back toJacket2

This is Jacket # 2  |   # 2  Contents   |   Homepage   |   Catalog   |    

The Yasusada Affair -
Ethics or Aesthetics?

... the Kent Johnson / Akitoshi Nagahata letters

"’Yasusada’s’ writing is an entry into a spiritual space . . . It is a
work of art in the largest sense."
— Carolyn Forché

"This is essentially a criminal act."
— Arthur Vogelsang,
editor of the American Poetry Review,
quoted in Lingua Franca

"Knowing its fictitious nature, with a slight sense of disgust,
I find Yasusada’s poetry evil, and eerily beautiful."
— Hosea Hirata,
Assistant Professor of Japanese Literature, Tufts University

"(The Yasusada author) has done a brilliant job in inventing a world at once ritualized and yet startlingly modern, timeless yet documentary, archaicized yet au courant - a poetic world that satisfies our hunger for the authentic, even though that authentic world is itself a perfect simulacrum . . . . Like Pound’s "Homage to Sextus Propertius", the Yasusada notebooks force us to go back to the ’originals,’ so as to see what they really were and how they have been transformed."
— Marjorie Perloff,
Professor of Comparative Literature, Stanford University

This piece is about twenty printed pages long.

You can read Forrest Gander’s review of DOUBLED FLOWERING: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada, in Jacket # 4, and in Jacket # 5 Eliot Weinberger’s original "exposé" of the affair, Kent Johnson’s letter to American Book Review, and an Norbert Francis’s interview with Kent Johnson.

The materials of the Japanese poet Araki Yasusada (1907-1972), a survivor of Hiroshima, were published in Grand Street, Conjunctions, Abiko Quarterly, First Intensity, Stand, and The American Poetry Review. Gradually the rumor began circulating that Araki Yasusada did not exist and that the poems were a "hoax" perpetrated by the Japanese-American author Tosa Motokiyu or by his literary executor, the American poet Kent Johnson. On August 9th, 1997, Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s leading newspaper, published a front page story on Araki Yasusada, accompanied by his apocryphal penciled portrait. The article, along with a subsequent feature story in the Asahi, has made Yasusada an emerging literary sensation in Japan. Indeed, no other poetry in English in recent memory has provoked such wide-ranging international discussion and controversy before book publication. In major publications in the U.S., England, Australia, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Israel, and Italy, poets and critics have expressed excitement, hostility, and bewilderment toward Yasusada’s idiosyncratic work. They have judged it as everything from a "racist inspired hoax" to an "imaginative gesture of profound beauty and empathy."
Readers of Jacket magazine will be able to place Yasusada’s work in the context of the Ern Malley literary hoax of 1944 in Jacket 17.
And you can read six different articles on the Yasusada phenomenon here in Jacket.

In August 1997 Kent Johnson wrote to Akitoshi Nagahata, Associate Professor of English at the Faculty of Language and Culture, Nagoya University, Japan, asking him for a quote to go on the back of an imminent publication of Yasusada’s writings. Akitoshi Nagahata’s reply, together with the correspondence that followed, make up this Jacket supplement on the Yasusada Affair.
For those who wish to taste the original writings, they are collected in Doubled Flowering - From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada (176 pages, ISBN: 0-937804-71-1, $14.95) available from ROOF BOOKS at 303 East 8th Street, New York, NY 10009, USA, telephone 212-674-0199, or on the Internet at
Kent Johnson is a teacher, poet and editor, working in Illinois, USA.


From Akitoshi Nagahata, 17 August 1997
Dear Kent Johnson:
Thank you for your email. I suspect there is some misunderstanding between us. I thought what I was asked to write was a comment on the Yasusada controversy, either positive or negative, like those published in the Boston Review in response to Professor Marjorie Perloff’s essay on the issue. I wonder if this is correct. Or am I expected to write a praise for the book, like those found on the back cover or inside the book? Although I should refrain from talking about the content of the piece I wrote for the Asahi before it is published, what I wrote for it is not a praise but a criticism based on my doubt about the project in the light of the Hiroshima / Nagasaki issue. I presume the author of the Yasusada manuscript had a good intention in fabricating a fictional "hibakusha" poet, and feel that his desire to be identified with an anonymous victim would be a sincere one. But I think it would be difficult, especially for the real "hibakusha" people, to understand that circulating a false identity as if it were a real one, or being published as a "hibakusha" poet, is an act of sympathy with real "hibakusha." It seems to me a little too easy and self-complacent as a style of expression for such sympathy. After all, publishing as a "hibakusha" does not endanger his position at all but enhances his chance of publication. The project, in other words, seems to me to lack the anguish and pain commensurable to those the real "hibakusha" went through. Besides, the sympathy with the "hibakusha" is mixed up with the author’s other interests, most notably a desire to write postmodern poetry. In consequence, the edge of criticism against the dropping of the A-bombs and of the warning for the danger of nuclear weapons seems to be lost. Prof. Perloff says that it is necessary to write in a postmodern, disjunctive style to draw attention of the readers. That is perhaps true, but making his "Japanese" poet enjoy writing about "cocks and cunts" and girls singing about "fucking" is an act which would definitely sadden the real "hibakusha," who are in a sense identified with that fictional vulgar personage. 
Of course, I do not mean to claim the Yasusada poems are worthless. They include good American postmodern lyrics. And in relation to the A-bomb issue, I think one can even say that as a result of their being treated as a hoax, they called more attention to Hiroshima / Nagasaki than did the features of the real "hibakusha" poets in other journals. However, I cannot help criticizing the way the "hibakusha" persona is used and the Hiroshima / Nagasaki experiences are treated in those poems. You might say I undervalue the author’s intention, but at the moment there is too little information about him to change my judgment.  
I hope you and Mr. James Sherry will still accept my comment on the Yasusada project, which will include the above criticism, for the coming book. As for the other journals, I really appreciate your kindness for mentioning the possibility of writing, but if you think I am not the right person, please don’t hesitate to recommend some other person. If you feel my opinion is still worth publishing, I am most glad to write comments and appreciate your mentioning my name. 
I hope all this will not sound impolite to you. I respect your interest in the Asian cultures and your unionist stance that I observed in the Poetics List, and this email message does not mean that I revoked my respect. The Yasusada project is getting international, and more people will show interest in it in Japan too, when my comment appears tomorrow. Many people will feel like reading the Yasusada materials themselves, and so the publication of the book is welcome. Those who can read them in English will read them and think about them in their own way. Meanwhile, I am now translating Prof. Perloff’s essay and hopefully it will be published in a magazine later this year. Then you will hear more responses from more people in Japan. 
Sincerely yours,
Akitoshi Nagahata, Faculty of Language and Culture, Nagoya University


