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Whose Memory You Are Asking: Yamashitas Narrative Voice of Human, Material, and Memory

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Ah-young Kim

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서울대학교 인문대학 영어영문학과
영학논집, Vol.42, pp.1-20
narratorhuman-material entanglementglobal and localhistoryKaren Tei YamashitaThrough the Arc of the Rain Forest
This paper considers the strange first-person, supposedly omniscient narrator of Karen Tei Yamashitas Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, through the varied and sometimes contradictory aspects of its humanlike voice, distinctly non-human materiality, and role as a narrative satellite that mediates human and non-human histories. The plastic ball that is attached to Kazumasa Ishimarus head narrates the en tirety of the novel, claiming a clairvoyance over events happening across different times and localities that exceed the bounds of a human being. Yet this same narrator, in its close attachment to Kazumasa, comes to bear not only a physical but emotional relationship with the man, to the point that it affects a distinctly humanlike persona within its supposedly inhuman narration. This entanglement of human and material, local and global, has been interpreted in terms of Yamashitas expansion of Asian American literature towards a broader view at the global relations that compose an individual narrative. At the same time, the ball is distinctly made of plastic, and more specifically, the Matacão plastic that becomes the focus of each characters journey to the region. From a more ecological, materialist perspective, Through the Arcs plastic narrator points to a personification of the plastic and petroleum industry itself, revealing the impact of industrialization and waste upon both human and non-human environment. Taking both sides into consideration, this paper finally takes note of the narrator as a satellite—not only mediating the global and local, human and plastic sides of the story, but also embodying the very communication technology that frames the narrative. Likened to a TV satellite transmitting the telenovela surrounding Matacão, the balls materiality shows how a seeming progress in industry and technology is rather a reversal, arcing back to converge with a prehistoric time of the rainforest. The narrators particular position as a memory, an already dead entity brought back to retell its narrative, reveals a thick time that compresses the history it tells to emphasize a continuity between the past and the present.
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