ahorbinski: A DJ geisha (historical time is a construct)
Bibliographic Data: Shamoon, Deborah. Passionate Friendship: The Aesthetics of Girls' Culture in Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2012.

Main Argument: To understand the appeal of shojo manga, it is necessary to understand its cultural history; specifically, shojo manga as it flowered in the 1970s builds on and was strongly influenced by the discursive tropes and community practices of prewar (school)girls' culture and in particular as that culture was constituted and represented via girls' magazines.

Historiographical Engagement: Shamoon has read a lot of manga scholarship, particularly in Japanese; Ôtsuka Eiji, Fujimoto Yukari, and Yokomori Rika crop up with some frequency. So do many of the notable English-language scholars on manga, and Gregory M. Pflugfelder plays a key role at times. Jennifer Robertson (Takarazuka) also comes up frequently, but almost always as someone whose analysis is wrong-headed at best.

Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples The schoolgirl is a modern figure who emerged in Japan at the beginning of the Meiji period, and who immediately became the target of what Shamoon calls a "patriarchal discourse" that simultaneously found the shojo both attractive and repellent--a symbol of modernity and also a threat to the family and the state (which were by the mid-Meiji period taken as isomorphic). Postwar female feminist writers do not participate in this patriarchal discourse of concern, but have nonetheless paid scant attention to prewar girls' culture. Shamoon argues that to understand postwar girls' culture and shojo manga, it is necessary to consider transwar continuities.

A field worthy of discussion )

Critical assessment: This is a good book overall, but I have some quibbles about several aspects of Shamoon's argument. The first is that (and as a historian, this is at least to some extent my disciplinary bias showing) the book needs far more historical context and that many of her statements require expansion or more nuanced expression. In particular, although she has read Gregory M. Pflugfelder's Cartographies of Desire and his essay on S-relationships in girls' culture, Shamoon shows a frustrating inattention to the nuances of Pflugfelder's conclusions, as when she asserts flatly that there was no such thing as a "homosexual identity" in interwar Japan. Reading Pflugfelder attentively shows this to not have been the case, although the caveat that male/male sexuality and female/female sexuality, despite having been subsumed in 20thC Japan under the same category of dôseiai for the first time, are not and were not entirely equivalent still stands.

I appreciate Shamoon's fundamental tack in this book, which is to insist that a contemporary (American?) lesbian identity should not be read back into girls' culture in 20thC Japan, but her focus on the normality of S-relationships in the prewar period, and her reading of the switch to portraying male/male homosexual relationships in shojo manga in the 1970s as merely flipping the gender of S-relationships to allow for more explicit discussion of sexuality, begins to seem reductive, if not repressive, as she continues to deny the possibility of homosexuality in their readers. More insistence on the unbridgeable gap between discourse and reality would have helped here. Disappointingly, Shamoon also repeats the tired--and incorrect--claim that slash fiction is enjoyed only by heterosexual women, and also claims that boys' love is totally normal. Part of Shamoon's problem is that she apparently draws almost exclusively on a very old work of fan studies, Constance Penley's NASA/Trek, which was published in 1996 and which does not represent the current state of the field. I would also submit, however, that there is something queer in women of whatever sexual orientation reading obsessively about rather explicit male/male homosexual relationships, whether or not the depiction of those relationships is "real," and that eliding that queerness or the possibility of queerness in their readership is frankly insulting. The figure of the fujoshi, furthermore, who has recently emerged as a threat--a young woman who does not have a heterosexual relationship and who reads boys' love obsessively--shows that boys' love is not entirely normative in Japan, even if it is sold and produced with greater openness. Shamoon could have avoided some of these problems by policing the boundaries of her study better; it seems likely that boys' love has evolved as a genre since its emergence in the 1970s and that subsuming it into shojo manga is untenable as an analytical stance. Finally, saying that the often frankly pornographic boys' love manga should be considered under the rubric of "spiritual love (ren'ai)" seems to take that term beyond its breaking point. I also have to question her translation of ren'ai as "spiritual love" in the first place--I mostly see it rendered "love" in historiography, though this may be a disciplinary difference.

All that being said, I very much appreciate the genealogy Shamoon uncovers and the approach she takes overall, and not least her taking the discourse of girls' culture seriously on its own terms. More manga studies should follow her example of contextualizing the discussion in its own time and place.

Further reading: Leonie R. Stickland, Gender Gymnastics: Performing and Consuming Japan's Takarazuka Revue

Meta notes: Girls and what they are interested in matter. Also, I want to see Takarazuka again.

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

May 2016

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