Telling stories about the “Land of the Rising Sun”: Contemporary Italian literature re-inventing Japan


Italian literature

How to Cite

Palumbo, F. “Telling Stories about the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’: Contemporary Italian Literature Re-Inventing Japan”. Mutual Images Journal, no. 3, Dec. 2017, pp. 5-25, doi:10.32926/2017.3.pal.telli.


Eco’s A Theory of Semiotics (1975) points out that cultural units are organised networks of meanings, so that semantic fields pertain to a specific culture’s world view. Narrative processes participating in sensemaking take place within a cultural context, and can be studied via a diatextual approach to the discursive structures and the tools of Greimasian narrative semiotics. Contextualisation in narrative enunciations means not only using elements of actorialisation, spatialisation and temporalisation, but also ‘dramatising’ the relationship between Self and Other through «cultural metaphors» (Gannon 2011). This paper explores three authors’ texts from post-WWII Italian literature, showing three different representations or ‘narrative uses’ of Japan: Il re dei Giapponesi (1949), an unfinished novel by Pier Paolo Pasolini; If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (1979), Palomar (1983) and Collection of Sand (1984) by Italo Calvino; Silk (1996), a short novel by Alessandro Baricco. In these texts, I examine the distinct meaning of Japan’s metaphors, highlighting the different levels of exoticism in Japan’s description, and the different degrees of the subject's involvement in terms of their relationship with otherness (embrayage or débrayage). Japan can be used in literary fiction as a ‘pretext’ (Pasolini), as a setting (Baricco), or as a context (Calvino). In any case, it serves as a cultural metaphor: a rhetorical apparatus conveying portrayals of Japan to Italian contemporary culture with different degrees of verisimilitude, ranging from an almost fable-like scenery to a vague historical background and a peculiar biographical frame.
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Copyright (c) 2017 Fabio Palumbo