Monday, June 29, 2015

Akutagawa's "Green Onions" (Negi; 1920) and Lacan's Three Cognitive Registers

Today two female students came into my office and asked, in perfect unison: "Mori-mori Sensei, in another class we're learning about J Lacan's theory of the three modes/structures of the psyche--the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real--but it doesn't make any sense; can you explain it to us using simple terms and a specific example?" 

I responded: "Well girls, take, for instance, the story we read this week, Akutagawa's 'Negi' (1919). The character Tanaka exists in three modes in the text. Let us call these three modes Tanaka 1 (The Imaginary), Tanaka 2 (The Symbolic), and Tanaka 3 (The Real). Tanaka 1 is the Tanaka-for-Okimi: a pure creation of O-kimi's romantic imagination, constructed from an array of assorted images and sensory associations; it is this Tanaka whom O-kimi thinks she is in love with, and who makes her virginal heart flutter in anticipation of tomorrow's date. Tanaka 2 is the Tanaka-for-the-'I'-narrator. Since the narrator (a writer) clearly seems to be infatuated with O-kimi (possibly to the point of stalking her at night), Tanaka is his natural rival. As the weakest member of this love triangle, the 'I' (predictably) denounces Tanaka as a fraud, a charlatan, a glib lady-killer and false artist who uses his (relatively) privileged class status and superior learning/talents to dupe working-class women into sleeping with him; in short, he describes Tanaka in terms of social/symbolic context. Finally, Tanaka 3 is Tanaka-for-himself; this is Tanaka of "the Real." Since the story is narrated entirely from the perspective of the jealous/unrequited "I" narrator, we have no access to this Tanaka: he is beyond our understanding, defies signification. I have now explained the Lacan's three modes--the Real, the Symbolic, and the Imaginary--using the example of three modes of the character Tanaka in Akutagawa's 'Negi.' You may now leave my office."

*For the official study guide to the story, click here.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Review of Blonde Redhead's Fake Can Be Just As Good (1997)

This just in from 17 years ago→my review of Blonde Redhead's 
Fake Can Be Just As Good in the July 16 1998 issue of Phoenix New Times: (scroll down)。 "The most beautiful cut on the album is 'Ego Maniac Kid,' a sensuous lullaby that Kazu [sic] sings as though in a half-sleep, with the melodious syncopation spiraling downward chromatically until the song climaxes in a throaty and panting chorus." Pretty sound judgement for a 13-yr-old boy, I must say。


Blonde Redhead Fake Can Be Just As Good (Touch and Go)

Blonde Redhead Fake Can Be Just As Good (Touch and Go) With Blonde Redhead's third and latest release, the international trio seems to be mocking its critics' accusations of unoriginality. The group's music has been written off dozens of times as Sonic Youth-inspired echoes of sounds already heard. But Blonde Redhead, starring the native Japanese Kazu Makino and the Italian Pace twins, has much more to offer than most critics have claimed, and its newest album seethes with fresh ideas. 

There's no denying that Blonde Redhead owes some inspiration to Sonic Youth. But the influence seems to be more in their philosophy of music, art and experimentation than their specific style. Stylistically, Blonde Redhead shares only Sonic Youth's sense of drama--romantic, subtle melodies mixed with chaotic, formless noise. On the whole, Blonde Redhead's songs are more structured, symmetrical and linear than those of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon. 

The album begins with a collage of beckoning and haunting noises that lure the listener into the band's bizarre, dark and opium-altered world. In the almost punk-rock opener, "Kazuality," singer-guitarist Amadeo Pace sings disjointed phrases in his strangely unique tenor: "I want you . . . too shy . . . one time . . . one two . . . slow one . . . kiss one line . . . go ahead . . . get inside." The lyrics are written as the mind actually thinks, in a sort of passive stream of fragments and ideas to which words cannot be coherently attached. The entire album is written this way. 

The music works in much the same way as the lyrics. Each musical idea is seemingly disconnected from every other, but somehow it all fits into place. The most beautiful cut on the album is "Ego Maniac Kid," a sensuous lullaby that Kazu sings as though in a half-sleep, with the melodious syncopation spiraling downward chromatically until the song climaxes in a throaty and panting chorus. 

