound, British Columbia and picked up by Ruth. Characters in the novel explain the Hello Kitty lunchbox as part of the tsunami debris swept from Japan into the Pacific Ocean. Although the novel does not confirm this theory, (3) the Hello Kitty lunchbox and the events that follow its appearance invoke a sense of increasing global interconnectedness in today's world. Ozeki observed in an extended interview by Eleanor Ty: "[W]e are all radically interconnected" (162). And this radical sense of global interconnectedness increases when one takes into account not only the trans-Pacific trajectory of the tsunami debris but also the spread of radioactive substance through the earth's ecosystem in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown. (4) While becoming cosmopolitan used to be a privilege of the elite few who could afford to live beyond local bonds and regional allegiances, the 3/11 catastrophe demonstrates that in the current world cosmopolitan linkage is no longer as much the result of class privilege or a personal choice as a shared human destiny. In part because of this realization that no one, not even a novelist living on a "remote" island off the Canadian west coast (Ozeki, "Confessions" 34), could avoid being pulled into the drifts of radical interconnectedness, Ozeki decided to write herself as a character into Tale. (5) "It's an autobiographical story," Ozeki said as she launched into a rewriting of Tale in May 2011, "and so I just have to step forward and be in the book" (Ty 164).

Clear is the impact of the world on Ozeki's writing, but the juxtaposition of the cosmopolitan and the autobiographical compels us to read Tale as not simply about the world but about an individual's active engagement with the world. First, though "autobiographical," Tale is not confined to Ozeki's self-reflection. …

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