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

August 2017

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