ahorbinski: kanji (kanji)
Bibliographic Data: Berry, Mary Elizabeth. Hideyoshi. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.

Main Argument: "A general who had unified Japan after a century of civil war, a governor who had laid the foundation for almost three hundred years of peacetime rule, and a showman without peer who had brought a new pageantry to power, Hideyoshi was the most remarkable main in premodern Japanese history." (1) It is Berry's understanding and argument, not only that the Tokugawa regime did not substantially transform Hideyoshi's settlement politically, but that the Toyotomi settlement was essentially federal in nature, a federation: the book is concerned with "the conquest and conciliation that made it possible, the motives that inspired an extraordinarily powerful man to share authority with his daimyo, and the particular expressions that his federal settlement took" (7).

The man who shaped the mochi )

Critical assessment: I think, of all three of Berry's books, this one is my least favorite, but that does not mean it isn't an excellent study, because it is. I actually read Berry's books in reverse publication order, so it's interesting to see her, in this book, advancing positions that she would later substantially revise (as with the Rikyû affair).

All in all, this is a strong, excellent book. The professor from whom I purchased this book for charity averred that it is her best, which I can't agree with (nothing could better The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto, and Hideyoshi does at times communicate the relative youth of its author in the way that a mature work such as Japan in Print simply doesn't), but this one is very good, I only wish there were more books by Berry still to read. I don't know of any better discussion of Nobunaga, and Berry's evaluation of Hideyoshi is, on the whole, balanced and innovative. I do think she falls down on the question of the invasion of Korea, or at least, her own disappointment in Hideyoshi is at least implicit of some of what she writes; the larger complaint that she includes almost none of the Korean experience of the Imjin Wars can be answered both by the unfortunate fact that English historiography on the conflict is severely lacking and that it would be beyond the scope of her project: still, the lack is palpable. She revised and, I think, found a much more convincing explanation for the Rikyû affair in particular in The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto, but the major points of Berry's work here remain, I think, unimpeachable, if sadly still not entirely accepted. Still, I know what I think.

Meta notes: Berry is quick to mention the help of her colleagues, particularly Tom Smith, in making this a stronger book. Certainly it manages to transcend biography in a way that few comparable books do.
ahorbinski: kanji (kanji)
Bibliographic Data: Berry, Mary Elizabeth. The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

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.

Cultures of lawlessness and of demonstration )

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
ahorbinski: a bridge in the fog (bridge to anywhere)
It's not every day that, reading a book about a city on another continent five hundred years ago, you find yourself thinking, "This is just like what's going on in Country X right now!"

In this scenario the city is Kyoto, the book is Mary Elizabeth Berry's The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto, and the country in question is Egypt.

…the passage itself suggests some of the resources that fortified [the city's] residents: the ability to conceive of their overlords as illegitimate, the will to protest, the occasional standoff (surely a victory of sorts) in their contests.
The politics of demonstration was not a series of random explosions, however prominently such acts figured in wartime; it was a politics of ambiguity. It required calculated steps and then flexible retreats, a relationship with its audiences that mixed coercion with adroit appeal. It flaunted strength but existed only in the absence of a hegemonic authority. It expressed resolve but was premised on an internal and external testing of commitment that invited counterdemonstration. In short, demonstration was both a structure of political action and a medium of social reconfiguration.
The force of number remains the critical element, for demonstration drew its power from mass witness.

(59; 104-05; 145)

Obviously, the differences between Kyoto during the Sengoku (Warring States) period [1467-1568 CE] and contemporary Egypt, and Cairo specifically, are immense; for which reason I am struck all the more by the immense similarities, across two continents, as many cultures, half a millennium, and the real rupture of modernity. What brings down oppressive regimes? People going out into the streets to demonstrate, as long as there streets to go out into.

I don't know what's going to happen in Egypt, though I know what I hope is going to happen; given that a week ago almost no one would have predicted the revolt happening at all, at this point I tend to find prediction itself rather suspect. I do know what happened in Kyoto; the Lotus Uprising, which governed the city more or less independently for nearly four years, was brutally suppressed in 1536 by a disparate alliance of elite factions who could not abide the challenge the commoner government offered them by the very fact of its existence, despite the fact that those elites had been literally at each other's throats for more than half a century, and remained so for at least the next thirty years. Institutions will ultimately make the difference in Egypt too, no matter how illegitimate they are perceived to be. But those institutions' actions will be determined by their complex negotiations with the demonstrators who are defying the curfew in Cairo to bear witness to their own desires, and to assert their right to be there.

Some links: Al-Jazeera's live feed from Egypt;
the Times article about the revolt;
at the Times, an interactive map of the demonstrations,
Five Things to Understand at TNR;
a personal anonymous account from Cairo,
and a video cutting together some of the demonstration footage.

My heart is with the protesters. If there's one thing history teaches, it's that while nothing is predetermined, some things are probable. May it be, this time, the right things. 
ahorbinski: kanji (kanji)
Bibliographic Data: Berry, Mary Elizabeth. Japan in Print: Information and Nation in the Early Modern Period. University of California Press: Berkeley, 2006.

Main Argument: "The 'library of public information' that took shape after 1600 signifies, for me, a quiet revolution in knowledge--one separating the early modern period from all pervious time. In empirically grounded accounts of contemporary, often mundane experience, investigators created from fissured parts an integrally conceived 'Japan.'" (209)

Print, nation, and the early modern )

Critical assessment: This is a bravura work of sheer research and interpretive tenacity, as well as brilliance, and in a way it seems to me a natural progression from Prof. Berry's earlier work on Hideyoshi and on the culture of the Onin Wars in Kyoto, both of which form the backdrop and essential prerequisite for what we might call the Tokugawa settlement. It's also beautifully, marvelously written, trenchant and transparent and a brilliantly constructed narrative. As well as a meditation on early modern Japan, the book is also an interesting examination of the early modern in general, and a rebuke to the persistent conflation of modernity with the formation of nations. Certainly modern nations are different from premodern nations, but nations are not exclusively modern formations (nor are the elements of modernity unique to the modern period). Anyway, it's a fascinating, excellent book, with implications well beyond Japan.

Further reading: Harry Harootunian, Toward Restoration: The Growth of Political Consciousness in Tokugawa Japan; Karen M. Gerhart, "Visions of the Dead"

Meta notes: Prof. Berry's work is the best of all advertisements for Berkeley's East Asian Library and its collections; it's also in some ways a loving tribute to her late husband, Dr. Donald Shively, whose research focused on popular culture in the Edo period.


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

May 2016

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