|Andrea J. Horbinski (ahorbinski) wrote,|
@ 2011-03-28 03:32 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||book review, d: asian studies, d: history, z: berry mary elizabeth|
Main Argument: The century-long upheaval of the Sengoku (Warring States) period that began in Kyoto with the Ônin Wars (1467-77) were felt in the capital distinctly differently than in the rest of the country, partly because Kyoto was virtually the only city of note in the country and partly because the shogunate and its welter of challengers, allies, and enemies--and what all of them wanted out of the shogunate and out of the imperial court--were centered on Kyoto. This urban experience of civil war developed its most distinctive features in the politics of demonstration, which relied on the power of mass witness to make its point, even as all the old certainties were discarded and put to the test, whether in the culture of tea or in the Lotus Uprising, in which sectarian commoners governed the city autonomously for nearly four years before being violently suppressed. The era of civil war defies an easy narrative, and Professor Berry doesn't succumb to the temptation to give it one; there was no clearer view in the 1550s than in the 1460s of how any sort of unity could be reknit out of the shattered pieces of Japan, of how that a society that had for all intents and purposes come apart at the seams could be bound up again. How and why it did--and, moreover, in virtually an entirely new form--is another, more reassuring book.
Historiographical Engagement: As well as many other forms of primary documents, Prof. Berry over and over again returns to various diaries kept mostly be elites, but in some cases by commoners too, over the course of the period.
Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples In the introduction Berry reviews the state of medieval society in Japan prior to the Ônin Wars (1467-77), which took place in and around Kyoto but touched off more than one hundred years of civil war throughout the country. Berry calls the medieval polity a "complex corporatist state" in that power and authority were unevenly divided among multiple figures and officers, each competing for the same finite resources: by this time period, the national, classical state had long since disappeared beneath the weight of particular, bounded loyalties, but the coinage of particularism was national offices and their attendant prestige. The medieval polity was both statist and lordly (monarchical and feudal) depending on the exigency of circumstance, which is its essentially medieval feature. In a short accompanying prelude, Berry argues that the central defining experience of the century of civl war was its duration as well as its very lack of a clearly defined grievance and cause--once the war started in Kyoto, it spread to the rest of the country, but what was being fought over was everywhere different (and indeed, as David Spafford has shown, the conflict began in the Kantô at least ten years before Ônin). Berry quotes an aristocratic diarist bemoaning the fact that "things are not as they should be" and argues that the civil war was an experience without a frame to give it meaning; each new spurt of conflict was reacted to rhetorically as if it were not merely the latest in a long series of clashes, even though the unprecedented had clearly become routine.
Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples In this chapter Berry argues that "the culture of lawlessness" defined the century of civil war in that after Ônin individual interest broke free "from traditional controls into frequently violent expression" (13). For Berry, the meaning of the civil war lies in its absence of coherence, but this does not mean that individual facets of the experience of it in Kyoto were incoherent. Indeed, the most significant development in Kyoto during the years of civil war was the emergence of the institution of demonstration--the act of witness, en masse--as a kind of theater of politics as well as political theater, as a mass spectacle that provided a space for negotiation and an alternative to automatic violence. Its appearance, however, signaled the withering of all surviving institutional authority, and of rising skepticism toward those institutions.
Chapter 2: Argument, Sources, Examples In this chapter Berry explores the perennial problems that troubled residents of Kyoto during the civil wars ("physical destruction and predation by soldiers; purge and emergency taxation by successive overlords; agrarian uprisings, improvised justice in a society of self-redress, and spreading criminality" (59)) as well as the resources townspeople evolved and called upon to confront these problems: the ability of think of overlords as illegitimate, the will and the facility to protest as well as to enter into negotiation or armed resistance. In these confrontations, demonstration proved to be a political structure that existed outside the law but was nonetheless effective.
Chapter 3: Argument, Sources, Examples The politics of demonstration were not the only ones practiced by Kyotoites during the war years: rather, participants in the life of the city engaged simultaneously in wars of words as well as the politics of demonstration, ignoring the paradox that words derived their legitimacy from a political and social order which demonstration exposed as bankrupt and shredded. Demonstration was also a movement towards new political and social orders, while "the word wars illustrate a movement toward the past. The word wars help explain the indeterminacy of wartime change, for they pulled Kyoto's residents away from commitment to radical action" (108). This past, however, was as much invented and ideal as it had ever been constructed and real.
Chapter 4: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter covers in detail the events from 1526-36, in which for four years (1532-36) the city was governed entirely by sectarians of the Lotus (Hokke) sect of Buddhism. The Lotus of Hokke uprising entirely rejected all other political institutions' legitimacy and formed a government that was somewhere between a theocratic republic and a oligarchical city-state, but it remains difficult to gauge the extent to which the movement was citywide or to which it transcended religious affiliation. What its goals were exactly is equally hard to say, as the uprising was decisively crushed in 1536, and its possibilities along with it, by aristocratic, warlord and shogunate forces temporarily allied to keep city commoners from going too far beyond the pale--or rather, as Berry analyzes it, too far into the "inside" of political power, albeit in a highly geographically bounded space.
