Artsists of the Floating World
In this paper, I examine two artists of the floating world: South African-born Bessie Head and Japanese-born Kazuo Ishiguro. Not only do these artists float across national borders in terms of their citizenship and cultural identities, but they also articulate through their fictional characters the pains and pleasures of inhabiting "ukiyo" (Japanese for 'the floating world'--a world of in-betweenness and uncertainty where binary opposites are seen as being reconcilable rather than mutually exclusive). Indeed, if public discourse in certain quarters of the West can be said to be characterized by binaries ("local" versus "global," "us" versus "them," "insider" versus "outsider," "developed world" versus "undeveloped world"), then artists of the floating world, I argue, offer provocative meditations on the implications and limitations of these binaries and how to transcend them.
By closely analyzing Head's "A Question of Power" (1976) and Ishiguro's "An Artist of the Floating World" (1986), I wish to raise and further develop two sets of theoretical questions: How do we "frame" the floating world (Head) and what narratives do we use to construct the floating world (Ishiguro)? In suggesting answers, both authors double back and forth between gestures of universal and local belonging, between renouncing and affirming specific national, racial, and gender identities. It is this dynamic that I wish to explore in the paper.
Keywords: Literary Analysis, Cultural Analaysis, Globalization Critique
Prof. Rob Burton
Professor of English Literature, Department of English, California State University at Chico
He is the author of "Around the World in 52 Words: Ritual Writing for this New Millennium" (Stansbury, 2002). His study of contemporary multicultural writing ("Artists of the Floating World") is about to be published by University Press of America (2006). He has published many essays on contemporary authors including Bessie Head, Kazuo Ishiguro, Zadie Smith, David Lodge, and John Fowles.