From Kent Johnson, 17 August 1997
Dear Akitoshi Nagahata:
YasusadaThank you for the honesty of your reply. Yes, of course, I will still urge any editors who contact me in the future to seek out your opinion. The writings of Yasusada do not seek in any way to be immune from criticism, and the thoughtfulness of your critique is precisely apropos to a major point of Yasusada’s writings: to engender real discussion around the complex ethical, emotional, and cultural issues inscribed into the "issue" of Hiroshima. The article appearing Monday sounds like it will be fascinating, and I hope to be able to see a translation of it sometime. 
As to the "commentary" for the book’s back-cover. I am sorry not to have been clearer - indeed, I was asking if you might write a brief quote of "praise", though my idea of praise was not that it would be unqualified. Such a brief quote might well point out some of the complications and paradoxes in the work that you touch on below, or stress the ethical dilemmas latent in such a gesture of empathy, etc. There will be an "appendix" of critical essays and an interview in the back of the book, but the corrected galleys are already back with the publisher, and I’m afraid it is too late to add any substantial piece at this date. However, the other book that is apparently being planned by the Boston Review editor sounds like it would be a great place for an essay by you, and as I said, I would be sure to recommend your name for that book if I am contacted. As well, I wanted to ask you: Given the future interest in Yasusada that you say there is likely to be, do you think that publication of the work in Japanese is at all a possibility? I would be interested in staying in touch with you on this possibility.  
Please allow me just a couple of comments regarding your remarks on Yasusada. As to "Silk Tree Renga," which you quote below, it is presented as "undated" and actually to be taken, along with some other pieces in the manuscript, as a pre-war poem, suggestively linked with the 1937 letter to Ogiwara Seisensui, which Marjorie Perloff also quoted in her essay. Yes, there is a good deal of bawdiness in that poem, but it is not meant to be taken as a "hibakusha" poem (though, of course, in the broadest sense none of the work is meant to be taken as hibakusha poetry, since Yasusada’s imaginary status is now openly announced). And I feel I must say, too, that the Yasusada was never intended to have a sharp "critical edge" vis a vis the atomic bombings, or to contain a "warning" against the use of nuclear weapons. Perhaps one could say that Yasusada came into existence for his creator because that person felt powerless to respond to the "unrepresentable" acts of Hiroshima / Nagasaki in any way but an indirect one - and here I use "indirect" in the sense of Kierkegaard’s mode of approaching (only approaching) truth through indirectness. This, I think, is very important to understand about Yasusada. His writings could never be actual documents of the horror of the bomb. But they are documents of another kind, and still, and fully, documents of Hiroshima, for Hiroshima is still with all of the people of the world. Yasusada contains all those marks of the "postmodern" that you and Marjorie Perloff point out, but as acts of necessarily failed understanding, perhaps his writings contain their own particular (albeit comparatively small) forms of "anguish and pain." Doubled Flowering does not in any way aim to substitute for hibakusha writing; and if the poems were presented as "authentic" in the first instance, it is because they would never have arrived at this complex and troublesome "second instance" otherwise. I believe this "second instance" is an important and intellectually and emotionally meaningful one. 
But please don’t take these fairly hasty comments as any kind of decisive articulation of the meanings of the Yasusada writings! They are very tentative ones, and I intuitively feel that those meanings are still largely waiting to come into being and to be played out. Your own comments challenge me to think further about what I am involved with and to question in a healthy way. So I thank you for your remarks. I hope that we’ll have the chance to continue to stay in touch. And I will greatly look forward to hearing from you after you see the galleys of the book, which I will still have sent to you in case you would still like to make a brief comment for the publisher’s consideration. 
Kent Johnson

From Akitoshi Nagahata, 20 August 1997
Dear Kent Johnson:
YasusadaThank you for your email messages. Sorry that I could not write you back sooner. I was occupied by another matter which I had to finish urgently. My comment on the Yasusada controversy appeared in the Asahi yesterday, one day later than previously notified. I will send you the translation of the article when it is finished. (I need a little more time. I’ve just started.)  
As for the interview with you and Mr. Alvarez to be published in the Denver Quarterly, someone in the Asahi’s Tokyo Office sent me a copy before I wrote the comment. I think they got it from you through their New York reporter. Without it, I would have written about the incident as a mere hoax, though it nevertheless failed to solve the questions concerning the stance toward the Atomic bombs in the Yasusada documents. Thank you any way for your proposal to send a copy of the interview. I also appreciate your kindness in which you proposed to recommend me to the publishers of the magazines in spite of my critical comment on the incident I sent to you earlier.  
As I wrote in my previous message, it is difficult for me to write a praise for the book, even if the book is worth reading. It is simply hard for me to write a paragraph including both recommendation and criticism, and suppressing the criticism would be taken as a sign of inconstancy by the readers of the Asahi.  
Regarding your comments on my previous message, I know "Silk Tree Renga" is a pre-war poem. The fact remains, however, that the persona identified as a "hibakusha" is shown to have been a bawdy poet. If a fictional poet is made into a "hibakusha," his or her earlier experiences would also be taken as those of the "hibakusha." They cannot be severed from the "hibakusha" identity. And the real "hibakusha" people will find them offensive, I think. Besides, the vocabulary denoting genitals and a sexual intercourse in Japanese still carries a strong connotation, which I think will be especially strong to the generation that went through the war. One cannot but wonder what’s the point of such excessive bawdiness in the fictional "hibakusha" personage.  
Although, as you say, the experience of Hiroshima / Nagasaki is "unrepresentable," any writing that touches on it is never free from its weight. Such writing can never evade the responsibility involved in the writing about it, either, I think. Writing about it inevitably reveals the author’s stance toward the incident. He or she would be subject to the questions over the use of the nuclear weapons, irrespective of the intent of that author. In this sense, any writing that touches on a "hibakusha" is "hibakusha literature." And, sad to say, the Yasusada manuscripts do not seem to take on that weight even with the "indirect" approach you mentioned in one of your previous messages. I understand there are ways of approach to the unrepresentable historical incident. But I feel the "indirect" approach of the Yasusada documents still lacks something that is necessary in referring to "hibakusha" experiences.  
It may simply be that I cannot understand the "indirect" approach (though I don’t think so), but the difficulty may have something to do with the criticism directed to the editors of the journals. If the Yasusada project is aimed at criticising, or taunting, the editors’ tendency of jumping at anything related to the victimized other, then this ciritical move might suggest trivializing the very empathy one feels toward the "victim," however sentimental it may be, along with the problematical Orientalism in the editors. I am not certain about this. So please correct me if I am wrong.  
As for the possibility of publishing a book on Yasusada in Japan, I cannot say anything yet. I’m going to send the translation of Prof. Perloff’s essay to a poetry journal soon but I have no idea what they will say about it. They may want to read more but they may also decline publishing it.  
Once again, thank you for your kindness to have the copies of the galleys of the book sent to me. I will send you the translation of the Asahi article soon, and let you know what kinds of responses I will have received.  
Akitoshi Nagahata


