OUT and The Factory Ship: Debt and Destruction

In her article on Kirino Natsuo’s novel OUT (Inside OUT: Space, Gender, and Power in Kirino Natsuo), Amanda Seaman cites an interview with the author who states that she sees the work as a “Kani Kōsen (The Factory Ship) for part-time workers.”  Seaman notes that (among other things) the fact that Kirino is not arguing for a change in conditions at the factory, and the individualistic portraits of the characters prevent a reading of the novel as traditional proletarian literature; yet she sees parallels in the way both Kobayashi and Kirino use landscape and space to define the situation of the characters in both of these works.  I agree with Seaman’s ideas about the authors’ use of space.  However, I think there is also an interesting comparison to be made regarding the use of capital in both narratives and the shifting conceptions intertwining money and the loss of identity.  As Seaman noted, strong individualism runs against the themes of proletariat literature and OUT is rooted in the actions and motivations of its specific characters.  However, I think this leads to an interesting contrast in the images of the use of capital and the destruction of the characters in the stories. Both The Factory Ship feature distinctive imagery in which the human is not simply killed, but all trace of the body is wiped from existence.  In The Factory Ship this is most obviously seen in the sinking of a ship of workers – they simply cease to be.  In OUT the women use their expertise as part-time workers in a bentō (box lunch) factory to dismember and box up bodies that are to be shipped off for incineration at a junkyard.

The different notions of capital and debt are interesting in terms of how they are reflected in the ultimate destruction of the human body.   In The Factory Ship the conventions of proletarian literature focus the narrative on the workers as a whole, and the mass of capital evinced in the ship itself and the company superintendent works against the body of the workers as a whole.  In OUT capital is not specifically embodied in the factory in the post-industrial service economy, yet the question of debt permeates all the characters in the book.  The debt collection business runs from corporate office work to the yakuza, and seems to be a permanent fixture of the world in which the characters exist.  This more individual relationship with the parasitic effects of capital is mirrored in the destruction of the body.  Instead of the effect of mass capital resulting in persons being casually flicked off docks by machinery or buried under piles of lumber, we have service industry demolition as debtors are cut into tiny chunks and whisked away into oblivion.

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