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Bibliographic Data: Conrad, Sebastian. The Quest for the Lost Nation: Writing History in Germany and Japan in the American Century. Trans. Alan Nothnagle. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

Main Argument: Sebastian Conrad's important and innovative study places postwar historiography in (West) Germany and Japan in a comparative and transnational framework, arguing that "all pleas for European, universal, or world history notwithstanding, the nation in both countries continued to function as the frequently unacknowledged center of gravity of historical interpretation" (2). Furthermore, Conrad argues, despite common mythology, the critique of the recent past was much more sharply developed and articulated in Japan than in Germany. Methodologically, Conrad's overarching point is that "limiting the development of historiography to the history of its methodology is reductionist at best" (7).

Historiographical Engagement: As a review of the first fifteen years of postwar history writing in both Germany and Japan, the book is focused around this historiography as its sources. Conrad is also arguing against people like Ian Buruma and his claims in The Wages of Guilt, and engaging with, in particular, Franziska Seraphim's War Memory and Social Politics in Japan, 1945-2005.

Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples In his introduction, Conrad lays out three principal similarities between postwar Germany and Japan that facilitate his project: 1) both countries "experienced military defeat and unconditional surrender" (3); 2) "military defeat also implied the loss of empire" (3); 3) military defeat entailed an Allied occupation, "in which the United States played a dominant role and instutionalized comprehensive political reeducation in the occupied areas" (3). He also lays out the three reasons that he thinks the history of historiography should not be isomorphic to the history of its methodology: first, limiting one's inquiry to questions of method neglects what historians said and why, as well as why people found those texts worthwhile; two, "a preoccupation with methodology promotes the illusion of a retrospective success story" (7) - Charles Maier called this tendency a "Whig history of history"; three, a genealogy of methods alone produces the impression that scholarship reflects reality (ever more accurately, in a Whiggish paradigm), when in fact scholarship is not a neutral tool - it creates reality as much as it describes it, by the process of description (i.e. narrativization).

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter examines the history of the development of history as a discipline within both Germany and Japan, arguing that the parallels in their common story - Enlightenment history to historist political history to historical social science - are "an expression of the transnational character of the development of historical studies," which was "part of a process of nation-state formation--forced by 'the West' but also directed against it" (29). The fact that the metanarrative remains the same for both countries - only the moment of postwar paradigm shift being different (1945 for Japan, late 1960s for Germany) - tempts people to see only the differences between the two countries, but this emphasis is a consequence of the view of the history of history only as a history of methodology. In fact, concrete "social, discursive, and often transnational context" were responsible for the similarities as well as the differences, and this history cannot be understood without reconstructing them (30).

Chapter 2: Argument, Sources, Examples As a kind of proxy fight for the question of tainted genesis, in both Germany and Japan the origin of the nation (Bismarck and the Meiji Restoration, respectively) became a special site of debate in the postwar period. In Germany, exemplified by people such as Gerhard Ritter, the assumption of some kind of break between Bismarck and the Nazi era (usually located in 1918) was never fundamentally questioned, while in Japan it was taken for granted that there was an inevitable, twisted (nejirareta) path leading directly from the Restoration to the empire's ultimate defeat. In both countries the question became where to locate the essence of the nation, the essence that was fundamental, ahistorical, and blameless - in Germany this was a question of geography, while in Japan it was a question of social class: who made the nation's origins? Crucially, history writing itself contributed to the fundamental dislocation that territorial dismemberment entailed, as hitherto history in both countries had cast the unification of the nation and imperial expansion as historically teleological.

Chapter 3: Argument, Sources, Examples Surrender, defeat, and occupation in both Germany and Japan necessitated the denunciation of the recent past (i.e. Nazism and fascism) at the same time as they also structured the conditions in which the recent past could be considered, largely through Allied occupation policy, which was itself based on a certain interpretation of both countries' pasts. Consequently, even as historians in both countries distanced themselves from that past, they were also concerned to portray the nation as the real victim of "the catastrophe" of fascism and tyranny (and the catastrophe here is its denouement, not the atrocities inflicted along the way). Arguments in this vein took several common forms, among them a "cultural" frame in which fascism (I use the term comprehensively) was understood either as a cultural import (i.e. in Germany, as a product of European cultural formations) or as a latent cultural tendency (i.e. in Japan - cf. Maruyama's psychology of ultranationalism), an emphasis on the nation as victim (and emphasis on resistance within the nation as a privileged site of nationhood, i.e. Ritter's interpretation of the Valkyrie conspiracists as the true exemplars of German-ness, marginalizing non-conservative, non-aristocratic resistance among other social classes). How to interpret the war - and who was responsible for its end - was also a major controversy in both countries, leading eventually in Japan's case to the split between the Education Ministry and the Teachers' Union and to the Ienaga textbook trials.

