ahorbinski: A snakes & ladders board.  (struggle & stagger)
In my quest to gather all of my dissertation notes and outlines into one centrally located place in digitized format, I've come across some interesting things in the depths of my Evernote notebooks. The draft text for my remarks at Fred Schodt's book talk last year is one of the more interesting ones, and I thought I'd share it here.

First of all, I want to thank Fred Schodt for his illuminating talk and for his bringing this fascinating story to light. His new book Professor Risley's Imperial Japanese Troupe (2013) does an excellent job, I think, of telling the story of a hitherto almost forgotten chapter of 19thC Japanese and Euro-American history. As a native New Jerseyan, I especially enjoyed discovering the picaresque tale of one of the more colorful of my state's non-Mob affiliated historical figures.

One of the things that historians like to harp on is the idea that "globalization" isn't anything new to the 20thC, just deeper and broader, and one of the things I really appreciated about Professor Risley and company is how their story, and their international success, demonstrates the extraordinary mobility which a certain segment of self-selected people could, even in the 19thC when we often think of people being more or less shackled to their birthplace or the major metropolitan area nearest to it, partake of to easily circumnavigate the globe multiple times over. We often talk of "flows" of people, ideas, and culture in the age of globalization, and the circus in the 19thC is clearly an early example of that phenomenon. As one of the reviewers quoted in the book wrote, "How quickly what was once unimaginable becomes so simple."

The fact that Risley's Imperials were so successful the world over also indicates that their audiences shared certain similarities beyond their appreciation of the artistry of the "Butterfly Trick." Circus studies has discussed how in the 19thC the circus, and other forms of popular entertainment that Fred touches on briefly in the book such as blackface minstrel shows, functioned to demonstrate and confirm the hierarchies that audiences experienced in their everyday lives--in the case of Professor Risley and the Imperials, for instance, we might think of Self versus Other, native versus foreign, white versus non-white. The fact that Risley and his fellow circus performers were able to so easily traverse the globe, with such minimal real danger, also speaks to the expansion of the European empires that were so concerned with asserting "peace" and "order" in their territories. A hundred years earlier, or a hundred years later, Risley and company would have had a very different experience on these same performance circuits.

From the standpoint of Japanese history, I was particularly interested to see the members of the Imperials as a compelling footnote, or fillip, to the standard narrative of the Meiji Restoration. They intrepidly left the country in 1866 before the malcontent samurai of Satsuchô succeeded in overthrowing the shogun, and by the time the last members of the troupe returned to Japan in the 1870s the Meiji oligarchs were well on the way to transforming the country into a truly modern nation-state. While the Imperials were capitalizing on the performance of "traditional Japanese culture" abroad, the new society the Meiji oligarchs were building at home was increasingly primed to see "traditional Japanese culture" as everything that had to be left behind to survive in the "survival of the fittest" world of 19thC international politics. One of the things I would have loved to hear more about in the book was a longer histories of these performing families, and the history of the development of their specific acts. I wonder, too, whether the Imperials came to know themselves as "Japanese" through their encounters with foreigners first in Yokohama, and then around the world.

The popularity of the circus also touches on another important theme of the 19thC, namely the ascent of the middle class as the social group setting standards and morals for all of society. As Fred mentions, the circus was considered a respectable form of entertainment--which reputation Risley certainly capitalized on in promoting the Imperials as "art" rather than mere "theater." That royalty enjoyed it as much as the bourgeoisie--and that the newspapers covered those reactions--speaks much to the emerging popular culture of news, gossip, and celebrities that we know so well today.

Professor Risley and the Imperial Japanese Troupe
demonstrate that the global fascination with Japanese popular culture didn't begin with anime and manga, and was not solely represented in the 19thC by Japonisme. Their story is a reminder that the world and its history is infinitely more complex than we remember it, and that the 19thC in particular was in many ways, for those fortunate enough to reside in the societies that dominated their fellows, a time of newly expanding and unrivaled potential. With great promotion and an excellent act, Risley and the Imperials were able to take the world by storm in a way that was probably only possible at that moment. Although they have been neglected until now, their story is a reminder that the past can constantly surprise us. 
ahorbinski: A snakes & ladders board.  (struggle & stagger)
Bibliographic Data: Crossley, Pamela. A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002.

