ahorbinski: A snakes & ladders board.  (struggle & stagger)
I had the privilege of giving a guest lecture on anime, manga, and folktales in Japanese popular culture at the Asian Art Museum as part of the UC Berkeley History-Social Studies Project last summer, and the video is online at the AAM Education site. I'll actually be doing some more work with the AAM this summer, so watch this space for more updates!
ahorbinski: My Marxist-feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard.  (marxism + feminism --> posthumanism)
At the end of October I went to hear Prof. Alex Cook of the History Department give a talk on "Chinese Uhuru: A Maoist Reading of the Congo Crisis."

The fact that I didn't immediately understand to which Congo crisis the title was referring, I suppose, shows my youth as much as anything else--it's not even called the Congo anymore, anyway, and until I was 12 it was Zaire--but apparently the Congo Crisis was the Spanish Civil War of its day; Che Guevara even led a squad of guerilla forces through the jungle for a while. Prof. Cook situated the Chinese interpretation of the crisis, which was touched off in 1960 almost as soon as independence was declared. In the context of the widening Sino-Soviet split, in which China essentially threw in its lot with the "Third World" and embraced the epithet of underdevelopment, the Congo Crisis seemed like a tailor-made opportunity to show the world that the Maoist conception of world revolution by peasant insurgency had legs. Certainly the 1965 play "War Drums on the Equator," performed in Beijing by an entirely Chinese cast and crew, simultaneously offered the Chinese perspective on the Sino-Soviet split (i.e. Cold War superpower hegemony was leading to a new and more dangerous imperialism) and articulated a rhetoric of true friendship and true freedom between oppressed subalterns founded on mutual interest, under the recognition that "The sun has already risen in the east" and that, while Maoism offered the true path to uhuru or freedom, it was only obtainable by a long and protracted guerilla struggle. At the same time, elements of the play look forward to the Cultural Revolution which was looming on the horizon of 1966.

It was a compelling talk, and I'll be very interested to read Cook's book when it comes out--as of now it has a working title of "Three Worlds Apart," we're told. Doing history of non-Western places that isn't all about their interactions with the West is definitely something that needs to happen more often, and I wasn't really surprised to be reminded, in its foregrounding of a popular play in China by way of introduction of a subaltern-subaltern discourse, of Rebecca Karl's Staging the World.
ahorbinski: A DJ geisha (historical time is a construct)
I went to Professor Dana Buntrock's lecture, "Materials and Meaning in Contemporary Japanese Architecture: Tradition and Today" at the Institute for East Asian Studies yesterday. The lecture was an extended preview of Buntrock's new book of the same name, and it was excellent; I really want to read the book.

Prof. Buntrock talked principally about what she, following Fujimori Teranobu, calls the "red school" of contemporary Japanese architecture and which includes people like Fujimori, Andô Tadao (my personal favorite, partly because of them all he's the one whose works I've seen the most of), and Kuma Kengo. These architects have embraced the decaying, the whimsical, the traditional and the difficult in their attempts to bring both the pleasure principle and the sensuality of buildings back into the contemporary discussion, and they and their works are fascinating. And I also now have many more places to visit when I go back to Japan, particularly Kompira Shrine, the Ramune Onsen, and the Suntory Museum of Art. 
ahorbinski: kanji (kanji)
I attended this talk by Profs. Ethan Scheiner and Robert Weiner, of UC-Davis and the Naval Postgraduate School, respectively, on September 8. Yes, that was a long time ago, but it was quite a good talk, particularly because Profs. T.J. Pempel and Steven Vogel of Berkeley served as discussants on the concluding panel talk.

Scheiner began by reviewing, complete with massive amounts of graphs and statistics, the various maneuvers of the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party after the 2003 elections, explaining, essentially, how Japanese politics got to the state it is today, in which the DPJ won more votes in the most recent House of Councillors election but the LDP still, due to malapportionment of seats, took more seats. Scheiner argued (convincingly, it must be said) that the 2010 election was essentially a blip and that there's nothing that looks capable of reversing the LDP's downward trend. Weiner brought up several points that could possibly indicate that the DPJ's rise to power has permanently altered Japanese politics, including the fact that it has centralized policy-making within the cabinet and encouraged politicians to be more assertive vis-a-vis the bureaucracy, but at the same time (as befits a party that enjoys broad national support in both urban and rural areas) has reverted to some tactics familiar from the LDP playbook, namely pork-barrel spending, less deregulation, and more agricultural subsidies.

Everyone at the panel felt (correctly, as it turned out) that Prime Minister Kan would defeat Ozawa in the intra-DPJ leadership that took place last week, which could signal a decline of factions in party politics and which was certainly a consequence of the DPJ's internal party makeup, namely that most of its senior members are in government while its rank-and-file are almost uniformly young and inexperienced in national politics, which makes for a very top-down party structure.

After T.J. Pempel and Steven Volker joined the discussion the question naturally turned to the future, namely, whither the LDP? and its closely related question, Why did the LDP fail? and Why did the economy expand for forty years and then fall off a cliff? In retrospect it appears clear that the 1955 system, which the LDP created, helped it stay in power long past the period of Japan's economic miracle but was ultimately predicated on the existence of that miracle or at least of economic growth to pay for pork and rural subsidies; Koizumi Jun'ichirou's signal failure was that he did not institutionalize the neoliberal reforms over which he presided and which his successors immediately rolled back.

The panel consensus seemed to be that the LDP will either fade into insignificance or reconstitute itself as an opposition party of some sort; the more pressing question is whether the DPJ, which has lost its controlling majority in the upper house, will attempt to create ad hoc policy alliances with LDP politicians to pass legislation or will be content to undertake no major initiatives until the next election in 2013. How Kan Naoto and his Cabinet answer the question may well decide the shape of whatever new sociopolitical "system" that emerges in Japan.
  • I'd still recommend T. J. Pempel's book Regime Shift: Comparative Dynamics of the Japanese Political Economy. Although at this point some of its contents are dated, it remains the best and most cogent description of the 1955 system I've encountered.
  • I'd also recommend, for a much more grassroots perspective on the Koizumi reforms and to an extent the current political situation, Jennifer Chan's Another Japan Is Possible, in which Chan interviews NGO activists working on a broad swathe of issues. It's inspiring, and very much cuts against received wisdom about Japanese civil society and the public sphere.


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

August 2017

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