From Kent Johnson, 21 August 1997
Dear Akitoshi Nagahata:
YasusadaThank you for the last letter. I’ve been quite busy these past few days between preparing for the new semester and finishing the corrections on the book galleys, and so this will be a fairly brief response to your message, but I wanted to give you at least a reply before too long. 
I’m sorry you won’t be able to write a comment for the book, but I fully understand. Thank you, in any case, for considering it. You should receive the galleys of the book from James Sherry sometime soon. I wanted to offer some brief thoughts, then, to your most recent comments, hoping that this might keep our exchange going. It is one I greatly value. And I greatly appreciate your taking the time to translate the Asahi article for me. It’s wonderfully generous of you to do so. 
Now for some replies to your remarks. In your letter you write:

Regarding your comments on my previous message, I know "Silk Tree Renga" is a pre-war poem. The fact remains, however, that the persona identified as a "hibakusha" is shown to have been a bawdy poet. If a fictional poet is made into a "hibakusha," his or her earlier experiences would also be taken as those of the "hibakusha." They cannot be severed from the "hibakusha" identity. And the real "hibakusha" people will find them offensive. Besides, the vocabulary denoting genitals and a sexual intercourse in Japanese still carries a strong connotation, which I think will be too strong especially to people in the generation that went through the war. One cannot but wonder what’s the point of such excessive bawdiness in the fictional "hibakusha" personage.

But surely there were many "bawdy" or creatively idiosyncratic people in Hiroshima before the bomb. Isn’t this true? Yasusada has been imagined (in an act of cross-cultural daring, to be sure) as a highly individualistic and complex person. But I would stress that his playful and "vulgar" side is only one side of him, and I think the full book reveals this. Yasusada’s poems also suggest him as a man of deep emotion, of compassion, and of great intellectual openness. The Yasusada author attempted to bring forward, through the fragments of Yasusada’s notebooks, a man of emotional complexity and of decidedly non-stereotypical comportment. It is in this sense that I believe Yasusada’s humor and highly wrought sense of irony can be thought of as contributing to the work’s force as an empathic document rather than detracting from it. I think of him, in fact, as a figure somewhat, but not completely, akin to Nishiwaki Junzaburo, capable of incredible and moving delicacy but also of surprising flights of iconoclasm. How many people who might have been at least similar in spirit to Nishiwaki Junzaburo died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Can we say? Maybe even, perhaps, there was someone a little bit like Yasusada (or destined to be a little like him) in Hiroshima. If you grant at least this possibility, then why can’t Doubled Flowering be seen as a different and original but still honest form of tribute or mourning? 
Further on you write:

Although, as you say, the experience of Hiroshima / Nagasaki is "unrepresentable," any writing that touches on it is never free from its weight. Such writing can never evade the responsibility involved in the writing about it, either, I think. Writing about it inevitably reveals the author’s stance toward the incident. He or she would be subject to the questions over the use of the nuclear weapons, irrespective of the intent of that author. In this sense, any writing that touches on a "hibakusha" is "hibakusha literature." And, sad to say, the Yasusada manuscripts do not seem to take on that weight even with the "indirect" approach that you mentioned in one of your email messages. I understand that there are ways of approach to the unrepresentable historical incident. But I feel that the "indirect" approach of the Yasusada documents still lacks something that is necessary in referring to the "hibakusha" experience.

I agree without reservation with most of this paragraph. But in regards to the last three sentences, I can only hope that when you are able to read the complete work (the book will be about 170 pages) that you will feel differently about the writing’s overall implications. But I have to say, in response to your feeling that there was an underlying intent to "taunt" editors: No, there was never any desire to taunt anyone through this work - only to present poems that imagined another life in the most compelling way possible to their author. There is of course a heated and growing controversy over the manner of the poems’ presentation, and many have assumed that the primary motivation of the work was to "show people up." But here I need to ask: Whose problem is this? Is it the problem of the author, or is it the problem of a reading formation that has not yet come to accept and respect that any work may hide more regarding its creative origins than it appears to hold on its surface? Why shouldn’t heteronymous works exist and freely circulate amidst works that can be given an "empirical" and genetic ascription? Should readers and editors come to take such ascriptional democracy for granted, I think it would be a salutary development, one that would greatly expand imaginative freedom and make reading and writing more interesting in a variety of unpredictable ways!  
This point is important: The Yasusada author did not try to hide the work’s fictionality - it was there from the start, for everyone to see. But why should he be faulted for doing a good job in permitting readers to fully suspend their disbelief for just a while - and thus help them fully imagine, along with him, the life of a most fascinating man named Araki Yasusada? They imagined him, and now, as you yourself point out, many people who otherwise might not have spent any time wondering about Hiroshima are wondering a little more about it, and about their own belated, but still very relevant, relationship to it. 
Well, I see that I’ve gone on for longer than I’d planned. But thank you again for being willing to discuss these issues with me. I look forward to hearing from you and to having a sense of what the reaction to your article has been. 
yours sincerely,

From Akitoshi Nagahata, 1 September 1997
Dear Kent Johnson:
YasusadaSorry that I haven’t been able to answer your previous message. Regarding your question about the "bawdy" or creative idiosyncratic people in Hiroshima before the bomb, I think you are right. I presume there were poets who wrote bawdy poems in pre-war Hiroshima. But here it is important how one defines the word "bawdy." In my opinion, the vulgar aspect of Yasusada is beyond the category of "bawdiness" in the Japanese sense of the word. There must have been of course poems that referred to genitals and sexual intercourse in the history of Japanese poetry, but they were usually implicit and the expressions were milder. There are different levels of words in Japanese, as in English, for a female genital, for example, and, as far as I know, poets rarely used the most vulgar ones that might be translated into "cunt." One must also consider the genre. Explicit vulgarity might be allowed in "senryu" but not in "renga," even if it is experimental. So, though the Yasusada author might have "attempted to bring forward ... a man of emotional complexity and of decidedly non-stereotypical comportment," a Japanese poet making reference to "fucking" and "cunts" in such an explicit way in "renga" is far too unusual. It is extremely difficult to imagine such a Japanese poet. For the same reason, one could hardly take Yasusada’s explicit "bawdiness" as humor or irony. It is simply too harsh, too contemporary and American.  
Your comparison of Yasusada with Nishiwaki (one of my favorite poets) is puzzling too. He would never mention genitals or semen in his poems, which were of course not renga, tanka or haiku but "gendai shi" [modern poetry]. The manner in which sexual references are made in the Yasusada archive is so unnatural in the Japanese context that it alone would nullify the comparison between Yasusada and Nishiwaki. Besides, Nishiwaki is hardly an iconoclastic poet. I cannot think of one single poem which might be called iconoclastic in the sense applicable to Yasusada’s explicit sexual references. I think they are totally different.  
Regarding the satiric potential in the Yasusada texts, I think it is a feature inherent in the hoax. But your question - "Why shouldn’t heteronymous works exist and freely circulate amidst works that can be given an ’empirical’ and genetic ascription?" - is a difficult one to answer. The question probably has something to do with the generic conventions. The Yasusada archive is a writing presented in the name of a Hiroshima witness. It does include clues to its own fictionality. But the fact remains that the text made the readers expect a true account of the Hiroshima survivor and it betrayed that expectation. The Yasusada material - a fiction in the guise of a truth-claiming writing - thus breached the generic convention in which the authenticity of the author contributes to its truth claim. And I still believe this generic convention is important.  
One might compare the freedom of circulating heteronymous works with that of virtual reality, as might be realized with the email aliases. In that virtual reality, one might be able to enjoy becoming someone else, but one cannot accept any more the veracity of a statement which refers to the actual world. Every day can be April Fools’ Day. Isn’t it scary? The situation can easily be taken advantage of. Think about a text full of racist slurs, for example, circulated in the name of one’s friend the way that person would be in danger as a result. A text circulated in someone’s name the way it saddens that person. The Historical Revisionists who argue that there was no Holocaust or Nanjing massacre. So, even if the intent of Yasusada’s author is a good one, publishing a fictional text in the form of a witness document is detrimental to the generic convention of witness literature and I think we should be wary about this.  
Thank you for soliciting me into publishing our correspondence. If you think my email is meaningful in anyway, I don’t mind publishing it along with your messages.  
Best wishes.
Akitoshi Nagahata


