ahorbinski: A DJ geisha (historical time is a construct)
Bibliographic Data: Steinberg, Marc. Anime's Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

Main Argument: "The emergence of Japanese television animation, or anime, in the 1960s as a system of interconnected media and commodity forms was, I will argue, a major turning point and inspiration for the development of what would later be called the media mix" (i.e. what Henry Jenkins calls "convergence") (viii).

Historiographical Engagement: Steinberg is mostly drawing on Japanese scholars of various stripes here; big names are Ôtsuka Eiji, Azuma Hiroki, and Itô Gô, while Tom Lamarre gets the biggest nod on the English-language side. Also, standing up for critical theory, Brian Massumi and Maurizio Lazzarato.

Introduction: Argument, Sources, Examples Steinberg argues that

Ultimately, we must understand the media mix to be part of a wider shift in media consumption patterns that saw increased emphasis on the consumption of images, media texts, and their associated things and an increased speed and penetration of the consumption processes. The rise of the media mix is thus intimately bound up with social, economic, and cultural transformations that many writers have associated with the term postmodernism or post-Fordism" (xi). Moreover, understanding the mechanisms of the anime mix show that Jenkins' understanding of convergence "fails to capture the essential role played by technologies of 'thing communication' (mono komi) that are not merely hardware nor merely the products of users' creative imaginations: the media connectivity proper to the character and the materiality of media-commodities that support this connectivity. (xv)
Anime's media mix )

Critical assessment: This is an excellent, zippy book which, I think, is fundamentally correct on almost all of its points. Steinberg explicates how the anime media mix does what it does from its historical roots, in the process making some very important points on multiple levels.

Further reading: Anne Allison, Millennial Monsters; Itô Gô, Tezuka Is Dead; Azuma Hiroki, Otaku: Japan's Database Animals

Meta notes: IS2G, this whole axiomatic designation of fan works as "parodic and exaggerated" needs explosion. I'm putting it on my to-do list. Also, the Fordist/post-Fordist disjuncture and the crises of capitalism--1929, 1973, 2008--may possibly be keys to the postwar period.
ahorbinski: an imperial stormtrooper with the word "justic3" (imperial justice)
Bibliographic Data: Young, Louise. Japan's Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Main Argument: Young argues that in the 1930s, Manchuria moved from the periphery of the Japanese imperial consciousness to the forefront, as Japanese constructed a new kind of empire in the northeast from the top down and from the bottom up, as shown in three areas: military conquest, economic development, and mass migration. Young concludes that the evolving relationship between imperialism and modernity resulted in a formation that she calls "total empire."

Historiographical Engagement: Carol Gluck, Japan's Modern Myths (although Young's conclusions are diametrically opposite from Gluck's)

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples Young argues that "total empire" arose from the ongoing social development of imperialist societies, coupled with the continuing global expansion of industrial capitalism, meant that metropolis and colonies were now more economically integrated, and also that they saw the rise of a new "social imperialism," in which social conflict in the metropole was projected onto the colonies. In this sense "total empire" is analogous to "total war" because "it was made on the home front. It entailed the mass and multidimensional mobilization of domestic society: cultural, military, political, and economic" (13). Empire was thus overdetermined, because so many components of society were in favor of imperialism; indeed, "their synergy or concatenation is what gave total imperialism its peculiar force" (ibid). Moreover (although not quite as clearly as James Hevia does in English Lessons, it has to be said), Young focuses on the transformations that Manchukuo wrought in Japan, and how those transformations then enabled further escalation in Manchukuo itself. She reads many sources from pop culture because "for the vast majority of Japanese, the ideas and symbols of popular culture, provided the primary medium through which they would experience Manchukuo," which Young looks at as a historical construction and as a process (17).

Japan's empire in Manchukuo was quintessentially modern. )

Critical assessment:
I really like this book, and in generally I think it very much deserves its place as a landmark in the field. On the theme of "everyone wants a different book out of the book you write," for my tastes, I would have liked to see more extended comparisons with other contemporary empires, and I would also, frankly, have liked to see more engagement with theory. I did have some quibbles with her idiosyncratic use of terminology, such as her setting up a dichotomy between "empire" and "metropolis" when the more usual dichotomy is "metropole" and "colony," because together they constitute the "empire."

