Sacrificing the Subject: The Pacific War in American & New Zealand Fiction Writing
Thesis DisciplineAmerican Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Theodor Adorno famously stated that there can be no poetry after Auschwitz, a declaration that decried any attempt to ‘reform’ literary traditions without taking into account the Nazi Holocaust and the associated behaviours of which human beings had proven themselves so capable. Creative writers had only to look at what transpired in Europe during World War II, if they followed Adorno’s dictum, and their projects would necessarily self-terminate. But if one takes academic publications devoted to the literature of the Second World War as providing some indication of where scholarly attention most often falls, then the European theatre of operations invariably features prominently. In spite of Adorno’s challenge, or perhaps inspired by it, creative writers, that is, have published plenty of material of interest to literary scholars of Europe during World War II, as have those who address their efforts to events and moments associated with the Pacific half of the war. However, the literature of the Pacific War has yet to feature prominently in published studies, and speculations as to the reasons for this deficit have fallen back on generalities rather than developed argument, which might in turn suggest Eurocentrism within the academy or a discourse of Orientalism within research outputs. Then again, perhaps Adorno’s epitaph to creative expression has proven accurate in sentiment but not in its spatial-temporal marker – in other words, perhaps the Pacific War remains closed off to artists and scholars because of the moral, material, and inhumane imagery that surround its various nodal points. If that is the case, one must ask why this should be the case in literature of the Pacific rather more than in Europe. As a means to answer this question, I build upon John Dower’s central thesis that the Pacific War differed from the European arena in its ideology of racial hostility, my intention being to provide readers a thorough investigation of the literary formations that are associated with the war’s ‘signature moments’: island combat, imprisonment, internment, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Utilising a comparative methodology, I introduce readers to hitherto unexamined New Zealand sources alongside better-known American ‘equivalents’ in order to determine whether Anglophone writers are uniformly interpellated by, or responsive to, the racial ideologies of the Pacific War, or whether New Zealand writers might have an ‘exceptional’ perspective originating in their geographical isolation and / or the historical particulars of their wartime experiences. The finished study contains material of relevance to scholars of race and ethnicity, twentieth-century literature, and war studies, as well as those members of the general public whose interests include the literature and literary history of the Pacific War.