From Kent Johnson, 22 September 1997
Dear Akitoshi Nagahata:
YasusadaFinally, I am responding to your last letter. You will see that this is a somewhat lengthy reply, in part because I took the liberty of sharing your letter with Emory University professor Mikhail Epstein, Russia’s most prominent critic of contemporary poetry and postmodern culture, and I have decided to include his thoughtful reflections herein. Doing this makes for a somewhat unusual format, but, well, this is a somewhat unusual exchange. Do you know his most recent book, After the Future: The Paradoxes of Postmodernism and Contemporary Russian Culture (Univ. of Massachussetts Press, 1996)? I think you would find it very interesting. Mr. Epstein also has two essays regarding Araki Yasusada in the "Appendices" section of Doubled Flowering, so it is appropriate, I think, that his views enter this conversation. After his extensive quote, I will also add a few more reflections of my own. Here is Mr. Epstein:

Thank you very much for the opportunity to read your correspondence with Akitoshi Nagahata. I like a lot the arguments Nagahata has presented for his "anti-hoax" stance. They are indeed presented with eloquence, as you say, but I cannot fully accept them for several reasons.

1). The first part of the argument is about how Yasusada’s work, in particular his explicit use of sexual imagery, would not have been typical and plausible for a Japanese poet of his generation. Akitoshi Nagahata’s response is clearly negative. "A Japanese poet who would make reference to "fucking" and "cunts" in such an explicit way in renga is far too unusual. It is extremely difficult to imagine such a Japanese poet."

As a guest from another field, I have nothing to oppose to Nagahata’s expertise in Japanese literature, but one simple methodological conjecture. Let’s imagine that Marquise de Sade’s manuscipts were found recently and sent for review to the specialists in 18 c. French literature. The specialists would probably deny these works’ authenticity, partly because there was nothing so sexually explicit in the "novel of Enlightenment" in literature of that period in general (and even later, because explicit eroticism in 20th c. literature was dominated by Sade’s influence and inspiration). They would conclude something like this: "There must have been of course narratives that referred to genitals and sexual intercourse in the history of French literature, but they were usually implicit and the expressions were milder."

The point is that the very inference "from typicality to authenticity" seems methodologically suspicious, because what makes outstanding writers outstanding is their untypicality, the break of aesthetic paradigm, the fact that they "stood out." Dostoevsky is far less typical for Russian literature of the 19 c. than dozens of mediocre "critical realists." Thus the discussion of if and how Yasusada was typical for a Japanese poetry of a certain period, very interesting in itself, does not provide arguments in favor of his being or non-being. None of the great authors of the past ever "could be" if the possibility of their existence would be deduced from the generic laws and mainstream stylistic devices of their period. I imagine a series of very well argued academic (parodic) articles that would convince us that Homer, Dante, Rabelais, Shakespeare, de Sade, Dostoevsky, etc. are "hoaxes" because they "could not be" on the assumption of what we know about their time and their contemporaries.

2) Let’s assume, nevertheless, that Yasusada "couldn’t be" and "never did." What is wrong about free invention of such a hyper-authorial personality? To cite Akitoshi Nagahata: "But the fact remains that the text made the readers expect a true account of the Hiroshima survivor and it betrayed that expectation. The Yasusada material - a fiction in the guise of a truth-claiming writing - thus breached the generic convention in which the authenticity of the author contributes to its truth claim. And I still believe that this generic convention is important... In that virtual reality, one might be able to enjoy becoming someone else, but one cannot accept any more the veracity of a statement which refers to the actual world. Every day can be April Fools’ Day. Isn’t it scary?"

I agree, it’s as scary as all year long of unbreakable convention. The so-called "poetry of witness" already has its 24 hours a day, 365 days a year of comprehensive watch on the American scene. And everywhere else in world literature. Let’s look into literary encyclopedias: Can you find among thousands of biographic entries even a dozen devoted to non-existent, physically void authors? (I don’t mean pseudonyms which still refer to real personalities under different names). Paradoxically, fiction still lacks those fictional rights and liberties that society can fully embrace and enjoy at least during Halloween and April 1.

According to aesthetic convention (and public consent), there is nothing morally reprehensible about the author who writes in the first person: "I killed a man" or "I hate human kind." Why should we be so indignant about the alleged "hidden" author who writes on behalf of another, fictional author: "My wife and daughter died in Hiroshima"? By what measure are fictional characters more aesthetically or morally admissible than fictional authors? Isn’t the task of critics to elucidate for the reading public the value of new literary conventions, rather than to deny these conventions on the ground of their novelty?

Finally, I would modestly suggest that the break of convention is exactly what moves literature on - a statement clearly trivial at least since the Russian Formalist school introduced the notions of "estrangement" and "de-automatization." In this sense, literature is not just kindly allowed to "betray the expectation" of the readers - this is, rather, exactly what literature is designed and destined for. In my view, the Yasusada "hoax," if it is hoax indeed, is the same type of hoax as any literary metaphor, trope, rhetorical figure, fictional character. Why is Motokiyu claiming to be Yasusada more scandalous than claiming "eyes" to be "stars"? "Hoax" is an authorial metaphor, the search for a new aesthetic convention, "de-automatization" of our conventional image of an author as a biological and biographical individual. "Hoax" is a dysphemism (the opposite of euphemism - it is a rare, but existing term) for a most generous creative act which reverses the intention of plagiarism: the latter takes another’s intellectual property as one’s own; the former gives away one’s own property as if it belonged to another author. We need now an antidote to this plague of universal plagiarism, this joyously banal and self-confident repetition of somebody else’s ideas and images under the post-modernist pretext of inter-textuality. The solution would not be a prohibition on hidden citations, but a creative reversal of citational mode itself, a revolution in inter-textuality that gives one’s own intellectual property to another or to others through a selfless placing in quotation marks of one’s own utterances...

