The Tree of Life: The Politics of Kinship in Meiji Japan and Victorian Britain
My dissertation examines the emergence of kinship as a cultural, scientific and literary concept in late 19th and early 20th century Japan (1870-1915). It tracks the conceptual origins of kinship in the spheres of colonial anthropology and evolutionary science, showing how literary writers modified the discourse of kinship in their own works to challenge the racially essentialist rhetoric to which this discourse gave rise. As the borders of the Japanese empire expanded around the turn of the 20th century, the Japanese state increasingly drew upon the language of biological kinship in order to justify an imperial project rooted in ethnic nationalism. Within this context, my dissertation articulates how transnational Japanese writers drew on late-Victorian science and its discourses of evolution, heredity, and eugenics in their literary writing to forge alternative modes of affective belonging that resisted the attempts of the state to co-opt the language of kinship for nationalistic ends. Building on Judith Butler’s notion of “queer kinship”—a term that gestures toward forms of relationality that deviate from biological or heteronormative bonds of belonging—I will demonstrate the importance of kinship as a conceptual frame for thinking about literary bonds between readers and writers in a historical moment in which race and nationhood constituted the primary vehicles for such belonging.