The event of Hiroshima in Australian Literature
This essay examines the representation of the event of Hiroshima in works by Nam Le and Shirley Hazzard. It takes as its primary point of departure Vilashini Cooppan’s argument for the capaciousness and the permeability of national forms and figures in her 2009 study Worlds Within, which examines both the “global connections” and the immense interiorities of national stories. Cooppan’s twinned or doubled movement of contraction and expansion, drawing in particular on her contention that “Nations … are fantasmatic objects knotted together by ambivalent forces of desire, identification, memory, and forgetting, even as they simultaneously move within, across, and beyond a series of spatial and temporal borders (us/them, territory/flow, present/past, life/death). The space of nations is never simply their own. What the structure of national identification conceives of as the outside—the world beyond the border, the cultural other outside the compact—is in fact always already inside, always already present in the very moment and process of national formation.”
Nam Le’s story “Hiroshima” presents the time leading up to the American bombing of Hiroshima through the unknowing eyes of a child who will witness the event. By contrast, Shirley Hazzard represents the period after the bombing through the eyes of westerners visiting the ruined city, basing these observations on her own experience as a 16 year old who had been taken to the site in 1947. The tensions between these two literary events, separated in time and cohering around an historical event which happens outside the frame of the narrative in both cases, highlight some of the complications of national literary forms and representations. The essay traces the discursive as well as the imaginative and textual engagements with the event of Hiroshima of these two works and reflects on the significance of their differences.