Winni Ni Awarded Takashima Graduate Student Grant

Every year, the Koichi Takashima Graduate Student Grant is given to one of the most promising graduate students in Japanese Cultural Studies. This year, Winni Ni impressed the selection committee with her pursuit of an exceptionally innovative and theoretically sophisticated dissertation titled, “Forms of Relating –The Representation of Intersubjectivity in Contemporary Border-crossing Literature (ekkyō bungaku) in Japan.” Border-crossing literature by contemporary authors who are non-native Japanese speakers, she writes, is commonly known for its polyphonic texts. Scholars have argued that authors create polyphonic texts to mirror and express the multi-lingual identities that resist being pinned down to any given category. This dissertation proposes to radically rethink border-crossing literature by focusing on the representation of relationships between the self and others within a community. Ni examines the narrative’s representations of ways of relating in various border-crossing contexts, exploring how the characters’ self-perceptions are co-constructed with other subjects in the present and in the past. She asks how border-crossing literature represents that process of co-construction using specific rhetorical forms and linguistic expressions, and how it creates a body of knowledge of intersubjective encounters across social, cultural, and linguistic boundaries.

Winni Ni headshot
Winni Ni. Photo Credit to SJP Photography

Through close readings of the border-crossing fictions by Yang Yi (b. 1964), On Yūjū (b. 1980), and Sagisawa Megumu (1968–2004), Ni aims to elucidate the literary rendering of self-emergence through constant and dynamic exchanges with others. She argues that border-crossing literature provides an alternative cultural notion of happiness—one that is grounded in mutual recognition, psychological belonging, and trust. Border-crossing literature achieves this by representing moments of mutual recognition as transformative, enlivening, and deeply pleasurable: they are what the narratives and the characters return to again and again, through highly stylized plots and affectively engaging expressions. Combining literary analysis with psychological and social theories of self-formation, Ni intends to open up new perspectives on Japanese border-crossing literature and to encourage others to use these polyphonic narratives to imagine how individuals could live with their explicit differences—better and together.