Main Argument: "…the monolithic identities of 'Manchu, "Mongol,' and 'Chinese' (Han) are not regarded as fundamentals, sources, or building blocks of the emergent order. In my view these identities are ideological productions of the process of imperial centralization before 1800" (3). The emperorship was constructed as simultaneous and universal, and the various images of the emperor were constructed to speak to various constituencies.

Through a glass darkly )
Bibliographic Data: Perdue, Peter C. China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.

Main Argument: The Qing conquests of central Eurasia were a world historical event because:
1) "for the empire's rulers and subjects, these victories fundamentally transformed the scale of their world";
2) "the expansion of the Qing state formed part of a global process in the 17th and 18th centuries. Nearly everywhere, newly centralized, integrated, militarized states pushed their borders outward by military conquest, and settlers, missionaries, and traders followed behind" i.e. 17thC crisis ==≥ 18thC stabilization;
China's expansion marked a turning point in the history of Eurasia. Across the continent, the great empires founded by Central Eurasian conquerors in the wake of the disintegration of the Mongol empire had captured the heartlands of densely settled regions, used the resources of these regions to supply military forces, and pushed back from the heartlands into the core of the continent. When their borders met, they negotiated treaties that drew fixed lines through the steppes, deserts, and oases, leaving no refuge for the mobile peoples of the frontier.

The closing of this great frontier was more significant in world history than the renowned closing of the North American frontier lamented by Frederic Jackson Turner in 1893. It eliminated permanently as a major actor on the historical stage the nomadic pastoralists, who had been the strongest alternative to settled agrarian society since the second millennium BCE. (10-11)

China marches West )
ahorbinski: a bridge in the fog (bridge to anywhere)
Bibliographic Data: Zarrow, Peter. After Empire: The Conceptual Transformation of the Chinese State, 1885-1924. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012.

Main Argument:
The Revolution of 1911 replaced a monarchical system with a republic. The republic was heavily flavored with the taste of military dictatorship and soon fell into warlordism, but the ideal of republicanism continued to motivate intellectuals and activists. At the same time, the range of beliefs that had surrounded the emperorship survived the revolution: the need for enlightened rulers, the power of sageness, the paternalistic responsibilities of the educated classes, and a moralized cosmology. The 1911 Revolution could not have happened unless large numbers of people were prepared to accept an emperor-less world, but it did not only overthrow entrenched views: it built on them as well. […] The fall of the last dynasty, the Qing, represented the collapse not just of a single dynasty but of the entire imperial system, though this was not clear to all in the immediate wake of the revolution. The whole cultural edifice of the imperial system declined together, including: first, the coercive powers of the imperial court vis-a-vis local society; second, the civil service examination system that recruited the bureaucracy and reaffirmed the cultural capital of the gentry; and third, the immense system of classical (sacred) learning upon which the exams were based. (viii-ix)

Historiographical Engagement: Schwartz, etc

Nationalism, republicanism, empire )
Critical assessment: Sentence fragments: many. I think Zarrow is pretty much correct in what he says; my brain is too full to venture much more than that, tbh.

Further reading: Schwartz, In Search of Wealth and Power; Karl, Staging the World; Hevia, English Lessons; Liu, Clash of Empires; Jones, Developmental Fairy Tales
ahorbinski: A picture of Charles Darwin captioned "very gradual change" in the style of the Obama 'Hope' poster.  (Darwin is still the man.)
Bibliographic Data: Horden, Peregrine and Nicholas Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2000.

Main Argument: "The distinctiveness of a Mediterranean history results (we propose) from the paradoxical coexistence of a milieu of relatively easy seaborne communications with a quite unusually fragmented topography of micro regions in the sea's coastlands and islands" (5). The Mediterranean constituted a globally and historically distinct unity that held up until the C20, when other, transcendent forces attenuated the continuities of the history of the Meidterranean; in this sense, this particular history has reached its end.

The corrupting sea )

Critical assessment: This is all actually shockingly close to actor network theory, in ways that I would say are quite fruitful. But ANT is also not great at explicating change over time. Shaw remarks that Horden and Purcell draw on the language of cybernetics to speak about Mediterranean transport, and it does not thus seem coincidental that their system, as he also points out, tends naturally to homeostasis. That said, Shaw prefers H&P to Braudel, which I suspect too is a product of our cybernetic age. As for myself, I find myself in the position of wanting to "trust, but verify."

Further reading: Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II; Mary Gentle, The Secret History

Bibliographic Data: Harris, William V. War and Imperialism in Republican Rome, 327-70 B.C. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.