I hope these considerations may contribute to your discussion with Akitoshi Nagahata, and, of course, I would be delighted to hear from you and from him on these really important matters.
Very warmly,

Well, as you might imagine, I find myself in general sympathy with these remarks (even if, as you will see, I am a little less assertive about my position than Mr. Epstein is of his). And I would add this further important point for consideration: Araki Yasusada’s poems are fictionally brought forward as a translation from Japanese by three Japanese-American poets for whom English is still a second language. Thus, what the reader is reading in English is not the "original," but an "Englishing" rendered by three hyperauthorial translators who are very much "contemporary" and "American" as you put it in your letter. The "bawdiness" of certain poems, then, certainly transgresses classical Japanese boundaries, but those boundaries must be read as having a "doubled" complication: A) In the sense of Yausada’s status as a Japanese man deeply impacted by the tendencies of international - and specifically American - avant-garde culture, and B) in the sense of Yasusada’s three translators, who are themselves strongly inflected by radical and post-modern literary tastes. Who is to say, that is, whether the "original" of "Silk Tree Renga" included the Japanese words for "cunt," "fucking," "sorority girls," or "pronto"? The idea of translation (or mistranslation!) across time and language in Yasusada is a complicating factor, and it is one that is intrinsic to the total aesthetic of the Yasusada work. 
And this issue, I feel, relates very much to your objection over my reference to Nishiwaki Junzaburo. I must say from the outset here that I do not pretend to even come close to your knowledge of Nishiwaki, so I offer these objections in a very modest spirit. In fact, my knowledge of Nishiwaki, is relegated to Hosea Hirata’s wonderful book, Modernism in Translation: The Poetry and Poetics of Nishiwaki Junzaburo (Princeton Univ. Press, 1995). Nevertheless, I ask you to consider whether my arguments on Yasusada’s affinities with Nishwaki may have some relevance: When I used the word "iconoclastic," I was thinking of my reading of Hirata’s translations of Eterunitasu, or the Le Monde Moderne section of Ambarvalia. These extended pieces seem to me to be - particularly in their historical context - nothing less than "idiosyncratic." In fact, these writings are strange and original not only vis a vis the background of traditional Japanese poetry, but also, even, in comparison to Western avant-garde movements of the time (and, I’m sure, to 99% of gendai-shi of the first half of the century). It’s not for nothing that Ezra Pound, whose watchword was "make it new," stated that Nishiwaki should receive the Nobel Prize! 
And when you say that Yasusada and Nishiwaki are totally different, I would have to defer to you in the broadest sense, but with an important qualification. For the work of both Yasusada and Nishiwaki is deeply impacted and mediated by the "foreign," that is, by translation. One could say that Nishiwaki’s work does not exist without the "other", and clearly, as well, Yasusada does not exist without a translated culture that is yearned for and imagined by his unknown creator. Isn’t Nishiwaki’s art a profoundly hybrid one, self-consciously enfolded into the foreign? And isn’t Yasusada’s writing, though certainly in no way comparable to Nishiwaki’s greatness, also hybrid and invaded by the doubleness of translation - though here again, in the oddly refracted sense of the imaginary Yasusada under the spell of American poetry, and his "real" creator under the spell of an imagined Japan? It is interesting to wonder what the author of "The Extinction of Poetry" and "Esthetique Foraine" would have thought of Yasusada. 
Now on your comments in the third paragraph, referring to the matter of anonymity and heteronimity: Here I must acknowledge that there is a central and difficult point you raise that I cannot categorically answer in relationship to the problematics of atomic-bomb literature. You say: "The Yasusda material - a fiction in the guise of a truth-claiming writing - thus breached the generic convention in which the authenticity of the author contributes to its truth claim. And I still believe that this generic convention is important."  
Though it might seem surprising, I, too, feel that this convention is important, and Yasusada’s departure from it certainly raises some unsettling questions. One could ask, for example, if Yasusada’s convincing dissimulation might have the effect of undercutting the authority of hibakusha writing of testimony? Doesn’t Yasusada potentially weaken and undermine a measure of the real that should, to some degree, be protected and shielded from the distorting lens of the imaginary? This is an important question, and I sense that it underlies your hesitations about Yasusada - and it is not a question that I would pretend to be able to answer with any high degree of confidence.  
But precisely here, I think, is where Yasusada’s paradoxical nature comes in. For it is inside this temporary breaching of authenticity that the Yasusada author is able to write an authentic and historical document of another kind - a record not of the bombing itself, but of one faint but very real echo or background-trace of that unimaginable event. Where is that trace? In the mind of a "post-modern" man of no importance, who chooses, in an act of somewhat hopeless solidarity with those who vanished, to erase his name. You see, it is precisely through this forbidden door of "inauthenticity" that Motokiyu enters an authentic and profound yearning to join those who can never be joined. For the Yasusada author, the "inauthentic" made possible a degree of empathy and expressivity not available through the "truth" of his discrete identity. Is this "idiosyncratic" gesture sufficiently meaningful in spirit and art to justify its transgression of the conventions of "truth-claim" as you phrase it? I can only say that I suppose time and future voices will have to tell. 
Here is a quote I came upon by Kuroko Kazuo, whose writings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki you surely know. I feel his words in this instance connect suggestively with some of these ideas:

"To think about ’atomic-bomb literature’ is to be made aware that ’literature’ proceeds with the world not as its telos but as its fundamental condition. That is to say, insofar as ’language’ locates its basis in actuality, however much it may be ’fictionalized’, a literary work performs its own role in the actual world. The very existence of an atomic-bomb fiction leaves us with no alternative but to recognize this."

Yasusada aims to perform his own role in the actual world. He does this through his transgressive fictionality, and, paradoxically, through his irreducible actuality. It is this doubled merging, it seems to me, that has everything to do with the troubled and troubling nature of Hiroshima, and with the still open parentheses of who has the right and duty to speak and imagine within it. 
Kent Johnson

