“And No One Talks of National Rebirth”: Liberal Humanist Interventionism in the Post-Imperial Space of D.J. Enright’s Poetry

Aaron Deveson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This essay reevaluates the British poet D.J. Enright’s mid-twentieth-century representation of post-imperial Japan. Enright should matter to us now because, in his poetic responsiveness to the foreign countries in which he lived and worked as a university teacher between the early 1950s and the late 1960s, he embodied a self-reflexively critical mode of engagement with the space of the Other, aimed at extending a version of the liberal res publica—a form of cosmopolitanism that deserves not to be dismissed tout court, even as its quasi-imperialist and generally self-interested aspects have to be acknowledged. Enright’s poetry formally and discursively enacts the dynamic, contradictory, and unstable nature of liberal interventionism. Through individual poems and the form of the poetry volume itself, Enright highlights the humanity of “bar girls” and other marginal figures in a way that demotes elite Japanese discourses—a (meta)poetic and partly feminist form of regime change that must be seen in relation to MacArthur’s interventions in the country, but also one that turns out to be forged by fetishizing hedonistic forces as well as moral and realist motivations. Enright’s writing career ultimately serves as an allegory of changing historical approaches within rich countries to foreign space—from a problematically hopeful liberal-humanist internationalism in his earlier work to a more self-protective, insular, and ultimately pessimistic attitude in the late-1960s onwards.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGeocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

NameGeocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies
ISSN (Print)2578-9694
ISSN (Electronic)2634-5188


  • Closed formal systems of tanka and haiku
  • Critique of formal insularity
  • Japanese poetic forms
  • Liberal humanist formal interventions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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