Main Argument: The Romans were total meanies who were extraordinarily warlike: "Roman imperialism was in large part the result of quite rational behavior on the part of the Romans, but it also had dark and irrational roots. One of the most striking features of Roman warfare is its regularity–almost every year the legions went out and did massive violence to someone–and this regularity gives the phenomenon a pathological character" (53). Roman imperialism was not defensive, but pathologically aggressive.

Critical assessment: We disagree with this book's premise that Roman bellicosity needs explanation, or that it was unusual for its time; like Eckstein, we do not look solely at unit level factors and disregard the parameters of the system. He's also weirdly obsessed with the question of the "annexation of territory" which is somewhat anachronistic--the Romans thought of their imperium in terms of the peoples over whom they held control, not in terms of lands to be conquered.

Bibliographic Data: Syme, Ronald. The Roman Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. [1939]

Main Argument:
In all ages, whatever the form and name of government, be it monarchy, republic, or democracy, an oligarchy lurks behind the facade; and Roman history, Republican or Imperial, is the history of the governing class. The marshals, diplomats, and financiers of the Revolution may be discerned again in the Republic of Augustus as the ministers and agents of power, the same men but in different garb. They are the government of the New State. […]

In the beginning kings ruled at Rome, and in the end, as was fated, it came round to monarchy again. Monarchy brought concord. During the Civil Wars we very part and every leader professed to be defending the the cause of liberty and of peace. Those ideals were incompatible. When peace came, it was the peace of despotism. 'Cum domino pax ista venit.' (7, 9)
Syme does admit, however, that this was a trade that people were willing to make, and he winds up arguing that the principate regenerated the Roman People.

Critical assessment: The 1930s called, Ronald; they want their cardboard cutout of Il Duce back. Equally to the point, saying that all history is the story of oligarchy does not actually have much, if any, analytical value. (See Noreña 2011 for more on Syme in particular.)

Bibliographic Data: Mattern, Susan. Rome and the Enemy: Imperial Strategy in the Principate. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Main Argument:
This study suggests that international relations, for the Romans, were not so much a complex geopolitical chess game as a competition for status, with much violent demonstration of superior prowess, aggressive posturing, and terrorization of the opponent. The Romans behaved on an international level like Homeric heroes, Mafia gangsters, or participants in any society where status and security depend on one's perceived ability to inflict violence. Image or national "honor" emerges as the most important policy goal. In this sense Roman strategy was coherent and consistent over a remarkable period of time; and in a world where the technology and information necessary for more modern and familiar types of military strategy were lacking, it was quite effective. The value attached to honor, which was maintained by conquest, terror, and retaliation, explains the repeated, often unsuccessful attempts at expanding the empire, and the seemingly disproportionate investment of force in retaining territories of questionable strategic or economic value such as Britain and Mesopotamia. On the other hand, Roman concerns about the strength and geographic distribution of the army, and the financial cost of war, conquest, and occupation, emerge as the main factors limiting the empire's growth. The tension between these different concerns ultimately helped to determine the shape of the Roman empire. (xii-xiii)
In the end, she argues, "Rome won the war by asserting its awesome and terrifying image–an image that could not have been maintained in the face of a surrender to the Carthaginians. These were the rules of the game, and victory did not necessarily depend on superior resources of whatever kind–technology, money, or manpower–though all of these things would of course help. Victory depended more on the willingness to expend these resources based on a commitment to a certain set of values we have described as a sense of national honor" (222).

Critical assessment: I think Mattern is right about a lot of things, particularly in her equation that in the principate safety = honor = victory; "ultimate victory in every conflict thus becomes a practical necessity, and security depended, in a fundamental sense, on 'face'" (215). In Eckstein terms, the Romans did not adjust their habits of thought to their unipolar world very readily; and indeed, given that the empire literally created its own enemies through secondary state formation at the borders, this was not necessarily a bad thing in terms of imperial security under the "Augustan system." I think Polybius is right to say that the Roman Empire was the result neither of Fortune nor of Chance; I think it may also be that the answer to the question of "Did the Romans have an overarching plan for the conquest of the oikumene, or not?" is "Yes." Thinking about it in Eckstein terms, we can see that Rome's conquests until the principate were primarily opportunistic, as befitted a player in an anarchic interstate system; but at the same time, it cannot but have occurred to the Romans--particularly since Antiochus and Philip were said to have aspired to universal empire--that the safest position in such a system was, in fact, unrivaled supremacy. That said, I don't think "mentality" is a satisfactory explanation for anything; it's perilously close to "culture," which is notably plastic. I prefer Eckstein's institutional explanation for why the Romans prevailed in the first C3 Crisis, as it were, though I take the point that the Roman mindset contributed to their decision to wage war, or not--but in the sense that the Roman mindset well understood that the choice was, more often than not, between war or annihilation.

