ahorbinski: A DJ geisha (historical time is a construct)
Bibliographic Data: Gerow, Aaron. Visions of Japanese Modernity: Articulations of Cinema, Nation, and Spectatorship, 1895-1925. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.

Main Argument: The emergence and eventual triumph of the Pure Film Movement in the discourse of Japanese cinema represents the triumph of a particular conception of "cinema," nation, spectatorship--one view of modernism--over an earlier conception which saw cinema as one among a constellation of performative forms rather than as a unique artistic medium. This discursive triumph is symbolized by the movement from calling cinema katsudô shashin (moving pictures) to eiga ("projected images," literally).

Historiographical Engagement: Miriam Silverberg's Erotic Grotesque Nonsense is the biggest influence here; Gerow's conception of the "modernisms of order and of mixture" owes something to her conception of official versus mass culture. Tom Lamarre's book on Tanazaki Jun'ichiro is also mentioned frequently, as are several writers on cinema who are, according to Gerow, varying degrees of off-base.

Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples Gerow outlines his intention to produce a discursive history of film, one that does not take the Pure Film Movement as the start of "real" cinema and that does not presume an absolute Western/non-Western binary in cinema. Existing, non-discursive histories of Japanese cinema and of the Pure Film Movement, in a word, are anachronistic. Writing of another author, Gerow remarks that "Bordwell also fails to interrogate how the concepts of 'norm,' 'understanding,' 'spectator,' or even 'cinema' were articulated. I will show how those concepts were shaped by various discourses in a certain historical conjuncture and imbricated with developing relations of social and cultural power" (5). Partly this is strategic; very, very few prints of movies from before the Pure Film Movement survive, so a history of Japanese cinema in this era must of necessity be discursive. Gerow elaborates on "two competing strands of modernism," one of which "is dedicated to purity, unity, and homogeneity, to clearly and rationally distinguishing things and practices according to their essences, which are by definition universal," and the other of which, "aligned with the anonymous urban crowd, the new flows of goods and services, and the acceleration of daily life, celebrates instances of mixture, heterogeneity, the chance, the local, the specific" (35). The former became the dominant discourse and, "precisely by attempting to create a pure cinema, made every effort to eliminate such hybridity and efface traces of cultural difference within cinema and the film culture" (18). Gerow also insists that another problem is "asserting a clear border between Japan and the West when narrating a history of cinema rife with border crossings" (19), and argues that the best answer to this problem is "to problematize the division between Japan and the West by historicizing its role, formation, and meaning" (21).

Cinema in Japan )

Critical assessment: I read this book partly for what it discussed and partly because I was interested in Gerow's method, which I think is close to the method that I want to employ in my dissertation. I think the method is good and his conclusions seem largely sound, though I don't know enough about Japanese cinema to evaluate them specifically--instead, I know about history and the discourses in which Gerow situates the discussions he details, and he seems to be right on the money for the most part.

Further reading: Tom Lamarre, Shadows on the Screen

Meta notes: Always historicize.

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Andrea J. Horbinski

May 2016

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