Chapter 4: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter examines the development of "contemporary history" as a special period and methodology in both countries. In Germany "contemporary history" was quarantined from the rest of the academy, and within it structural history approaches were allowed to thrive - but when a book attempted to go beyond the limits of the 1933-45 period, as Bracher's Dissolution of the Weimar Republic (1955) did, the reaction was vicious. Too, structural history was imbricated with the Nazi-era development of Volksgeschichte (ethnic/folk history). On the Japanese side, the book Shôwashi (1955) by Tôyama Shigeki et al. also had a huge, controversial impact, ultimately leading to the discredidation of the Kôzaha Marxist framework. In Germany the argument was for structural history against historist, conservative mainstream approaches; in Japan, structural history was under attack from historist political history outside the discipline. In both countries, the debate ultimately came down to a historist insistence on personal agency vs. what was characterized as the straitjacket of structure, leaving no room for the individual personalities and choices of "great men" - Conrad notes that "structure and agency were constructed as binary opposites that kept recurring in the guise of necessity versus freedom, alienated masses versus ingenious personality, of socioeconomic conditions versus autonomous subject," which "precluded acknowledging the structuring power of discursive formations" (169).

Chapter 5: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter, an expansion (and an improvement) of an earlier essay by Conrad, argues that in postwar Germany and Japan modernist (and modernizing) historiography could no longer appeal to the explicitly Orientalist frameworks of the prewar era. Instead, gaps in development were no longer ascribed to inalienable cultural differences but to temporal delays, what Conrad terms a "temporalization of space." This approach put every country on a one-way track to modernization a l'Ouest and failed to demolish the fundamentally Orientalist framework of that construction, as well as effaced the category of space, and with it the facticity of each country's territorial empire and imperialist past. Differing interpretations of each country's past also had concrete policy ramifications - "the fact of Germany's integration into the modern 'West' served as a founding assumption of U.S. occupation policy, while in Japan integration into the 'West' was the ultimate goal of this policy" (201). In both countries, historians went through impressive conceptual geospatial gymnastics to define a "Europe" or a "West" that they were always already a part of or could easily catch up to, preserving and re-authorizing imperialist, Orientalizing attitudes towards each country's Orient - Eastern Europe and China, respectively - in the guise of modernization theory. Modernization theory, which subscribes to a notion of linear, unidirectional historical development, is not without liberating elements (cf. the modernists' rediscovery of "good" elements in Japan's Tokugawa, "feudal" past, i.e. Bellah and Smith), but it is not possible to disentangle the implications of that framework from an endorsement of modernization being imposed from the outside, i.e. colonialism. "Finally, the reality of an increasingly globalized world order, which now relied on ideological and no longer mere regional boundaries, found its counterpart in the theoretical temporalization of national differences." (234)

Chapter 6: Argument, Sources, Examples This final chapter, new to the English edition, considers history and memory in Germany and Japan from 1945-2000. Conrad traces the controversies between history and memory over the period, noting that "the gap between a transnational vision and a stubbornly national historiography" did not fundamentally change until the 1990s. Conrad finds that era to be the beginning of a truly transnational approach to historical questions even as he argues that academic historiography must be understood in the end as a species, not the master of, popular discourses of memory - there is influence from the one to the other, but not dominance. Conrad notes that the history of memory is almost xenophobic in its avoidance of supranational factors even as the transnational history of war memory debates cannot be understood without recalling global economic and political history of the era (i.e. the end of the Cold War and the triumph of global capitalism). Calling all of this "entangled memory," Conrad argues that the answer to history's myopic focus on the nation is to write even more transnational histories, leading to his assertion that "national identity itself is the product--and not the precondition--of processes of transnational interaction, exchange, and entanglement" (261).

Critical assessment: This is a really, really good and hugely important book with a strong, persuasive argument and larger vision. I can only hope that the fact that it's half about postwar Germany will give it play beyond Japan studies, if only for the fact that I think Conrad does a great job of skewering modernization theory and all the things that are wrong with it (disclaimer: I hate modernization theory), though there's much, much more here that's worth reading about, particular Conrad's arguments about methodological approaches. There were a few points on which I could quibble (in particular, the Frankfurt School and its reconstitution in Los Angeles exile form something of a third term to the German half of the story, as does East Germany at times), but in general I found Conrad's embedding these parallel stories within their global context to be a provoking, fascinating read.

Further reading: Franziska Seraphim, War Memory and Social Politics in Japan, 1945-2005

Meta notes: I think Conrad is right both in his diagnosis (history hasn't been transnational enough) and in his prescription (more transnational history), though I agree with Barshay's comment that Conrad follows his subjects' vision out and above and beyond the nation rather than looking in, under, below it, and that this too is a fruitful avenue of possible inquiry.

I also came away with a new appreciation for the U.S. sub-discipline of Holocaust studies and the fact that there's a Holocaust Museum on the national mall - after reading about the pervasive denial of the reality of the Shoah and the Nazi extermination programs in Germany, well into the 1960s and even 1970s, I can't help but feel that, from an ethical standpoint, these are good things. Someone needed to undertake them, and for all the manifold problems with the way they are taught in U.S. schools and portrayed in popular culture (and oh I could go on about these problems), I am newly convinced that these things are better, on the whole, than not.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-05-01 19:35 (UTC)
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)
From: [personal profile] oyceter
No real comment, just thanks for posting on this! It was v. interesting.


ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

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