Meta notes:
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven. – Psalms, 107: 23-30

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

– John Masefield, "Sea Fever"

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

– C.P. Cavafy, "Ithaka" (trans. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)

Much corruption. Very pelagic. So sea.
ahorbinski: an imperial stormtrooper with the word "justic3" (imperial justice)
Bibliographic Data: Rostovtzeff, M. The Social and Economic History of The Roman Empire. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998. [last three chapters]

Main Argument: Cause of the C3 Crisis was not conflict between the emperors and the senate, but rather the army fighting the privileged classes until the privileged classes were liquidated and the army had overtaken the state. According to Rostovtzeff, this is a consequence of changing theories of monarchy--under the Antonines, there was a compromise between the imperial power and the educated upper classes/the senate over the issue of "naked" monarchism; recall that the government of the principate was comprised of senatorial aristocrats and some equestrians. But as the army became barbarized, it was no longer able to understand this compromise, and thus after the establishment of the Severan dynasty it axiomatically resisted all attempts to return to the prior system of government based in civilian elites, propounded by the weakening of those same elites. The C3 Crisis emperors made the best of a bad situation; the army carried out its negative program because it was drawn from the classes of those shut out of "the brilliant civilized life of the Empire" at the end of the C2, i.e. the peasantry. This is thus a tale of class envy and of the city/country divide, of a social crisis with political effects and not the other way round.

The Third-Century Crisis )

Bibliographic Data: Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century A.D. to the Third. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976.

Main Argument: Roman armies were distributed along rational principles based on clear security goals.


Bibliographic Data: Erdkampf, Paul. "The Corn Supply of the Roman Armies During the Principate (27 BC - 235 AD). In The Roman Army and the Economy, ed. Paul Erdkampf (Amsterdam: J.C. Gieben, 2002): 47-69.

Main Argument: "…the Roman authorities in the provinces throughout the empire controlled huge amounts of corn, which were used in three ways: to contribute to the supply of the populace of the capital city, to sustain the Roman armies and fleets, and occasionally to alleviate temporary shortages in various provincial cities" (59). "The evidence indicates that the individuals paid their taxes to the community, which in turn paid to the Roman authorities. However, the communities were responsible for paying the total amount that was due, not each individual taxpayer" (64). Taxes during the high empire were due in cash and in kind.

Critical assessment: NB: Not actually corn, which was introduced to the Old World in the C16 after the Columbian Reunification. [WTF, dudes.]

Bibliographic Data: Isaac, The Limits of Empire: The Roman Army in the East. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Main Argument: The Roman army in the East was primarily organized for offense, not defense, until the Byzantine period. (Subtext: Luttwak is wrong, wrong, wrong.) Basing ancient historiography on modern military strategy is also wrong. Equally importantly, the Romans conquered peoples, not land [thinking of the territory rather than its inhabitants is an early modern conceit]. Ergo, "the very concept of such a [territorial] boundary had no relevance in antiquity" (396) and the limes cannot be presumed to be anything like the modern concept of such; in fact, they were most likely roads and rivers. Not coincidentally, what the Roman army seems to have done, as part and parcel of securing the authority of Rome, was build, improve, and organize roads and road systems, in order to secure its own communications. Moreover, in the East, the roads were the raisons d'être for forts rather than the other way around, as the bulk of the armies were stationed in cities until the C4. Unsurprisingly, Roman rule in the region entailed occupation of important sites along trade routes rather than territorial control. For ancient states, territory was secondary to control over peoples and towns; the boundary the Romans cared about was the pomerium, the boundary of the city of Rome. Thus, Roman expansion "was an aim in itself and therefore opportunistic," not systematic" (416). Furthermore, "the population in the frontier zone was not so much an object of care to the authorities as an instrument of empire" (418).

Critical assessment: Isaac is right about general principles, but when he generalizes from the East to the Rest of the Empire, he runs into problems (opposite of Luttwak, ironically).

