About Dr Rebecca Suter

Dr Rebecca Suter’s main research interest is in the field of East-West Comparative Studies, with a specific focus on Japan, its creative appropriation of Western culture, and the challenges it poses to current views of colonialism, postcolonialism and globalization.

Dr Suter’s main research interest is in modern Japanese literature and comparative literature. Her first book, The Japanization of Modernity, focuses on contemporary Japanese writer Murakami Haruki, particularly on his role as a cultural mediator between Japan and the United States. She is currently working on issues of translation and cross-cultural representation between Asia and the West, concentrating on the phenomenon of the “Japanization” of Western culture and the way it challenges current views of colonialism, postcolonialism and globalization.

Dr Suter began studying Japanese language in her first year at university, and completely fell in love with the culture. During her PhD, she focused mostly on modern and contemporary literature; in more recent years, she has also become interested on Japanese popular culture, mainly through her work as a translator of manga (works by Shinohara Chie, Anno Moyoko, Miuchi Suzue, Asano Inio, Kitoh Mohiro, Katayama Kyoichi, Matsumoto Taiyô, and Unita Yumi, among others). She also teaches, and researches, on Japanese fantasy and science fiction, both in literature and in film, manga, and anime.

As is well known, Japan was one of the few Asian nations never to become an actual colony; after the first contacts with the West in the sixteenth century, it was able to avoid almost any form of interaction with Europe for three centuries, and even when it was forced to open its ports again in 1854, not only was it not colonized, but it also soon competed with Western powers in Asia, becoming an imperialist in its turn. Rather than simply accepting a culture imposed upon it from the outside, Japan actively appropriated elements of Western civilization, often transforming them beyond recognition. In the realm of literature, this is reflected in what, borrowing Harold Bloom’s term, she has defined Japanese modern writers’ creative misreadings of the European and American tradition. While incorporating and imitating elements of Western literature and culture, modern Japanese intellectuals have thrown into question its most basic assumptions, enacting a mechanism of mimicry analogous to that described by Homi Bhabha in relation to postcolonial literature, an imitation that ultimately subverts the original and ends up destabilizing it. In her book The Japanization of Modernity: Murakami Haruki between Japan and the United States she shows one paramount instance of such dynamics in contemporary Japanese literature.

Dr Suter is now expanding her research by analyzing another case of cross-cultural adaptation of Western modes of thought in Japan, another “Japanization of modernity”: the interpretations and misinterpretations of Christian images in modern and contemporary Japanese literature and popular culture. Interestingly, soon after Japan opened its ports again after more than two centuries of isolation, a number of works of fiction were published that were set during the brief period of evangelisation of Japan, in the sixteenth century, before the ban on Western religion and the prohibition of all contact with foreigners.

More interesting still, the majority of these works focus on the magical and gothic elements of Christianity, representing it as a form of magic and superstition, in contrast with the mainstream image of the West as the harbinger of science, rationalism and Enlightenment. Her working hypothesis is that this phenomenon shows an active appropriation of Western culture in Japan, which ultimately undermines Western categories of thought by presenting them from an estranged perspective.


Dr Suter’s goal is to analyze works that subvert Christian narratives, presenting them from an estranged perspective that is at times highly destabilizing. In particular, she is interested in the focus on the magic and gothic elements of Christianity and in the interest on the intrinsic ambiguity of the figure of Lucifer, which recurs in modern Japanese fiction, from works of “pure literature” writers such as Akutagawa Ryûnosuke and Yokomizo Seishi all the way to anime and manga authors, both in traditional shojo manga like those of Miuchi Suzue and Yumiko Igarashi and in fantastic/science fictional works such as those of Ishikawa Ken and Tanemura Arina.

On the side, she has been involved in an ongoing international workshop focusing on an emerging current of Asian/American culture, incarnated by Asian intellectuals who live in the United States and simultaneously capitalize on their “Asianness,” exploiting their double cultural positioning in order to challenge inclusive notions of American culture from a trans-Pacific perspective, while at the same time attempting to de-center Asian cultural essentialisms, challenging the idea of Asia as a site of tradition and national purity.

Selected publications

Books

  •  The Japanization of Modernity: Murakami Haruki between Japan and the United States. Harvard University Press East Asia Series, June 2008.
 
Book Chapters

  •  “Anglo-American Images of Japan”, Valerio Alberizzi and Marco Montanari, eds, Serio Orienten, Rome, Domograf, September 2008.
  • “Kawaii/Kowai: the reception of Manga in the United States”, Donatella Izzo, Giorgio Mariani, Paola Zaccaria, American Solitudes: Individual, National, Transnational, Carocci Editore, 2007.
  • "Chainizu bokkusu/ireko: modernism and postmodernism in 'Tairando' and 'Airon no aru fûkei' by Murakami Haruki", in Donatella Izzo, ed. 'Contact Zones': Rewriting Genre Across the East-West Border, Naples, Liguori, 2003.
 
Articles

  • "Rewritings Between East and West: Shiga Naoya's 'Kurodiasu no nikki'", Orientalistica, A.I.O.N., 63/1, 2003, 171-195.
  • "From Genbun-itchi to JSL (and beyond?): phonocentrism and heterolinguism in Japanese language teaching", Aldo Tollini (ed.), The Third Conference on Japanese Language and Language Teaching. Proceedings of the Conference, Rome, 17-19 March, 2005, 139-49.
 
Translations

  • Saiyuki - Journey to the West, Japanese adaptation by Matsueda Shigeo (1985) from the Chinese original Xiyouji by Wu Cheng'en, Bologna, Kappa Edizioni, April 2005.
 
Recent Conference Presentations

  • “It’s a kind of magic: creative misreadings of Western religion in Akutagawa Ryûnosuke's Kirishitan mono.” AASRN International workshop with professor David Eng, Melbourne, December 11-12, 2008.
  • “Science Fiction as Subversive Hypothesis: Shinseinen and the henkaku tantei shosetsu,” Shinseinen: from entertainment to enlightenment International Workshop, the University of Sydney, December 3-4, 2008.
  • “Murakami Haruki and the Japanization of the English Language.” Murakami Haruki Symposium, the University of California at Berkeley, October 11-12, 2008.
  • “Modanizumu and Science Fiction: Naoki Sanjûgo’s henkaku tantei shôsetsu.” Asian Studies Association of Australia, Melbourne, July 1-3, 2008.
  • “Murakami Haruki and the Japanization of Modernity”, Kyoto Lectures, Italian School of East Asian Studies/Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient, Kyoto, March 27, 2008.
  • “Murakami Haruki as paramodernist”, Avant-pop Revolutions Panel, Nippon 2007 SF Worldcon, Yokohama, August 31-September 3, 2007.
  • “From Jusuheru to Jannu: creative misreadings of Christianity in the manga of Miuchi Suzue”. PCA/ACA Annual Conference, Boston, April 6-8, 2007.
  • “Lost in Translation? Murakami Haruki and the Japanization of the English Language." Wellesley College, October 25, 2006.
  • "Manga as American Literature", PCA/ACA Annual Conference, Atlanta, April 12-15, 2006.
  • "Murakami Haruki and the Power of Imagination", Sophia University, Tokyo, December 22, 2005.
  • "Murakami Haruki and the Power of Imagination", Japan Forum Lectures, Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies, Harvard University, December 9, 2005.