Doug Slaymaker is a professor of Japanese at the University of Kentucky. His research focuses on literature and art of the twentieth century, with particular interest in the literature of post-3.11 Japan, and on animals and the environment. Other research projects examine Japanese writers and artists traveling to France. This research was funded by the Fulbright Program, the Social Science Research Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Library of Congress Kluge Center, and other agencies. He is most recently the translator of Furukawa Hideo’s Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure (Columbia University Press).
Animal Writing in Tawada Yōko’s The Snow Apprentice
When Knut takes up a pen to write, there is little to remark upon until we realize that the 手/te/hand holding the pen is a手/te/paw, because Knut is a panda bear in Germany. Tawada Yōko’s Yuki no renshūsei (The Snow Apprentice; Susan Bernofsky’s translation from the German is entitled Memoirs of a Polar Bear) is about a way to imagine and narrate animal voices. The Snow Apprentice grapples with complex issues, such as how to represent the subjectivity of a non-human being. Much of the novel is narrated by a polar bear; this provides a forum to talk about other issues such as animal rights, environmental issues, and the ramifications of animals being raised by humans. It is also a novel about the process of writing. Tawada has long written of the complexities of travel in a globalized world and the power dynamics of identity tethered to language. The Snow Apprentice moves the focus to the borders of the human and non-human, and to the means and medium of writing. I will explore the ramifications this has for identity formation.
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