It almost wouldn't have occurred to me to think of this as cultural history, I suppose because I have absorbed the prejudice that "cultural history" is about "soft" and "non-weighty" things, unlike imperialism, which is inherently Weighty and Important. This book is an excellent example of what cultural history can do, and it saddens me that there is a turn away from cultural history currently happening in the field.

As to the meat of Young's conclusions, I think they are substantially very correct, or at least, she gets all the relevant players in the room and accounted for in a way that other books (such as Carol Gluck's Japan's Modern Myths) mostly fail to do. I can very much believe that there was a ratcheting effect going on in the interplay between public opinion as expressed in the mass media, policy and policy-makers, and society that welded and then sanctified the imperialist consensus in Japan in the 1930s. I also think her impatience with the Marxist (kôzaha, to be specific) argument that Japan remained "semi-feudal" and that Manchukuo was not a modern empire is entirely correct. Manchukuo was ultra-modern, not just in its technology but in its imperialism, which is one of the reasons I continue to find it very interesting.

As for Manchukuo, I found myself thinking that a good essay question on this book would be, "Who was least deluded in Manchukuo?" (Answer: the oppressed Chinese peasants and coolies, about whom Young says sadly little.) I do wish Young had a better flair for irony and/or a greater sense of humor--there are so many bizarre and surreal things in this book, perhaps best exemplified by shills for the puppet state arguing that Pu Yi, notable opium addict and thief of Chinese cultural heritage objects in his flight from the Forbidden City, was a "sage king" who exemplified the "kingly way" (ôdô) by which Manchukuo would be governed. Young is in general more tolerant of self-serving imperialist delusions than I would be, but she does skewer them methodically nonetheless.

Further reading: Mark Driscoll, Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque; Prasenjit Duara, Sovereignty and Authenticity; Andrew E. Barshay, The Gods Left First; Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction

Meta notes: It's the economy, stupid.
ahorbinski: an imperial stormtrooper with the word "justic3" (imperial justice)
Bibliographic Data: Driscoll, Mark. Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque: The Living, the Dead, and the Undead in Japan's Imperialism, 1895-1945. Chapel Hill, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.

Main Argument: Joining biopolitics to Marxian theory, Driscoll argues that "…human and nonhuman resources stolen from colonial and domestic peripheries, together with excessive profits jacked from colonized renters and subaltern wage laborers, built Japan's imperial behemoth. … Japan's imperialism was irrefutably modern; there was noting late or lacking about it." (6-7)

Empire of the living dead )

Critical assessment:
I still think The Culture of Civil War in Kyoto is the best book I've read this year, but despite some quibbles I think Mark Driscoll's book is the second-best book I've read, and it deserves to become (much like Berry's book) a contested classic in the field. I have to admit that Driscoll has also succeeded in dethroning Prasenjit Duara's Sovereignty and Authenticity from its high place in my regard; while Driscoll's discussion of Manchukuo does not displace Duara's entirely, largely because they have such different concerns and viewpoints, I find Duara's portrayal of the sham state in toto untenable in light of Driscoll's points.

I’ve read at least one of Mark Driscoll’s articles before, and on that basis I was glad to see that in Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque he’s managed to salt his evident passion with enough reasonably couched statements and superb research that his passion augments rather than detracts from his arguments. Furthermore, unlike his fellow traveler Ken Kawashima, whose The Proletarian Gamble is cited several times in this book, Driscoll never loses sight of the people on whose backs and out of whose lives and deaths the Japanese empire was founded and maintained. Indeed, one suspects that Driscoll’s turn to biopolitics and the thanatopolitics that follow out of it in the modern imperial frame (which Driscoll, somewhat idiosyncratically, insists on terming “necropolitics,” against the majority of those working on these topics) was initially animated by his inability to forget the material suffering of the people who were reduced first to bare life and then to the living dead by the operations of empire.

Having spent my own time in the trenches of the thought and lives of many of the imperial actors and abettors Driscoll identifies and discusses, his frank dismissal of people like Yanagita Kunio is a sly sort of revelation, and his elaboration of the systematic aspects of the thought and policies of people like Gotô Shimpei marks an important departure, I think, from the “model of scholarship still present in East Asian studies that emphasizes a more or less homogeneous Japanese cultural nationalism severed from Asia” (4). I’ve long thought that the only way to “save” Japan studies in the era of China’s rise is to square the circle and be aggressively transnational in our historiography, and at least since James Hevia’s English Lessons, which I was glad to see Driscoll cite, we can no longer afford to ignore the global hybridities and mutual deterritorialization and reterritorialization of empire. Driscoll’s exposure of the complicity in and absolutely repugnant cooperation of people like Fukuzawa Yukichi and Futabatei Shimei, who are still more or less sainted in the standard histories on both sides of the Pacific, is also salutary. Moreover, as someone who has come more and more to feel that seeing the Asia-Pacific Wars as a discrete period underplays the extent to which, as Driscoll insists here, the empire ought not be separated from its military operations. Empires are as much a process as they are stable state structures, and violence of all forms is an integral part of that process.

This book was actively difficult to read at times, because as much as I’ve read about the Japanese empire and its colonial sites, I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered descriptions of the actual lived—and died—conditions it created that are as frank as Driscoll’s, and none of my suspicions about why that is are comfortable. I suppose some people will accuse Driscoll of doing a hatchet job on the standard scholarship of Japan's imperialism (starting off with a bang by savaging Yanagita Kunio, rightly, for his "paranoid cultural particularlism" (4) in the introduction), and there is a revolutionary quality to the story he tells, by foregrounding not the question of cui bono? but cui dolori? and by looking not at nation-states but at people and the human costs of capitalist empire. This is a grim, unflinching take on that story, configured very much as a deathride to an absolute wasteland of a conclusion, and indeed my primary quibble with the book is that it ends the only place it can, in the bombed-out ruins of the empire in 1945, with Driscoll declaring that "capitalism itself must be seen as a crime against humanity" (313). But, for the rest of us, my question is, what can be saved from the wreckage?

What can be saved? from the wreckage of Japan studies, from the wreckage of the empire, is essential to ask as an American and as a scholar of Japan, because Driscoll is right if perhaps overreaching when he points out that we in the United States have done these same things too, or at least profited from them. I also think my question is connected to Driscoll's manifest reluctance to deal with ζοη (civilized life, life in society) as opposed to βιος (vita nuda, bare life), which is an interesting gap.

This is a very political book, as any book which talks about the grotesque is by its nature, and my few critiques of Driscoll arise from this fact. He has an unfortunate talent to characterize pre-Meiji periods of history in a way that, while not quite untrue, seems to me to stretch the limits of plausible interpretation, and while I appreciate his critique of contemporary American imperialism and neoliberal/neoconservative intellectual formations, these aren’t incorporated entirely systematically, which is a weakness I’m sure his detractors will seek to exploit. Similarly, he frequently gets carried away by the slickness of his own turns of phrase. But inasmuch as Driscoll’s work is a perfect example of doing what Cary Wolfe argues we must, i.e. instantiate the spectral threat of repositioning historical instances vis-à-vis the current instance, this is an excellent—dare I say vital?—book.

Further reading: Louise Young, Japan's Total Empire

Meta notes: "A more serious sin for materialist thinkers is that disregarding larger structural complexities prevents us from, in the words of Walter Benjamin, 'grasp[ing]…the constellation which [our] era has formed with a definitely earlier one'" (301).
ahorbinski: A DJ geisha (historical time is a construct)
Bibliographic Data: Azuma Hiroki. Otaku: Japan's Database Animals. Trans. Jonathan E. Abel & Shion Kono. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Main Argument: Drawing on postmodern and critical theory, Azuma argues that otaku--Japanese fans of anime, manga, and video games, called in Japan the "contents industry"--are a new, postmodern type of human being (shinjinrui) whose subjectivity has no need for the "grand narratives" that framed the modern era. Instead, otaku care only for little narratives at the level of simulacra, i.e. at the level of the actual media they consume, and for "grand nonnarratives" at the level of meaning behind those media, which Azuma terms a database. In their ability to instantly gratify their desires with little narratives, Azuma sees otaku as animals in the Kojévean sense, but in his view they do maintain a vestigial humanity, in the Enlightenment sense, at the level of the database. Thus, they are database animals.

Postmodern, database, animal )

Critical assessment: It's been two years since I first read this book, and my reaction to it now is much more complex. It was obvious to me in 2009 that Azuma was bringing brilliant theoretical insights to the table, and that is still very much true, but on the other hand, the flaws and weird gaps in his argument are much more obvious this time around. Also, the book is now ten years old despite the fact that the English translation only appeared two years ago, and its age is beginning to show; someone very much needs to bring out Azuma's newer books such as Tokyo kara kangaeru and Yûbinteki fuantachi, to say nothing of the sequel to this book, Gêmu teki rearizumu no tanjô.

I more or less agree with most of what Azuma says in the second, principal chapter of the book concerning the idea of the 'database' and otaku (fan) consumption of its elements; with only cosmetic (surface) changes of terminology, these premises apply readily to English-language media fandom, and they're quite insightful. I have problems with Azuma's treatment of factors that he relegates to the periphery of his argument, namely (in no particular order) gender, queerness and sexuality, passive versus active consumption, and the uniqueness of Japan vis-a-vis global (post)modernity and capitalism.

To take the last of these first, Azuma buys into really tiresome (and tired) ideas about the rupture in Japanese modernity constituted by the American Occupation of Japan from 1945-52 after Japan's defeat at the end of the Asia-Pacific Wars and consequently, to my mind, overplays the uniqueness of otaku subculture as an inheritance of the Edo period (?!), when in reality, I think, the more interesting frame in which to interpret otaku subculture is to consider it as a local form of a praxis that emerges as an effect of advanced capitalism globally. Despite his (rightly) criticizing Murakami Takashi for Murakami's appropriating otaku aesthetics to turn a profit in the pop art world, Azuma more or less agrees with Murakami's superflat thesis. He also is, on the whole, pessimistic about the possibility of forging genuine emotional connections and alternative social spaces and economies through otaku praxis, which seems to me wholly unwarranted. Even more infuriatingly, Azuma notes in passing that not all fans of the contents industry in Japan are male, but proceeds to assume that all otaku are heterosexual men (and to mention homosexuality and pedophilia in the same breath as behaviours of choice) and to more or less follow Saitô Tamaki's offensive, and wrong-headed, Freudian interpretation of anime and manga and to bend that interpretation back on otaku. As people like Fujimoto Yukari, Sandra Annett, and many others have made clear, otaku are not the sum total of Japanese fans, and to assume a priori that all otaku are heterosexual men is deeply problematic. Azuma also underplays, to a criminal extent, the fact that otaku and fan praxis worldwide is defined not by passive consumption, but by investment and involvement in media to an active degree that wider society regards as abnormal at best. Fans aren't passive consumers; that's wider society. Fans are the people who actively take apart, reassemble, tinker with and critique the media they love, in all metaphorical registers of those words--Azuma is dismissive of such central otaku sites as the doujinshi (fanworks) markets, which seems--and I use this word in the full knowledge of how Azuma employs it in text--snobbish, despite the fact that half the examples in this book are drawn from girl games.

It will be clear from these remarks that my own estimation of these matters, including the nature of the relationship between modernity and postmodernity, is much closer to the line that Tom LaMarre takes in The Anime Machine, though I don't think that even Tom goes far enough in reckoning with gender. The thing I really think Azuma misses about otaku is--two things, actually. I mentioned his wrongheaded ideas about the nature of otaku consumption above, but the other thing I think he doesn't grasp, or at least doesn't talk about, is the fact that otaku consumption is knowing. Fujoshi and otaku know that they're primed to like characters with hair that sticks up because the hair is a moe thing, and they like those characters despite recognizing the conscious manipulation. There's a middle ground to fan subjectivity that Azuma barrels past, and I think teasing it out is important. Still, Azuma is an essential thinker in these matters, and someone with whom we must all reckon (and riddle) before we proceed.

Finally, the translation is very good overall, but contains some minor factual errors (Cardcaptor Sakura is a manga by CLAMP, for instance) and a few infelicities of English terminology (no one calls AMVs and vids "mad movies").

Further reading: Thomas Lamarre, The Anime Machine; Anne Allison, "The Cool Brand, Affective Activism, and Japanese Youth"

Meta notes: The Sherlockians give themselves a lot of press as the first fans--and the "good" ones, whatever that means--and it seems to me that, as much as widespread fandom is clearly an effect of advanced capitalism globally, just like capitalism has always carried within it the seeds of its advanced form, elements of fandom can be discerned going as far back as, say, the 1840s, when fans of Dickens gathered on the wharfs of New York City to find out about Little Nell's fate. The seriality of media is an essential precondition for the fannish impulse.
ahorbinski: A DJ geisha (historical time is a construct)
Bibliographic Data: Allison, Anne. Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Main Argument: Hostess clubs, and in particular the company-paid outings that frequently take place there, are sites of both work and play in which male corporate workers of a certain echelon construct themselves as a group of men together through the conduit of the woman, the hostess, who is paid to attend them. Although the habit of visiting hostess clubs is said to be 'natural,' hostess clubs in fact constitute an artificial site in which corporations are able to manipulate their employees' subjectivity, desires, and identity, suturing them tightly to their jobs.

Hostess clubs & salarymen )

Critical assessment:
This is a courageous, insightful book, with a lot of important points to make about work, money, gender, play and sex in contemporary Japan--if Andrew Gordon's The Wages of Affluence documented the creation of a gyroscopic political and social hegemony through a construction of union labor, Allison's book is concerned with how that same hegemony operates on and genders salarymen, who are nominally better off than factory workers but whose worklife regularly extends to midnight or later in hostess clubs. Though Allison makes no bones about her own feminism, and deploys feminist analysis to great effect in this book, in the end her analysis mirrors hostess clubs themselves, in which men are the focus and women are merely conduits for men to build themselves up amongst their peer group. This in itself, however, is highly valuable, and the book gains as well from Allison's determined engagement with several 'scholars' of Nihonjinron ('theories of Japaneseness') whose culturally essentialist explanations for the behaviors of salarymen at work and at play simply treat hostess clubs as natural and leave it at that.

In class discussion a lot of my male colleagues objected to Allison's final points about impotence and the salaryman--while I agree that Lacanian theory can seem suspicious after a while, my own reading of the book and their reaction is that they objected out of a discomfort that hit rather close to home rather than to the actual content of Allison's arguments in this respect, which are not meant to be universal. I think to some extent this is a reflection of the fact that at this point in academia we are fairly well acquainted with the idea that male privilege exists, but we are much more prone to perceiving how society operates on and structures "women" than we are prepared to acknowledge that it does the same to "men." And that, I think, is the real and uncomfortable truth that Allison's work here exposes, above and beyond her conclusions about the suturing of work and identity for male corporate employees in Japan. (Though for someone who has no truck with the social fiction that mahjong is not played for money, it seems bizarre that Allison fails to realize that pachinko is played for--quite a lot of--money too.)

Further reading: Anne Allison, Permitted and Prohibited Desires, Millennial Monsters

Meta notes: It would be really interesting for a male anthropologist to do field work in a host club today--the fieldwork in this book is 30 years old, and some of the details are clearly out of date. In particular, exploring what the women who patronize host clubs (and they do; host clubs and hosts are a visible presence in many Japanese cities, to say nothing of butler and maid cafes) are doing there would make a fascinating counterpoint to this study.
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 DJ geisha (historical time is a construct)
Bibliographic Data: Kondo, Dorinne K. Crafting Selves: Power, Gender, and Discourses of Identity in a Japanese Workplace. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Main Argument: Dorinne Kondo, a Japanese American, Harvard-trained anthropologist, spent nearly two years in Japan working as a part-timer in a small confectionery factory in the shitamachi of Tokyo's Arakawa ward. Her experiences there suggest that identity is multiple and relational and that the famed Japanese ideology of the workplace as a family does not go uncontested by workers, who are quick to resist it and to use it to criticize their bosses on its own terms.

Crafting selves at work )

Critical assessment: This is a good, thought-provoking book that emphasizes a number of points about (gendered) labor in Japan that bear emphasizing. That said, it needed an editor hard-core; there are several sections in which Kondo provides altogether too much background information than is relevant, and she--well, in her review Jennifer Robertson said that Kondo's experiences frequently came across as too general and stereotypical, which I would certainly agree with based on their basic similarity to many of my experiences doing research in Japan. Given all the things that separate me and Kondo, this "terrible familiarity," in my advisor's words, is not felicitous. Similarly and in the words of another reviewer, Kondo often comes across as--naive is probably too strong a word, but she takes a number of phenomena at face value that ought to be further unpacked, perhaps most obviously when she refuses for the entire book to call the confectionery workers' exploitation exploitation. It's a tough balancing act to tread the line between researcher and participant, but I think she tends to err on the side of participant most of the time.

All of this is not to actually discuss the book's merits, namely its unpacking a workplace that is far more typical in Japan than that of the salaryman or the permanently employed union worker. Still, Kondo's analysis is focused almost monomaniacally on this one particular enterprise, to the point where her analysis is not readily generalizable; given that there is literally nothing to set this particular confectionery apart, that seems questionable. Still, she succeeds in making her central argument about identity, which doesn't seem as radical as it may have in 1990, and in interlacing theory with her account, even as she leaves some aspects of it undertheorized--all in all, a worthwhile read.

Further reading: Judith Butler, Gender Trouble

Meta notes: 家 being read uchi is a metonym for 内.
ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Bibliographic Data: Gordon, Andrew. The Wages of Affluence: Labor and Management in Postwar Japan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Main Argument: Gordon's main argument in this readable, strongly researched account is that the postwar Japanese labor system endured not because of innate economic superiority or better treatment for its workers but thanks to the concerted operation of oppressive political and ideological practices. These practices created a gyroscopic hegemony that was well able to adapt to changing conditions and that was more durable than many commentators in the 1990s realized, but at the same time, its emergence was not a foregone conclusion; alternatives existed.

Historiographical Engagement: Gordon's main sources are the company and union archives of Nippon Kôkan (NKK), as well as interviews with many of the people involved in the events he describes conducted in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

What price prosperity? )

Critical assessment: This is an excellent, readable (by which I mean, very light on theory), and informative book; I'd read Gordon's history of modern Japan in undergrad, and would unhesitatingly teach from it, and would do the same for this book as well. I particularly appreciate Gordon's insistence that the current Japanese labor system was not a predetermined outcome, but rather the product of specific actions taken by specific people under specific conditions. This is no more than good historiography, but Gordon's combination of sources gives it a particular verve, and his linkage of labor and social norms is insightful--in some ways, this to me is a historical complement to T.J. Pempel's Regime Shift, which looks at some of the same phenomena from a political science perspective. In light of that book and of the class for which I read it, my one question for Andrew Gordon would be, What does "democracy" mean?

I can answer that question based on my own reading of Gordon (i.e. like just about everyone he follows Maruyama Masao's vision of 'democracy' as a society of politically active, independent-minded citizens), but he never defines the term in text, and while I agree with him and with Maruyama to an extent it also seems important to remember that to some extent rather than being illiberal and undemocratic Japan got the democracy it chose for itself, one featuring low citizen input in return for high economic output. Certainly many features of the Japanese political system and the socioeconomic order it created now look inadequate, perhaps more so than ever before, and Maruyama ultimately lost his famous wager on democracy as he defined it. But the Japanese are still citizens, not subjects, and the relation of work and democracy is not necessarily fixed in any country.

Further reading: Andrew Gordon, The Evolution of Labor Relations in Japan and Labor and Imperial Democracy in Prewar Japan (volumes 1 and 2 of his so-called "labor trilogy"), Fabricating Consumers (forthcoming), Nihonjin ga shiranai Matsuzaka mejaa kakumei
ahorbinski: My Marxist-feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard.  (marxism + feminism --> posthumanism)
Bibliographic Data: Kawashima, Ken C. The Proletarian Gamble: Korean Workers in Interwar Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.

Main Argument: In this brilliant, flawed, angry book, Kawashima argues that contingent labor (labor bound to work but not guaranteed work) and contingency are an integral component rather than secondary effect of capitalism, and that Korean day laborers in Japan during the interwar period constituted nothing other than a proletariat despite the fact that their worksites and work were not fixed but aleatory as part of the commodification of their labor power. Secondary to this process, Korean workers were subject to intermediary exploitation, which used social mediations to further distance them from a direct relationship with capital, i.e. their ultimate employers.

Alea iacta est. )

Critical assessment: This is an excellent book with several notable defects; nonetheless, it's well worth reading. First and foremost, as Andrew Gordon noted in his review for The Journal of Social History, Kawashima's analysis is downright Manichaean: in his book there are the collaborators and the resistors, and absolutely no grey zone between those two poles. Furthermore, the reader will search in vain for any evocation of the lived experience of Korean workers in interwar Japan, save for a few isolated quotations; this book is not really about the experience of Korean workers in Japan, but about how the Japanese state dealt with them in the aggregate and the abstract. Finally, Kawashima consistently overestimates the amount of trouble Korean workers' struggle for rights and representation actually caused the imperial authorities; at the end he claims that the workers brought about "a real state of emergency" á la Walter Benjamin, but the claim is simply sad in light of the available evidence. That said, this is an excellent book that brings to light many previously unknown sources (though much of the data it includes is, as my advisor put it, inert), focuses attention on an understudied aspect of the Japanese empire and the zainichi Korean experience, and raises important questions about transwar continuities in Japanese society, particularly the state of civil society, as well as wider questions about the supposedly recent emergence of the precariat and the proper definition of the proletariat, as well as the relationship of chance and capital.

Further reading: Nimura Kazuo, The Ashio Riot of 1907

Meta notes: To beg a question means to avoid it, not to raise it inevitably.
ahorbinski: A snakes & ladders board.  (struggle & stagger)
Bibliographic Data: Wong, R. Bin. China Transformed: Historical Change and the Limits of European Experience. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Main Argument: Wong argues convincingly that scholars must seek "to generate the elements of well-grounded comparative history that can identify issues in European as well as non-European history, contribute to projects in world history, and create a new basis for building social theories to replace the great nineteenth-century efforts limited in large measure to European foundations" (ix), and that one way to do this is to incorporate thoroughly into scholarship the historical perspectives, experiences and paradigms of non-Western places. Accordingly, Wong analyzes a thousand years of Chinese history on its own terms and puts it in conversation with broadly similar examples of European history in the same period. In the end it becomes clear that differences are more salient than similarities, but only after similarities have been established through comparison--focusing on differences qua differences yields the sort of meaningless statements that, as one of the people in our class discussion commented, "Europe is different from China, China is different from apples, apples are different from hand grenades, and hand grenades are different from Dwinelle Hall." Yes, and?

The limits of Europe )

Critical assessment: This is a brilliantly analyzed and argued book, and if it gets a little dry at times, Wong succeeds to a greater extent than most economic historians I've read in not ignoring the violence that haunts history--he has an entire chapter comparing the French and Chinese Revolutions with each other, for instance. Let me be frank: as our class discussions around this book made clear, there are some people who just don't believe in comparative history, or at least in doing comparative history as we can now, and this book will not please them. To his credit, however, Wong anticipates that reaction, remarking in his introduction that "Noting items not addressed or inadequately treated matters, I think, only when such absences undermine the arguments or qualify the evidence presented" (8). It should surprise no one, methinks, that I'm with Wong on both the necessity and the value of comparative history, and I think he succeeds brilliantly at the task he sets out for himself, particularly when he reads European examples according to Chinese criteria and destabilizes our received understandings. He's particularly good on the comparative European and Chinese economies and state formations--a lot of what he said led me to rethink things I knew about Europe from 1 CE forward, particularly in the medieval era.

Further reading: Prasenjit Duara, Culture, Power, and the State; Joseph Fletcher Jr., "The Heyday of the Ch'ing Order in Mongolia, Sinkiang, and Tibet"; Edward Friedman, "Reconstructing China's National Identity", Bryna Goodman, Native Place, City, and Nation; Philip Kuhn, "Local Self-Government under the Republic"; Kenneth Pomeranz, From Core to Hinterland, "Protecting Goddess, Dangerous Woman"; Mary Rankin, Elite Activism and Political Transformation in China; Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital and European States, A.D. 990-1990

Meta notes: Europe isn't everything. Those of us in Asian studies and similar disciplines know that; now we just have to sell everyone else on that fact.


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

August 2017

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