Bibliographic Data: Wickham, Chris. "The Other Transition: From the Ancient World to Feudalism." Past and Present 103 (1984): 1-36.

Main Argument: Wickham sets out here to describe the economic history of the end of (late) antiquity. The classic picture of the transition from the slave to the serf mode of production is not correct, not least because more than one mode of production can and did coexist in the same state.

Framing the Middle Ages )

Bibliographic Data: Wickham, Chris. "The Uniqueness of the East." The Journal of Peasant Studies 12, no. 1 (1984): 166-96.

Main Argument:
The difference between feudal and tributary is not, then, one between presence and absence of structural relationships, economic logic vs. lack of economic logic; there is a positive contrast in the methods and aims of economic interventions inside the two modes. And it is for this reason, too, that state tax-raising and coercive rent-taking by landlords cannot be conflated. They represent two different economic systems, even if they can come together in some exceptional circumstances. Their differences, their antagonisms, lie in their divergent interventions in the peasant economy, just as their convergencies lie in the fact that both are rooted in it. The same productive forces, however, can be seen as giving rise to two separate modes of production. (187)
Thus survival of the state should be seen as the norm, and failure as the deviation; the challenge is to explain Rome, rather than to explain China and other Asian empires: "the basis for their survival was their continuing force as motors of surplus extraction, even in the presence of structurally antagonistic feudal aristocracies, more or less ready to replace them in a hierarchy of dominance, if it ever became possible (and it seldom did)" (189).

Argument, Sources, Examples
- "the key qualitative aspect for state survival is the state's continuing control over the terms of the relationship between aristocrat and peasant" (179)

- "A tributary state is thus both economically and sociopolitically more complex than a feudal estate. … The feudal mode can exist without the tributary mode, but the tributary mode cannot exist without the feudal mode, except in extreme circumstances, when it continually has to fight off the feudalization of some of its local institutions; its history is the history of the resultant antagonisms" (184)

- "The state does not need to control the economic and social lives of its subjects; it just needs the funding that enables it to pursue its chosen objectives. It is in this area that we find class struggle between the state and its peasantry (and indeed its landowners): in the amount of tax payable, especially when it is felt that there are no adequate returns" (185)

Further reading: Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity

Meta notes: "Roads lead to Jerusalem because people want to go there, not because it is a natural halting place or caravan city." --Isaac, The Limits of Empire (105)

"The Asiatic mode as it has always been formulated cannot be regarded as having any analytical validity." --Wickham, "The Uniqueness of the East" (170)
ahorbinski: The five elements theory in the style of the periodic table of the elements.  (teach the controversy)
Bibliographic Data: Hostetler, Laura. Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Main Argument:
Simultaneous developments in cartographic and ethnographic modes of representation notable for their emphasis on empirical knowledge derived from direct observation and precise measurement suggest that the Qing was not isolated from global changes during the early modern period, nor was it simply a recipient of European knowledge; it was an active participant in a shared world order. … In short, during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries Qing China was more fully a part of what can be called the early modern world than has been generally recognized.(1-2)
Ethnography and mapping were central to these discursive imperial strategies, and early modern states employed both to extend their claims to universal empire. Specifically, "in mapping the territory of the expanding empire, the Qing four purposely chose to use the same idiom, or map language, in which its competitors functioned" and "as with much early modern European ethnography, Qing ethnography was also directed toward use in governance of an expanding empire" (23).

Historiographical Engagement: Joseph Needham, C. D. K. Yee

China's West and Southwest )

Critical assessment: Really this book should have been three articles. Hostetler makes a lot of assertions that she cannot actually prove in the name of making her subject relevant; really she should have spent more time on the early modern.

Further reading: Subrahmanyan, "Connected Histories"; Perdue, China Marches West; Hevia, Cherishing Men from Afar; Mullaney, Coming to Terms with the Nation
ahorbinski: The five elements theory in the style of the periodic table of the elements.  (teach the controversy)
Bibliographic Data: Frühstück, Sabine. Colonizing Sex: Sexology and Social Control in Modern Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Main Argument: Frühstück is looking at the history of sexuality and sexual knowledge in modern Japan, the revolutions in which she sees as part of a process of colonization. She looks partly at "the obsession with the 'truth about sex' and the use of the phrase as a discursive tool" in contrast to other studies on similar topics, and argues that "as much as negotiations over a modern understanding of sexuality in Japan intersected with concepts of nation and empire building and overlapped with debates about the nature of Japanese culture and the project of modernity, they also functioned to increase the premium placed on scientific-mindedness" (5). Ultimately, this process of colonization produced modern subjects whose sexualities were regulated and disciplined via state power and who thus were proper constituents of the body politic.

