ahorbinski: kanji (kanji)
This book is probably the first non-fiction Japanese book I ever attempted to read, back when I was on a Fulbright in Kyoto from 2007-08. I was writing about contemporary hypernationalist manga, and Kajii was one of the few writers I could find with my then-resources who talked about wartime manga in depth. I couldn't really read Japanese at the point, but I didn't let that stop me. Seven years later, I read the whole book in a few days, an amount of time which before would have netted me only a few pages, and I can say that part of the problem I had back then is that Kajii's prose is kind of opaque. Unlike Shimizu Isao, he doesn't write in a conversational style, and he uses a lot of uncommon words. So it was still slow going, even now that I'm literate, and it took me about half the book before Kajii's prose style clicked in my mind and I was able to start skimming with more confidence.

I was glad I did go back and read the whole book, because the second chapter in particular caused me to significantly revise my views on Kajii as a critic.Kajii is not rational about Norakuro )
ahorbinski: A snakes & ladders board.  (struggle & stagger)

Shimizu Isao is probably the most famous "manga historian" in Japan, though this book (1999) isn't an academic text, much to my frustration: there are no citations beyond the dates and original publications of the images, and Shimizu displays the usual tics of Japanese scholarly writing that are deeply infuriating to someone trained in the more rigorous American style, especially his habit of making claims about what people thought with absolutely no evidence to back it up, and his habit of going on pointless tangents (such as his talking about his trip to Egypt by way of an introduction to how professional cartoonists portrayed women in the era of imperial democracy).

That said, Shimizu is a giant in the field, and a lot of what he says here (the influence of movies on manga in particular) agrees with things that I have already been thinking and conclusions I have previously drawn from my research. Of course, there's also plenty of things I disagree with him about, most notably in this book his addiction to the empty, outdated term "Taisho democracy" and his conviction that manga has important continuities with the "amusing pictures" of the Edo period. It would be difficult to overstate the degree to which I am opposed to this position, and in my opinion, Shimizu should know better, particularly since he is probably the single most knowledgeable person about prewar comics periodicals anywhere. Oh well.

For further remarks, see the dissertation.

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: 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: My Marxist-feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard.  (marxism + feminism --> posthumanism)
Bibliographic Data: Allison, Anne. “The Cool Brand, Affective Activism, and Japanese Youth." Theory, Culture & Society 26 (2009): 89-111.

Main Argument: The rhetoric of "J-Cool" signifies a transformation in the Japanese economy and in Japanese and society, masking a double phenomenon in discourse: "when a construct of youth sells commodities, it is claimed as 'gross national cool.' But when real youth fail to get steady jobs or reproduce, as did their parents, they are castigated for not assuring Japan's future–what gets rendered as a crisis in reproduction" (91). Allison argues that immaterial labor, which comprises two forms ("labor that is primarily intellectual or computational, involving symbols, ideas and codes" and "affective labor that engages affects such as well-being excitement and ease") in its affective form is epitomized by J-Cool. But the new form of capitalism--informational capitalism--that immaterial labor exemplifies and that is hegemonic in the 21st century is deconstructive and destructive of previously solid constructs such as the family and the social safety net, leaving youth in Japan (and all over the world) in an increasingly precaritized position. Allison looks at youth activism in Japan and argues that affective labor can also be thought as "biopower from below;" precisely because affective labor involves the stuff of being human (vita breva aka ὀ βἰος, not just vita nuda aka ἠ ζωἠ), affective labor can allow citizens to forge connections among atomized individuals that can replace and supplement the caring deficit which characterizes society in the C21.

Critical assessment: This is, frankly, a much better work than Millennial Monsters, which was far too anthropological and far too seduced by culturalist explanations. Here, Allison correctly follows the breadcrumbs to capitalism and its discontents, and does a much better job of illuminating the promises and potentials of things like Pokémon and the youth who consume them and who constitute Japan's (and the world's) precariat.

Bibliographic Data: Haraway, Donna. "A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century." The cybercultures reader (2000): 291-324.

Main Argument: Haraway argues for a "cyborg feminism" that will be provisional, ironic, political, postmodern, non-totalizing, and makes two arguments:
…first, the production of universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality, probably always, but certainly now; and second, taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skillful tasks of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts. It is not just that science and technology are possible means of great human satisfaction, as well as a matrix of complex dominations. Cyborg imagery can suggest a way out of the maze of dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves. This is a dream not of a common language, but of a powerful infidel heteroglossia. It is an imagination of a feminist speaking in tongues to strike fear into the circuits of the supersavers of the new right. It means both building and destroying machines, identities, categories, relationships, space stories. Though both are bound in the spiral dance, I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess. (316)

Bibliographic Data: Svensson, Patrik. “The Landscape of Digital Humanities.” Digital Humanities Quarterly, vol 4, no. 1 (2010).

Main Argument: Svensson lays out the current landscape of the digital humanities--its tensions, and some of its divides (i.e. between humanities computing versus digital humanities, between assimilation and distinction)--and considers the digital humanities via various paradigmatic modes of engagement between the humanities and information technology, namely as a tool, a study object, an expressive medium, an exploratory laboratory, and an activist venue: "the mapping activity itself is as important as the resultant patchy map, however, and it is argued that the challenges and possibilities ahead call for a shared awareness and rich collaborations across the landscape of the digital humanities" (11). A new distinction that Svensson identifies is the growth of the term "digital humanist(s)," which are apparently "more commonly used in relation to the digital as tool (and the humanities computing tradition) than the digital as study object;" furthermore, "people in the digital humanities may seem to have a stronger sense of the humanities as a conostucrt and as a whole since they often operate across several disciplines and since their position and identity are more strongly linked to the humanities at large" (53). In sum, "the current landscape is multifaceted and characterized by a range of epistemic traditions and modes of engagement, and while there is a great deal of overlap and common interests, there is also a need of increased shared awareness" (176).
ahorbinski: A DJ geisha (historical time is a construct)
Bibliographic Data: Allison, Anne. Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

Main Argument: Allison argues that several things were different about the "J-cool" boom that began in the 1990s, beginning with the fact that it had a far greater level of influence on the U.S. marketplace than did previous Japanese cultural imports. Allison believes that fantasy, capitalism, and globalism are conjoined and (re)configured in Japanese media mix properties [the term is anachronistic to her book], and that the "polymorphously perverse" play they engender (and embody) is key to their appeal--both at the level of practice and at the level of the media mix itself.

Pokemon, Power Rangers, Sailor Moon, tamagotchi )

Critical assessment: I would have liked this book much better if I had read it before I read Marc Steinberg's book, which I think offers a much better grasp on much of the same territory. Admission: that is because I am not an anthropologist, and because I am allergic to culture as a primary causal factor in anything for reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture but which can be symbolized by the assertion that culture changes damn quick when people want it to. The "techno-animism" argument, frankly, I think is better explained by simply saying that Japan moved into a new mode of capitalism before other countries; this is Latour's "parliament of things" in a capitalist inflection. But also, I don't like Freud, and Allison is very much a Freudian, albeit in a feminist inflection. Sidenote: WTF is with feminists liking Freud? Freud does not like you, ladies! Freud does not even believe that queerness exists! Vomit. That said, once Allison gets away from all that and into her analysis of capitalism, I think she's basically on the money, albeit in a different and frankly somewhat dated idiom. A worthwhile book, for sure, but very much not the whole story.

Further reading: Steinberg, Anime's Media Mix; The LEGO Movie

Meta notes: Gotta catch 'em all! Also, what does "New Age" even mean anymore?
ahorbinski: The five elements theory in the style of the periodic table of the elements.  (teach the controversy)
Bibliographic Data: Hardacre, Helen. Shinto and the State, 1868-1988. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.

Main Argument: Hardacre argues that 1) state Shinto was largely an invented tradition and 2) that it was a radical departure from "anything in the country's previous religious history" (4). Attempting to "explore the significance for popular religious life of the state's involvement in Shinto between 1868 and 1945," Hardacre finds that "it is here that we see the expanding influence of the periphery over the center and the decreasing distance between the two relative to the situation in pre-Meiji Japan" (7).

Historiographical Engagement: Lots of shrine records.

State Shinto and after )

Critical assessment: This book does what it says on the tin, and for that reason it's no surprise that everybody cites it. Hardacre is not an inspired analyst, but she gets the job done.

Further reading: Fujitani, Splendid Monarchy; Gluck, Japan's Modern Myths

Meta notes: Given that Hardacre analyzes Shinto from within the paradigm of "religion" that was not native to Japan before 1853, and which Shinto priests continued to resist, I do wonder about the question of reflexivity.
ahorbinski: Emma Goldman, anarchist (play the red queen's game)
Bibliographic Data: Fujitani, Takashi. Splendid Monarchy: Power and Pageantry in Modern Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Main Argument: Fujitani says that he "want[s] to remember the instant of historical rupture, the moment of the imperial institution's new emergence in modern Japan" (4). He argues that "the strong sense of national consciousness and identity that has characterized the modern Japanese is less a product of natural circumstances that can be traced back in time to the geological formation of the Japanese archipelago than of strategically motivated cultural policies pursued by Japan's modern ruling elites" (5). In sum, "the invention of Japan's modern national ceremonies was, quite simply, a response to specific domestic and international political forces of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries," and "however limited the Meiji regime might have been in producing a uniformity of belief or a uniformly self-disciplining population, its successes were considerable. Moreover, the imperial pageants as well as other elements in the regime's folklore certainly succeeded in producing a new sense of national simultaneity—a sharing of time among people who could not possibly have had face-to-face contact" (15, 29).

Historiographical Engagement: Geertz; Foucault; Durkheim, all of whom are wrong to varying degrees

Splendid monarchy )

Critical assessment: It's honestly surprising to me that Fujitani did his PhD here at Berkeley, as there is far too much theory in this book for it to represent a Berkeley approach; one might say that it smacks of the Harootunian. That said, there are a few points where I can hear Irv Scheiner in the text--as when Fujitani talks about things being "necessary but not sufficient," a locution I have heard multiple times in my Japan seminars--and I think Fujitani's work represents a really excellent synthesis of the Berkeley approach with theory. This is one of the few works of history I've read that I wish I had written, and all in all, it's an excellent book.

Further reading: Kenneth J. Ruoff, The People's Emperor, Imperial Japan at Its Zenith

Meta notes: Very monarchy. Much splendid. So pageantry.
ahorbinski: A snakes & ladders board.  (struggle & stagger)
Bibliographic Data: Vaporis, Constantin Nomikos. Breaking Barriers: Travel and the State in Early Modern Japan . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 1994.

Main Argument: Vaporis argues against the now very dated interpretations that Tokugawa communications were primitive, and that travel was essentially restricted by the system of permits required on shogunate-maintained roads. Rather, travel was bound up with pilgrimage, often took on a recreational character, and often was accomplished without any permits whatsoever: "quite paradoxically, the system that the ruling class [sic] devised to control commoners actually ended up restricting themselves more" (6).

Historiographical Engagement: Vaporis is arguing with a bunch of rather stodgy older writers in English, and draws on much scholarship in Japanese. Vaporis also really loves the work of one Rutherford Alcock.

Breaking barriers )

Critical assessment: I don't think this is a terribly great book. In framing his arguments, evidence, and analysis, Vaporis falls into the trap of discussing the Edo period (1600-1868) as if its nearly three centuries were a unitary, ahistorical moment in which little if any diachronic change occurred.this infelicity of framing—Vaporis routinely jumps from the beginning to the end to the middle of the Tokugawa period even within paragraphs—is a huge drag on the explanatory and persuasive power of Vaporis’ analysis throughout.

Moreover, Vaporis’ inability to frame his arguments in a chronologically coherent manner is related to another of the book’s profound flaws, namely his severe weakness in organizing his admittedly voluminous evidence. Particularly in its middle sections, Breaking Barriers devolves into a numbing series of anecdotes that are poorly contextualized and almost uniformly not developed in favor of plopping them into the text one after the other. There is certainly nothing wrong with anecdotes in scholarship (and some of Vaporis’ are terribly amusing, a not inconsiderable virtue), but they must be deployed carefully, with consideration of their ramifications both for the point at hand as well as for the larger narrative of the book. Despite Vaporis’ claims that his study is structured by the observations he extracts from three disparate anecdotes about travel which he recounts in his introduction, there is little sense of a coherent narrative underlying the work as a whole; by the time the reader reaches his conclusion, she has little idea what exactly Vaporis was trying to prove. Certainly, despite his professed desires to the contrary, Breaking Barriers has little to offer the comparative study of the early modern around the world, bogged down as it is in too many details too weakly organized.

One suspects that part of the relative weakness of Vaporis’ study relates as well to one of the more profound questions of Edo historiography, namely how exactly to characterize the Tokugawa bakufu or shogunal government. Vaporis is hamstrung in this respect by his insistence (which he maintains even in Tour of Duty) that the shogunate was some kind of “compound” state, a needlessly obfuscatory formulation that prevents him from being able to satisfactorily explain, in Breaking Barriers, the flagrant and enduring violation of much of the shogunate’s travel regulations that he documents, let alone from achieving his espoused goal of “examining Tokugawa society […] through the prism of travel and transport […] in terms of the relationship between the state and society” because his grasp of the nature of the Tokugawa state is so incoherent (2).

Further reading: Peter Konicki, The Book in Japan; T. George Tsukahira, The Sankin Kotai System of Tokugawa Japan; Mary Elizabeth Berry, Japan in Print; Kären Wigen, The Making of a Japanese Periphery

Meta notes: [free space for getting around barriers]
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: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

August 2017

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