Plastic (in) Paradise: Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rain Forest

Author: Michaela Keck, Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg, Germany
Published: July 28, 2021

Citation: Keck, M. (2021). Plastic (in) Paradise: Karen Tei Yamashita’s Through the Arc of the Rain Forest. IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship, 10(1).


This contribution examines the magic-realist metaphor of the Matacão in Karen Tei Yamashita’s (1990) debut novel Through the Arc of the Rain Forest as a trope that invites us to imagine, reflect on, and explore plastic’s cross-cultural meanings, aesthetic experiences, and materialist implications. I contend that through the Matacão, Yamashita engenders a narrative about, as well as an aesthetic experience of, plastic that is inherently ambivalent and paradoxical. While it provides societies with material wealth and sensual pleasures, it poses at the same time a profound threat to life – human and nonhuman. The main part of the article is divided into two major sections: in the first part, I read Yamashita’s story about the Matacão as historiographic metafiction that parodies the socio-cultural history of plastic and its utopian promises and failures. In the second part, I draw on Catherine Malabou’s philosophical concept of plasticity to explore the Matacão’s material agency, as well as the social mobility and economic connectivity of Yamashita’s human protagonists in their plastic environments. The theoretical perspective of Malabou’s concept of plasticity shifts the focus to the agentic forces of the waste material and allows us to read Yamashita’s Matacão as both a site and material that, notwithstanding its devastating impacts, also holds potentialities for resilience and repair, and even the possibility for an, at least temporary, utopia.


Catherine Malabou, Karen Tei Yamashita, material ecocriticism, plastic, plasticity, Through the Arc of the Rain Forest