Historiographical Engagement: Garon, Molding Japanese Minds

Colonizing sex, somehow )

Critical assessment: This book is fine, but I actually disagree with Tom Laqueur that it is a better book than Pflugfelder's. Frühstück is bad at organizing her chapters and she never actually says what she means by the "colonization of sex." Moreover, unlike Pflugfelder, Frühstück lacks a theory of discourse through which to interpret her conclusions; she has Bourdieu and Foucault, but they are apparently not enough for her to talk about how sex was being constructed explicitly (which is not quite the same complaint as the preceding sentence? or possibly it is). I feel like a European blundering through premodern Cairo--there's no system, no place from which to secure a vantage point and observe.

Further reading: Pflugfelder, Cartographies of Desire; Mitchell, Colonizing Egypt; Masters of Sex
ahorbinski: The five elements theory in the style of the periodic table of the elements.  (teach the controversy)
Bibliographic Data: Mitchell, Timothy. Colonising Egypt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Main Argument:
…the colonial process would try and re-order Egypt to appear as a world enframed. Egypt was to be ordered up as something object-like. In other words it was to be made picture-like and legible, rendered available to political and economic calculation. Colonial power required the country to become readable, like a book, in our own sense of the term.

A framework appears to order things, but also to circumscribe and exclude. As we will see later on, like the perimeter walls that seemed to exclude 'the real world' from the world exhibition, a framework sets up the impression of something beyond the picture-world it enframes. It promises a truth that lies outside its world of material representation. To 'determine the plan' is to build-in an effect of order and an effect of truth. (33)
And thus, Orientalism in the classic sense that Said describes is an artifact of modernity, which developed this bifurcated way of seeing the world and turned it onto the rest of the world, thus creating its own imperception.

Historiographical Engagement: Bourdieu, Foucault

Colonizing Egypt (and the world) )

Critical assessment: This is an excellent book, deservedly a classic.

Further reading: Said, Orientalism; Mitchell, Rule of Experts; Hevia, The Imperial Security State; Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddima; Mario Savio, the machine speech

Meta notes: Remember, listeners, Descartes was wrong, wrong, wrong. Cognition is a side-effect of consciousness, not its main goal--and the liberal subject cannot hold.
ahorbinski: hulk smash male privilege! (hulk smash male privilege)
Bibliographic Data: Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Main Argument: This book is the interrelated story of three stories: one, "how information lost its body" and "came to be conceptualized as an entity separate from the material forms in which it is thought to be embedded;" two, "how the cyborg was created as a technological artifact and cultural icon" after WII; and three, "how a historically specific construction called the human is giving way to a different construction called the posthuman" (2). The posthuman is a complex field, but it generally has the theme of the union of human and machine, and as a view it usually shares the following assumptions: one, it "privileges informational pattern over material instantiation," with the result that embodiment is seen as historical contingency rather than biological inevitability; two, it "considers consciousness…as an epiphenomenon, as an evolutionary upstart trying to claim that it is the whole show when in actuality it is only a minor sideshow;" three, it "thinks of the body as the original prosthesis we all learn to manipulate;" and finally, it "configures human being so that it can be seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines" (2-3). Thus, "the posthuman subject is an amalgam, a collection of heterogeneous components, a material-informational entity whose boundaries undergo continuous construction and reconstruction" (3). The posthuman subject is in some senses a critique of the liberal subject, but "to the extent that the posthuman constructs embodiment as the instantiaton of thought/information, it continues the liberal tradition rather than disrupts it" (5). Hayles is here critiquing the posthuman dream of nothing less than immortality: "the point is not only that abstracting information from a material base is an imaginary act but also, and more fundamentally, that conceiving of information as a thing separate from the medium instantiating it is a prior imaginary act that constructs a holistic phenomenon [i.e. information, which must always be embodied in something] as an information/matter duality" (13). Information, understood holistically, is "a complexity too unruly to fit into disembodied ones and zeros" (ibid).

