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‘Monster in the sky’: hibakusha poetry and the nuclear sublime
journal contributionposted on 2017-10-31, 00:00 authored by Alyson MillerAlyson Miller, Cassandra AthertonCassandra Atherton
This paper analyses hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor) poetry as examples of the nuclear sublime, which Rob Wilson argues is ‘one of the unimaginable, trans-material grounds of a global condition that, paradoxically, can and must be re- imagined, represented, and invoked to prevent this trauma of negativity from happening in post-Cold War history’ (1989: 1). We argue that of all atomic bomb literature, poetry best captures the devastation of atomic warfare and a message of hope for the future because of its emphasis on the economy of expression and, as Robert Jay Lifton argues, its ‘symbolic transformation’ (1991: 21). The ineffability of experience, explored in the Burkean Romantic Sublime, will be discussed as persisting into the politics of the twentieth century and impacting on definitions of the nuclear sublime. While hibakusha continue to be discriminated against – compounded recently by the ongoing catastrophe at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex – the nuclear sublime compels them to record their experiences in testimony, literature or poetry or to risk a ‘forgetting’ that may lead to the annihilation of the human race. This paper argues that poetry – specifically tanka and haiku – best captures the nuclear sublime.