From Akitoshi Nagahata, 24 October 1997
Dear Kent Johnson:
YasusadaThe following is my response to your last message. I’ve spent a whole week for revision after all, and I still feel some of the points need more clarification. So please ask if you find any part of the below unclear.  
(1) Regarding the typicality of Yasusada’s personality, Prof. Epstein says, "the discussion of if and how Yasusada was typical for a Japanese poetry of a certain period ... does not provide arguments in favor of his being or non-being." I agree. But I think he misunderstands my argument. I’m not merely saying Yasusada is an untypical and unlikely character. I’m rather arguing that it would be problematical to "represent" hibakusha by this untypical character and in the writing ostensibly claiming historical truth. I also feel that Yasusada’s untypical "bawdiness" would collide with the author’s avowed empathy toward the nuclear bomb victims. The Hiroshima / Nagasaki survivors were identified with and represented by the bawdy Yasusada. Why did the author of the Yasusada documents "select" this untypically bawdy character to represent hibakusha in a style which is ostensibly "non-fiction"? Or rather, why did he choose to characterize his "fictional author" as a hibakusha and untypically bawdy as a Japanese poet? It would have been understandable, if this untypical personage had been presented as a fictional character from the beginning; then the puzzling bawdiness could be attributed to the imagination of the author, whoever that was and however inappropriate that characterization was. The untypicality of a fictional character matters, I think, if he/she is presented as a real person and that his/her presentation can be taken as a commentary on a controversial historical event. If Marquis de Sade had also turned out to be a fictional character, the morality of the author who made that character untypically bawdy would also be questioned. Sade, however, is real and we thus simply accept him as a fact; it would be absurd to discuss his untypicality because nobody created and characterized him as a bawdy personage as in the case of Yasusada.  
(2) As to the non-existent, physically void authors, I simply don’t understand your or Prof. Epstein’s enthusiastic support for them. Why is it so important to have a milieu in which anonymous or heteronymous authors can be treated equally with authors with a biographical name? I can understand the menacing presence of the state always watching its citizens and monitoring if they are doing and saying right things - the image of the Orwellian or Solzhenitsynian terror state. (The pre-war Japan must have been a similar case, or even worse.) And I think I can understand an argument that publishing a fictional "hibakusha" as a real person is a symbolic gesture for preserving a private space where one can say what he/she likes to say without being watched or taped. It seems to me, however, that publishing fictional texts in the guise of truthful documents does more than just breaching the state monitoring system; it could also mean giving up the basis on which the veracity of a given statement is vouchsafed by the authenticity of the person who says it. (The state’s monitoring system is scary, but so is the state’s manipulation of information, or historical revisionists’ false testimony.) Prof. Epstein says the "so-called ’poetry of witness’ already has its 24 hours a day, 365 days a year of comprehensive watch on the American scene." Perhaps he’s right. It must be suffocating. But why should we get rid of it? Whether we like it or not, witness literature still occupies an important position in the writing sphere, and I have to repeat here that it is dangerous to get rid of it. Turning the writing milieu into an arena of purely fictitious writings - where "who wrote" doesn’t matter any more, nor the veracity of its historical references - means banishing "non-fiction" writing from the arena and reducing it virtually to a fiction contest. Ironically, in such a literary environment hoax would be meaningless, for it presupposes some kind of veracity to be simulated. The idea of hoax would be absurd in an environment where everyone - the writers, the readers, the publishers - knows it’s hoax, that it’s fiction.  
Prof. Epstein says, "Why should we be so indignant about the alleged ’hidden’ author who writes on behalf of another, fictional author: ’My wife and daughter died in Hiroshima’? By what measure are fictional characters more aesthetically or morally admissible than fictional authors?" We shouldn’t be so indignant if we knew that there is a "hidden" author behind the fictional author, that is, if we knew that the fictional author is after all fictional. Fictional characters are more admissible than fictional authors because they (fictional characters) are, by convention, exempt from responsibility for statements they make in a fiction; it’s the author who takes the responsibility. The phrase, "a fictional author," seems to be an oxymoron. If an author is fictional, there is always someone - or some people, or even some machine - who has created that fictional subject. A writing ostensibly claiming historical truth by a "fictional author" - like Yasusada’s documents - is thus no more than a fiction presented and circulated as "non-fiction" by someone who should simply be called an "author." 
(3) Regarding the idea that Yasusada’s bawdy phrases are a result of translation, I thought about that possibility too at first. But, of course, we cannot forget Yasusada’s translators are also fictional characters. So the mistranslation must be considered as part of the scheme of the hidden author who created these fictitious documents and presented them as real. He, the hidden author, used expressions such as "cunt" and "fucking," in the masks of the three translators characterized as non-native speakers of English. These expressions thus are the hidden author’s choices. And here again the question is: why? Why did he "select" those expressions? Besides, irrespective of mistranslations, we cannot deny that the author chose to make the girls sing of love-making explicitly in the "original" and put in a screen that reminds of male and female genitals - these alone would be problematical enough, whether or not translated with excessively bawdy words, to make Motokiyu’s empathy to hibakusha suspicous.  
I am insistent on the references to genitalia in the Yasusada writing because they sound contradictory to Motokiyu’s claim for sympathy with the hibakusha. Even with the problematical manner of their presentation, the Yasusada documents would be more acceptable if the author’s sincerity were expressed more convincingly in their contents. But the references to genitalia, along with other examples of Americanizion, seem to be jarring against his good intention.  
(4) Let me be brief on Nishiwaki this time. I haven’t read Hosea Hirata’s book, but I read Ambarvaria again. And I must say I still can’t feel Yasusada is close to Nishiwaki, nor the latter is so iconoclastic. As you say, Nishiwaki has a lot of foreign elements in this early collection of poems. He wrote his graduation thesis in Latin. He was writing poems in English in London and was influenced by the new trends in the poetry scence there. And some of the poems in this collection could be read as translations of Imagist poems. But I don’t feel Nishiwaki was trying to incorporate the element of the Other in his poems by way of these uses of foreign elements. For foreign elements were not rare in other "gendai-shi" poets of his times. Even the early poems of Takamura Kotaro were filled with translated foreign words. The poets of the early Showa Period were going through a variety of influences of the Western Modernism. There were anarchist poets, Futurist poets, poets of Neue-Sachlichkeit, Surrealists, and Dadaists in Japan too. Compared to these avant-gardists, Nishiwaki doesn’t look so iconoclastic. His poems are far more acceptable than, say, those of Hagiwara Kyojiro, an anarchist. One of the characteristics of the poems included in Ambarvaria is that they are impersonal. The "I" in these poems feels to be a mask that Nishiwaki wears - one of the Modernist techniques, and this aspect seems to strike a contrast with Yasusada’s confessional mode of writing, in spite of the masked identity of this fictional character Although Yasusada as a fictional personality - and the assumption that his poems are translation - contributes to the sense of "otherness" in the whole project, his poems themselves are highly confessional. Of course, all this is my reading of both Nishiwaki and Yasusada, and I do not mean to impose it on anyone. I cannot see similarity between Yasusada and Nishiwaki, but if you see otherwise, I have no right to object to it.  
In addition to the above ruminations, I’d like to add one more observation, which I believe is not necessarily criticism. Going through the exchange of email, I’ve come to feel the need of new interpretation of the "indirect approach" you mentioned in an earlier message, for I now suspect that one of the meanings of the Yasusada writing is that it has been showing that the author’s wish for becoming the other can never be fulfilled. Taking the place of an anonymous hibakusha is only realized in a fiction, and all the efforts to be the real Other prove to be a succession of failures. However, these very failures - including the efforts of the author’s friends to set up a new genre in which his writing is not distinguished from that of the real hibakusha - succeed to prove the impossible and audacious purpose of the project, which thus reveals the irreparable and irreplaceable nature of Hiroshima / Nagasaki "indirectly." So the Yasusada project must continue to fail, in order to successfully express its "indirect" message on the incident. It must continue to be subject to criticism and attacks, instead of eulogy or appraisal. If this is what you meant by the "indirect approach" of the Yasusada writing, I think it has been successful since the time when it was published and became a scandal. I hope this remark doesn’t sound derogatory. Easy acceptance of this impossible attempt to really "be" a hibakusha is actually a case of misunderstanding of this whole project. None other than the difficulty it is going through, or the rejections it encounters, is the sign of the success of its "indirect approach." Though I’m still not sure if this complicated approach is more appropriate than simply writing a fiction with a hibakusha as its main character as a way of writing on Hiroshima / Nagasaki, I now feel it’s at least possible to see the Yasusada project in this highly "postmodern" view-point.
Sincerely yours,
Akitoshi Nagahata