Historiographical Engagement: New media theory, science, philosophy, science fiction

How we became posthuman )
Critical assessment: This is an excellent and revolutionary book; Hayles is so smart that I am sure I have failed to capture all of its implications in thees notes. Equally to the point, as I typed these notes on my laptop, I found myself stroking the pages of the paper book I was reading, reminded by her words of "the fragility of a material world that cannot be replaced" and given a new appreciation for it and for its imperfections (49). Beyond that very material operation on me and my embodied self, this is the first book I've read for my exam that has given me hope: I think that Hayles here may have found a way out of the tightening net of informational capitalism and post-postmodernity, because the body is not an informational pattern but a real thing that exists, and because cognition is epiphenomenal rather than sovereign, which means that the liberal subject, much like the center, cannot hold. It will take a while, and it will require much thought and work, and thought-work, on the part of many people. But eventually, with these two truths, we will be able to get out if we try. (Whether this can happen before capitalism destroys the planet via unchecked climate change is, of course, another question.)

All that having been said, Hayles could stand to read some SF books that aren't by straight white guys, IJS.

Further reading: Joan Slonczewski, Brain Plague; Gibson, Neuromancer; Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; Blade Runner; Stephenson, Snow Crash; Sherry Turkle, Simulation and its Discontents; Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think"; Catherine Bateson, Our Own Metaphor; Donna Haraway, "A Cyborg Manifesto"; James Beniger, The Control Revolution

Meta notes:
Although I think that serious consideration needs to be given to how certain characteristics associated with the liberal subject, especially agency and choice, can be articulated within a posthuman context, I do not mourn the passing of a concept so deeply entwined with projects of domination and oppression. … If my nightmare is a culture inhabited by posthumans who regard their bodies as fashion accessories rather than the ground of being, my dream is a version of the posthuman that embraces the possibilities of information technologies without being seduced by fantasies of unlimited power and disembodied immortality, that recognizes and celebrates finitude as a condition of human being, and that understands human life is embedded in a material world of great complexity, one on which we depend for our continued survival. (5)

"And there was a moment. There was a moment, dear listeners, when I considered it. I considered joining Carlos and becoming perfect. But I’ve come to know something after these months together with dear Carlos.

"Perfection is not real. Perfection is not human. Carlos is not perfect, no. Even better — he is imperfect.

"Everything about him, and us, and all of this, is imperfect! And those imperfections in our reality are the seams and cracks into which our out-sized love can seep and pool. And sometimes we are annoyed, and disappointed, and that too is part of how love works. It is not a perfect system, but oh!

"Oh, well.

"And so I resisted.

"I fought off the vision of the shrouded figures and the dark planet and all that was perfect and I held close to imperfection.

"To my own imperfection.

"To my imperfect Carlos.

"I took him, and I carried him out of the cube. I came up, heaving, into this world that will disappoint us.

"Finally, free." – Welcome to Night Vale, "Condos"
ahorbinski: A snakes & ladders board.  (struggle & stagger)
Bibliographic Data: Nakamura, Lisa. Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

Main Argument: In this work, Namakura "locate[s] the Internet as a privileged and extremely rich site for the creation and distribution of hegemonic and counter hegemonic visual images of radicalized bodies" (13). Moreover, now that the internet's audiences are much more diverse, "women and people of color are both subjects and objects of interactivity; they participate in digital racial formation via acts of technological appropriation, yet are subjected to it as well" (16). Nakamura argues that this process, and the mediation of these identities, is "regulated and conditioned by the types of interfaces used to classify, frame, and link them" (27); "the premise of this book is that women and racial and ethnic minorities create visual cultures on the popular Internet that speak to and against existing graphical environments and interfaces online" (172).

Historiographical Engagement: Wendy Chun, Alexander Galloway, Henry Jenkins, many others

Visual cultures of the Internet )

Critical assessment: This is another great new media book that I wish hadn't been written ten years or more ago; although it was published in 2006, most of the material is from 2003-05, and it shows, not in that what Nakamura says here is wrong, but in that I really would like to know what she thinks of the developments in race, Web 2.0, interactivity, and all the other subjects she discusses here in the decade since. I've heard her speak, and she's a great scholar as well as a very nice person, and I really just want more of her thoughts than this book, fixed in time and print as it is, can provide.

Further reading: Windtalkers; Gibson, Neuromancer; Blade Runner; Dirty Pretty Things; Galloway, The Exploit; Tina Takemoto; Hayles, How We Became Posthuman

Meta notes: "It's all connected."


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

August 2017

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