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Gone with the Wind: Mediating Racial Hierarchies for Imperial Japan through Translation

Headshot of the speaker with talk title and location information
Monday, March 20, 2023
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
James Reichert (East Asian Languages & Cultures, Stanford University)
APSI Speaker Series

My talk examines one of the most popular Japanese publications of the twentieth century, Ōkubo Yasuo's translation of Gone with the Wind (Eng. 1936, trans. 1938). I argue that the translation itself and its publicity campaign tapped into popular representations of the Meiji Restoration, particularly portraits of the infamous Shinsengumi. This connection enables the text to perform several ideological functions in the context of wartime Japan.

First, Mitchell's hostile portrait of the Yankee North provides a convenient vehicle for criticism of US aggression, hypocrisy, and soulless materialism. Second, her attribution of timeless beauty and inborn morality to Southern culture offers a touchstone for contemplation of alternative civilizational models that contrast with the conventional formulation of US-style modernity. Third, Scarlett's opportunistic adoption of Yankee values thematizes for Japanese readers a view of modernity that addresses the contradictions and uncomfortable truths in Japan's relationship with the West. And finally, the unrepentant racism of Mitchell's depiction of slavery and blackness exposes the fraught racial politics of the Japanese imperial project. Fittingly, these cross-cultural issues of singularity, commensurability, and antagonism are worked out in the realm of translation.