Chapter 5: Argument, Sources, Examples Berry uses the end of the Lotus uprising as a springboard to examine the changes that took place in the city's commercial economy and structures of work and trade during the war years: even though patronage retained its commercial importance, the diminishing means of religious and aristocratic patrons as well as continuing conflict in the city radically disrupted older networks and led to increased competition between Kyoto merchants and those operating outside the city. In response to these challenges, Kyoto merchants tended to reorganize themselves into ton'ya or wholesalers rather than attempt to compete with provincial merchants directly. At the same time, patronage networks and commercial distinctions found no respect at the hands of those who suppressed the Hokke uprising, forging Kyotoites into, at some level, a common class.
Chapter 6: Argument, Sources, Examples The emergence of the city block, now so crucial both to navigation and identity within Kyoto (and, in terms of identity, outside of it as well), is a distinctly civil war development: "the block became a critical site of urban politics where a transformation in the relations between rulers and ruled was accomplished" (211-12). In Berry's analysis, city blocks and the cross-class associations residents formed within them created a community of townspeople who conceived of themselves, and acted, in a fashion adversarial to would-be military overlords.
Chapter 7: Argument, Sources, Examples In the final chapter Berry turns to an examination of play during wartime and in particular the rise of the culture of tea, which was emphatically an outgrowth of the civil war years: "On the deepest lvel, the play and politics of wartime were manifestations of a single culture in which distinctions between the playful and the political, between art and power, had collapsed. Although I have called this culture the culture of lawlessness, it might better be called the culture of performance" (243). The practice of tea was originally and emphatically that of a community of self-elected experts whose authority was mutually recognized based on knowledge and display of that knowledge through tasteful consumption. Tea men (who even went so far as to assume tea or 'art' names by which they were known in the community) were commoners who appropriated an aristocratic art and liberated it from the strictures of tradition in favor of the aesthetics of the novel, harnessing the newly unleashed powers of money and of the self. They created for themselves new identities and offered, either potentially or in reality, potent challenges to the aesthetics and authority of those in power. Wartime fûyû dancing, a mysterious, commonplace, seductive and frequent practice in Kyoto after the Lotus uprising, did much of the same; they shared "a basic impulse toward iconoclasm, porous boundaries and horizontal association, constant reinvention and reencounter. It was not quite and not stable" (284).
Conclusion: Argument, Sources, Examples As Berry says, the century of war before the rise of the unifiers--Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, Ieyasu--is "about the absence of closure and the murkiness of genesis" (285). Participants in the culture of demonstration constantly resisted the possibilities that it opened up in favor of restoration, if in name only, of older structures of authority; participants collectively opted repeatedly to stop short of the decisive apocalypse of the old order even as repeated slouchings toward Kyoto, as it were, irrevocably if subtly transformed the old order beyond repair or recognition. By the end of the period, class had replaced the medieval corporations as the primary signifier of identity while legitimacy in all institutions was utterly shattered. The city never descended into anarchy; indeed, citizens actively organized themselves to prevent that. But they did so frequently and consistently in the absence of any meaningful statist structures. Such structures were in the end re-imposed from outside, but not without adaptations to the changes that had been, however half-heartedly and wrenchingly, wrought.
Critical assessment: This is one of the best works of history I've read, and it is unquestionably the best book I've read all year. As much as I thought Japan in Print was great, this book is even better.
I know that I have, in this review, utterly failed to convey the sheer verve and genius that animate this book. If I could have everyone who reads this blog read just one book, it would unquestionably be this one; what Berry says about cities, change, war, demonstration, politics, resistance, complicity, negotiation, are relevant wherever there are cities and those who live in and would claim power over them. Cities, as someone once said, are humanity's greatest invention, and Berry's book provides as clear a demonstration as any why that is: the potential and the power that accrues when so many people gather together in one specific place, even though it inevitably fractures into factionalism, is nothing short of revolutionary, and at certain moments when it is unified it is earth-shattering. Prof. Berry was inspired to write this book by the Lebanese civil war, which was fought primarily on urban battlefields, and a clear sense of the danger, fear, and chaos that urban wars engender among inhabitants pervades the book. But reading it today, during an Arab Spring that has produced transcendent results (Tunisia, Egypt) and ongoing struggles whose results are much more ambiguous so far (Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan), the real courage that danger inspired in Kyotoites and in people across the Arab world who faced and are facing it are as inspiring as the eventual end of the Lotus Uprising, and the statist violence that peaceful demonstrators have faced across much of West Asia, are sobering. This book makes eminently clear, as well, that it wasn't Twitter and Facebook that created those revolutions; Twitter and Facebook simply enabled people to re-cognize the potential of the city around them, to know--contrary to what dictators in command of 20thC communications technology had told them--that they were not alone.
As I said before, I don't know how the uprisings across West Asia will turn out, though I know what I hope, and I know that the region will never be the same. By the same token, as Berry's narrative proceeds, it rends my heart as someone who had the privilege of being a Kyotoite for a year and who considers the city a home to see the city convulsing, to read the chronicle of its destruction and to chart the progress of its conflagration. But, however unlikely it may have seemed to Kyotoites at the time and however unwelcome those changes were, it is also possible to see the city I know and love, however slowly, being born.
Further reading: Mary Elizabeth Berry, Hideyoshi; James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia