History Is a Family

Table of Contents

In 2018, the author Genichiro Takahashi published Are You Lonesome Tonight?, a sequel to his 2001 novel, The Rise and Fall of Japanese Literature. Takahashi is currently working on the third volume, Hirohito. This dialogue with Hiroki Azuma discussed the connection between history and literature, centered on this trilogy.

The dialogue opened with a discussion on the relationship between war and literature. Takahashi pointed out that in postwar Japan, Obon (a traditional season for prayer to one’s family ancestors) happens to overlap with the anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II. This point connects the idea of “family” (ie) to our collective memory of war.

Takahashi and Azuma share an interest in the concept of “family.” Takahashi wrote about familial history and memories in his 2018 novel, Sleep Well, Under the Trees, while Azuma headlined the possibilities of a new community in the coincidental nature of family in Genron 0: A Philosophy of the Tourist.

Modern Japanese literature was supported by a familial community of authors. However, Takahashi spoke of his personal feeling that the community of literature disappeared around 2005. This was closely connected to the rise and fall of criticism, and Takahashi wrote Are You Lonesome Tonight? under this sense of a crisis of criticism. Azuma pointed out that the collapse of literature also means the end of a modern paradigm of thought and expression. In spaces like the Internet, where quantification occurs on a large scale, literary words cannot demonstrate their effectiveness, and humans have become like animals.

Finally, Azuma stated that it is necessary to create a “half-isolated” space for the future persistence of literature. Azuma noted that this is a community of familial giving, not exchange, and Genron, as a project, is its implementation. Takahashi responded that literature is a gift, and that he attempts to connect this sense of giving with the dead in familial relationships anew through his novels. His latest historical novel, Hirohito, is the crystallization of this attempt. As the dialogue came to a close, both recognized through their own actions the necessity of recontextualizing history through the lens of family.