From Kent Johnson, 28 October 1997
Dear Akitoshi Nagahata:
YasusadaIn Doubled Flowering, Yasusada writes a letter to the ghost of the American poet Jack Spicer, and he enters the following quote from Saint Augustine’s Soliloquia:

On the stage Roscius was a false Hecuba by choice, a true man by nature; but by that choice also a true tragic actor because he fulfilled his purpose, yet a false Priam because he imitated Priam but was not he. And now from this comes something amazing, which however no one doubts...that all these things are true in some respects...and that only the fact that they are false in one sense helps them toward their truth. Hence they cannot in any way arrive where they would be or should be if they shrink from being false. For how could the actor I mentioned be a true tragic actor if he were not willing to be a false Hector, a false Andromache, a false Hercules? Or how could a picture of a horse be a true picture unless it were a false horse? Or an image of a man in a mirror be a true image unless it were a false man? So if the fact that they are false in one respect helps certain things to be true in another respect, why do we fear falseness so much and seek truth as such a great good? Will we not admit that these things make up truth itself, that truth is so to speak put together from them?

I feel this beautiful and strange quote suggests much about the spirit of the Yasusada work and about its complex engagement with the vexed questions of "truth" and "responsibility" as they relate to artistic expression. In particular, perhaps it could be seen as relating indirectly (though I do not have a logical explication here) to artistic acts that presume to broach a matter as profoundly charged for both of our cultures as the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I would be interested to know what you think about St. Augustine’s words. 
I’ve found your last letter very thought-provoking and challenging. We seem to be far apart on some questions, to be sure (the issue of "erotic" language, for example), but perhaps there are other issues where further dialogue might bring us closer together. Perhaps this might be the case in regards to the issue of "witness" literature vis a vis heteronymous forms of authorship. To be honest, I think your position on this is somewhat more "dogmatic" than mine or Mikhail Epstein’s. I feel, in fact, that your argument presents this issue as if it were an either/or problem or a ’zero sum game" - as if literary truth and responsibility are contingent on certain conventions of ascription or more or less fixed relations between authors and readers.  
But why can we not conceive of the general reader as having a more complex disposition toward reading than currently prevails? What about a reading climate, if you will, where the authorial origins of works are placed within temporary brackets as a matter of course, where readers assume that authors may, for a variety of reasons, extend a work’s fictional status out beyond the boundaries of the text or book itself? Within the more open expectations of such a reading formation, a Yasusada would not represent an ethical violation of truth-claim, for he would be a figure who is potentially fictional - or metafictional, if you will - from the moment the reader looked upon his name. The reader, thus, would be expected, and would expect, to proceed with a certain attitudinal difference, observing a healthy scepticism, and ready to problem-pose the variety of motives a writer might have for creating an author. This kind of writing and reading would in no way threaten the future existence of "empirical" or "marketable" authorships; it would simply expand the idea of what authorship might mean and of what roles and responsibilities readers might take on. 
I can’t, therefore, agree with your suggestion that fictional authorships (i.e., where the fictionality of the ascription is unacknowledged) necessarily amount to a kind of unhealthy deceit of the unwary reader. One might well frown upon works which present themselves under assumed pretenses and which are intended to completely hide their sleight-of-hand, particularly if the author’s or artist’s intent is simple forgery for egotistical motives. But what of works carefully designed to temporarily alter their reception because such altering is a crucial component of their aesthetic and critical impulse? What about works that are written by other names because to the author this is how they demand to be written? What about works that present themselves as written by another, yet are intentionally and liberally mined with the clues to their own eventual undoing? As Marjorie Perloff has pointed out, the Yasusada writings always/already (if you’ll pardon that term) included a sub-text of self-exposure. And I should point out that this sub-text created by Motokiyu is much more extensive than commentators have yet noted.  
This fact, I believe, complicates the perceived problem with the writing being presented "in the guise of truthful documents," as you put it. My question here is the same one I asked in a previous letter: What are the sources of this problem of authorial "truth-claim"? Is the problem really with the Yasusada author (who has emphatically stated he could only produce the poems he did because he remained hidden), or does the problem reside in overly narrow and entrenched notions of reading and writing - notions that cannot admit imaginative forms that extend beyond the comforts of the given name? What do we say to those great writers of the past for whom a "falsification" of "true" identity was, under certain conditions, an artistic imperative? 
In this regard, allow me to quote from a letter I wrote to Mr. Jon Silkin, the editor of the venerable British magazine Stand, where poems by Yausada were published before his fictionality had been publically brought forward in articles by Eliot Weinberger and Marjorie Perloff:

Allow me to say that if Motokiyu’s works are merely "fakes" then so are the pseudonymous works of Pessoa, Pushkin, and Kierkegaard, to name just three authors who felt compelled at times to enter into other identities in order to create. These writers, as I’m sure you know, wrote and published important portions of their works "as" others. For them, anonymity was not a "trick" but a need, something intrinsic to their creative drive at given times. Likewise, for Moto, anonymity - and its efflorescence into multiple names - was a gateway into a radically sincere (I use that word with care) expression of empathy. Rather than being "fakes," I would offer that the Yasusada writings represent an original and courageous form of authenticity - one that is perhaps difficult to appreciate because of the extent to which individual authorial status and self-promotion dominate our thinking about, and practice of, poetry.

