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2.D. Humanities at Large Blogpost 8 February 2018

8 February 2018
Lisa Yoneyama
Redress Culture in the Nuclearized Transpacific

Lisa Yoneyama, a faculty research fellow in East Asian Studies and Women & Gender Studies, presented the theoretical foundations of her work, which examines a series of historical moments of apology and reconciliation in the transpacific region: the Japanese military "comfort" system; the bombing of Hiroshima; the Sahtu Dene history of involvement with uranium mining; the Marshall Islanders' exilic condition resulting from the 67 atmospheric U.S. nuclear bomb tests; and the U.S. Cold War "Atoms for Peace" campaign and its relation to the 3.11 Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Yoneyama frames these events with a relational comparative approach - and the usefulness of this approach is that it permits the researcher to see the common structuring forces that draw these events together; it gets past the imperial privilege inherent in a position of not-seeing.

1st shipment of uranium 1931

The first shipment of uranium loaded at Sahtu (Great Bear Lake) by Dene miners, 1931.
Photo: Public Archives Canada

Relying on Manu Vimalassery, Juliana Hu Pegues, and Alyosha Goldstein ["On Colonial Unknowing" Theory & Event 19:4(2016) ], Lisa says, "it leads to me to know 'our position, my position, within our empire(s)' and in Canada's interimperial space. It also requires me to ask what exactly inhibits the understanding of indigeneity and race relationally and without the mediation by the state. None of us heard over the past several months the stories of the "subjunctive spirits" in Uganda, the medial violence of Christian inquisition, the postwar narratives of the Iran-Iraq wars, the Naganationalism in the postcolonial Indian state, the Bison repatriations, and the critique of the Canadian TRC, and many more, as having no relation to each other. But if indeed these stories in different contexts and conditions can be heard as unrelated and unrelatable, such habit of listening stems precisely from what Vimalassery, Pegues and Goldstein have problematized as the mode of "colonial unknowing" and its "tendencies that foreclose or bracket out interconnections and relational possibilities" (3).  What this privileged position of (un)knowing hides may indeed be the structuring legacies of imperialisms that continue to shape much of Canada's here and the now. With these and other thoughts in mind and with due vigilance, my project will consider the limits and possibilities of redress culture in the nuclearized transpacific."
Baker Explosion 1946

The "Baker" Explosion, part of Operation Crossroads, a nuclear weapon test by the United States at Bikini Atoll, Micronesia, on 25 July 1946. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Using the lens of apology, Yoneyama's work brings this relational perspective to bear in the cases of "comfort women" redress culture in conjunction with the radiogenic injuries of Hiroshima, the Sahtu Dene people, the Marshall Islands, and Fukushima. The variations on apology and reconciliation at these distinctive sites come into relation with one another through critical comparison. Apology performances, and their effects, are variously dictated by geopolitical conditions and their claims to unequivocal truthfulness can only be understood in the context of the legitimizing epistemologies of militarization, colonization, and nuclearism.

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