Splitting Atomic Symbolism: Differing Words, Images, and Sounds of a Nuclear World

All being well, in May (2022), I will be giving a paper on “Splitting Atomic Symbolism: Differing Words, Images, and Sounds of a Nuclear World” at the “Hiroshima – Nagasaki – Fukushima – Articulations of the Nuclear. The Case of Japan” Conference at the University of Cologne. While the concern back in 2021, when I was invited to the event, would be whether the event could go ahead face-to-face due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the concerns now are more related to the theme of the conference itself (which apparently will include a visit to a nuclear bunker – which hopefully will remain of academic/personal interest rather than something more useful).

My paper relates to my on-going research on symbolism and Visual Packaging Culture, and also builds on the work I have done about disaster narratives (e.g. Disaster Narratives by Design: Is Japan Different?). The abstract is as follows:

Ever since the first explosion of an atomic weapon as part of the Manhattan Project, people have sought ways to describe nuclear phenomena. While the first test was primarily an American, or ‘Western’ event, the next two explosions over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, meant that the witnesses were primarily of another culture and the impact was worldwide. Over the following decades, the weapons evolved with the potential for even greater destruction. Testing of these weapons also had their own impact directly on people and upon global culture. At the same time, the power of the atom was also harnessed for more peaceful means in the form of nuclear power. However, even here, there have been accidents and disasters.

This paper considers the ways in which different cultures refer to and use the images, sounds and other aspects of both atomic weapons and energy. The paper highlights, for example, that while ‘the mushroom cloud’ became synonymous with the threat of mutually assured destruction in the Western world, in Japan, the predominant terms were pika (the flash) or pika-don (the flash and loud explosion) experienced by the hibakusha, those in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The paper will also examine the way in which the Daigo-Fukuryūmaru accident, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima have been referred to. The paper will analyse what the differences and similarities represent, how they came about, and what impact they may have had on people’s understanding of the events themselves.

As things stand, the title slide looks like this:

I will be posting further updates about the presentation and publications to come from it in the coming weeks and months – for example, see Nuclear Imagery and Looking for Movies and TV Programmes

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