It occurs to me as I write that to this list could be added (among quite a few, of course) the name of Ki no Tsurayuki, the male governor of Tosa province who penned the classic Tosa Diary under the guiseof a woman. I’d like to ask: What is the meaning of this "misrepresentation"? Is the work not what it is precisely because the author radically absented himself from view? I know the comparison has its limits, but Ki no Tsurayuki’s "guise" is written into the very taste and texture of his wonderful work, and so it is with Tosa Motokiyu in Yasusada.  
Now as to the question of Yasusada’s language. You write: "I am insistent on the references to genitalia in the Yasusada writing because they sound contradictory to Motokiyu’s claim for sympathy with the hibakusha." But why? Would Motokiyu have been more authentically "sympathetic" if he had created a pure, sentimentalized hibakusha, one more faithful, perhaps, to the sanitized and essentialized constructions of the "other" that permeate the current American cultural scene? For Motokiyu, the strongest ’sympathy" he could convey was through the creation of the most real human character he was able to imagine - one with rough edges, bad language habits, sexual desires, deep longings for his loved ones, unresolved feelings of anger, strange flights of humor, instincts of compassion and generosity, embarrassing spells of confusion, stumblings into pettiness, unusual tastes for the foreign, etc.  
I must ask, again, and as directly as possible, if it is in fact inconceivable that a Japanese poet could have used such language as is contained in "Silk Tree Renga"? And if indeed a Japanese poet could have used such language, why is it wrong for an American poet to imagine him doing so? Is it only because Yasusada is fated to become a hibakusha? It may well be that I am not able to sense something subtle and important here, but I simply cannot see how Yasusada’s pre-war poetic language can be construed as diminishing the empathic force of the total work. On this issue, I have shared our correspondence with Eliot Weinberger, one of America’s preeminent critics and translators of poetry, and his response included the following:

I’m very puzzled by Nagahata’s argument of the "impossibility" of A.Y.’s explicitness in Japanese poetry. (And Epstein is right to compare the impossibility of Sade.) In 1917 you have very shocking poetry by Hagiwara Sakutaro - smearing lipstick across his mouth to kiss a birch tree - which more or less "opens" Japanese poetry for anything. In the 50’s there’s the very explicit (including "bad" language) Shiraishi Kazuko, and in the 60’s the even more explicit (and gay) Takahashi Mutsuo. I don’t recall when AY is supposed to have written "fuck" in a renga, and I don’t know enough about Japanese poets in the years between - but it doesn’t seem to me a major leap. Moreover, AY was writing for himself, not intending to publish, so if he felt like writing "fuck" he could have done so without concern. And of course Japan, as a tradition-bound society, has an equally honorable tradition of breakers of taboos. If Yasusada didn’t exist, he should have.

I have to be absolutely clear here regarding what I know: Yasusada’s "bad language" was not entered into the pre-war "Silk Tree Renga" out of disrespect to the hibakusha. Motokiyu chose those particular words for certain lines by Yasusada, Fusei, and Kusatao, because they gave a more disturbing edge and power to the poem (euphemized terms simply would not have worked), and because he imagined these rebellious poets (who were not at all happy with the growing militarism and official censorship) as having no compunction in their small, obscure circle about using such genre-transgressing language. 
Finally, I’d like to comment briefly on your idea that Yasusada’s ultimate import and meaning is that his writings represent a kind of ethical and ontological failure, a reaching for a state of "otherness" that unwittingly but poignantly demonstrates the "impossible and audacious purpose of the project...the irreparable and irreplaceable nature of Hiroshima / Nagasaki." In fact, I think this is a brilliant insight - this could well be seen as one of Yasusada’s possible meanings (because I do think he could be seen as having many). But perhaps Doubled Flowering’s most direct meaning is that it is a record of one American writer’s desire to answer his own culture’s act of barbarity fifty years back with a small tribute or memorial of imagination. And I think you have the word right: The gesture is, however paradoxically, confessional in its spirit. I am not sure that this particular "meaning" can be spoken of in the sense of success or failure. It is simply a meaning, a fact that offers itself for its own sake at the end of a number of years of imagining. 
Thank you once again for taking the time to share your thoughts and criticisms. I’ve deeply appreciated the chance to exchange these ideas with you. I hope we will continue to be in touch. Now I will send what exists between us on to Robert Nelsen at Common Knowledge, in hopes that our discussion might be shared with others. 
Kent Johnson

Other comments on the Yasusada deception:
"The ’scandal’ of these poems lies not in the problematics of authorship, identity, persona, race or history. Rather, these are wonderful works of writing that also invoke all of these other issues, never relying on them to prop up a text. In a time and place where book jacket blurbs routinely claim that X or Y poet has written a work that has "found that which is essential" in whatever, this book makes the argument for anti-essentialism. That it has done it so well infuriates folks with a proprietary interest in categories. Thank you, Araki Yasusada!" — Ron Silliman
"Having edited the volume Atomic Ghost: Poets Respond to the Nuclear Age and having read a great deal of poetry on Hiroshima, both by hibakusha and non-hibakusha, I find Yasusada’s ’Mad Daughter and Big-Bang’ simply one of the most moving and revealing poems ever written on the effects of the Bomb. If we ignore the strange and wonderful writing we find in this book, future readers may judge the real fraud not Yasusada, but us." — John Bradley
"(It is) a mistake, I think, in having ’Kent Johnson’ stand for the author. He/She/They should be known as the Yasusada Author, much as we refer to a Renaissance painter as the Master of the X Altar.... (Yasusada) is both the greatest poet of Hiroshima and its most unreliable witness." — Eliot Weinberger, Boston Review and the Village Voice
"Yasusada’s manuscripts have attracted wide attention. Among the readers is included a poet who confessed that he was so moved that he "could not sleep." ... Whether Yasusada’s fictional texts are worth appraisal as that which expresses a desire for a union with the victims of the atomic bombs, or whether they are a beautiful but superficial composition which evades the issues of responsibility and guilt, one cannot find any sort of agreement among poets and critics in American circles.... In the wariness not unlike that of evading a taboo, one might feel an inarticulate pressure against this issue which seems to be lurking in the American society. Now that Yasusada’s fictionality is admitted, the ripples of this scandal will reach further. One could not overlook then how the discussion will develop, particularly on the relation between the responsibility and guilt over the atomic bombs and the way literary fiction should pose itself in opposition to these heavy questions." - Akitoshi Nagahata, Asahi Shimbun [the photograph above left is of Akitoshi Nagahata.]
You can read Forrest Gander’s review of DOUBLED FLOWERING: From the Notebooks of Araki Yasusada, in Jacket # 4

Kent Johnson teaches English and Spanish at Highland Community College, in Freeport, Illinois, USA. He is the translator of A Nation of Poets: Writings from the Poetry Workshops of Nicaragua (West End Press, 1985), and editor of the anthologies Beneath a Single Moon: Buddhism in Contemporary American Poetry (Shambhala, 1989), and Third Wave: The New Russian Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 1991).

Kent Johnson’s author notes page gives more recent information.
Jacket’s ‘author notes’ provide direct links to various pages in the magazine that feature more of an author’s work, reviews of their books, and interviews.

J A C K E T # 2  Contents page
Select other issues of the magazine from the | Jacket catalog | read about Jacket |
Other links: | top | homepage | bookstores | literary links | internet design |
Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that this material is copyright. It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose

This material is copyright © Kent Johnson, Akitoshi Nagahata
and Jacket magazine 1997
The URL address of this page is