The album hits a kind of peak with its final cut, "Futurism Vs. Passeism," a hard-driving instrumental jam. The guitars sound thick, melodic and busy, while the drums complement with tight syncopated rhythms. This bass-less track is particularly reminiscent of Sonic Youth's instrumental tangents, but Amadeo has a vocal response ready for any sniping critics. "It's just the energy," he says, and of course, he's right. --Ryan Morrison

Here's the song:

Friday, June 26, 2015

Andrew Feenberg - "Lukács’s Theory of Reification and Contemporary Social Movements"

a very good short lecture by philosopher Andrew Feenberg, author of *The Philosophy of Praxis: Marx, Lukács and the Frankfurt School* (Verso Press 2014) on Lukács’s Theory of reification, the state of the left, etc.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Tanizaki Jun'ichirō reading from his novel Portrait of Shunkin (Shunkinshō; 1933)

this appears to be authentic:Tanizaki Jun'ichirō reading from his novel Portrait of Shunkin (Shunkinshō; 1933)。本人の声らしい。谷崎潤一郎が名作『春琴抄』(1933)を朗読。

Today's Pop Quiz 抜き打ち小テスト

A little bird told me some of my students think me classes "easy"; so today I threw them a curve ball:pop-quiz on vocab from this week's reading (in Eng translation and original Jpn;click here for study guide);only five students scored 100%;see how many you can get right;match the English word with its Japanese *equivalent*。楽チンだと思ってモリソンの授業を舐めている学生が何人かいると最近気づいたので今日は各授業で抜き打ち小テストを行った。宿題として読んてきた(筈の)芥川「」(原文と英訳)に出てくる日本語の単語をそれに当たる英語単語とマッチングせよと。満点を取れたのはたった五人。こっちの皆さんも何点取れるか是非やってみて下さい。①lascivious。② 如露亦如電。③ Mary Pickford。④ Naniwabushi。⑤ 有頂天。⑥ player piano。⑦ sentimentalisme。⑧ 犯す。⑨ Ali Baba。⑩ 裏路地。⑪ pleasure garden。⑫ 塗装。 ⑬ ecstasy。⑭ アリババ。 ⑮ back alley。⑯ 浪花節。⑰ to rape。 ⑱ メアリーピックフォード。⑲ varnish。⑳ 自動ピアノ。21 to eat out。22 外食。23 sentimentalisme。24 淫らな。25 A drop of dew,a flash of lightening。26. 歓楽境.... Ready, go!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

On Public Readings of Prose Fiction

Note to self (and blog followers, whom I regard as but extensions of myself) upon returning from a public recitation of the latest Jpn translation of --- ------: No matter how many great literary prose translations you manage to produce in the future, never force the public to sit through a live reading; such readings are like masturbating before an audience of 100 girls: though it may bring great pleasure to the onanist, it bringeth no pleasure to the girls。(*Poetry is of course an exception)。And if you don't believe me, try listening to these Youtube videos of my Hideo Furukawa / 古川日出男 translation, which have brought me immeasurable pleasure, but will no doubt bring you only misery:

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Letter to Mom (Or, Crash Course in Modern and Postmodern Literary Theory Using The Most Comprehensive Hyperlinked Glossary Ever Assembled)

Dear Mom,

Remember how you always wanted to take a crash course in critical theory? Well, here’s your chance. I’ve compiled the most comprehensive hyperlinked glossary of modern and postmodern literary theory terms ever assembled. Consider it an early birthday present. (Non-Mother others, feel free to use as well.)

Before we start, you’ll want to read through this very short but concise introduction to the major schools of critical theory (courtesy of Purdue University). Now as I walk you through this, I want you to keep in mind that a) my system of classification is somewhat arbitrary, as many of these categories overlap, and b) I’ve used Wikipedia only when absolutely necessary.

OK. Here we go. I’ve classified the critical orientations into the following ten clusters:
Cluster 1: Marxist, Marxian, New Historicist and Postcolonial Theories
Cluster 2: Formalists, Conservatives, and Anti-Structuralists
Cluster 3: Structuralists and Semiotics
Cluster 4: Post-structuralists and Deconstruction
Cluster 5: Reception Theory
Cluster 6: Narratology
Cluster 7: Pschoanalytic Criticism
Cluster 8: Postmodernism
Cluster 9: Feminism and Gender
Cluster 10: Miscellany

Remember, I’m not here to explain things in any detail; the linked sources will take care of that. Think of me as a kind of Virgil leading you, Dante, through the fiery rings of hell.
Cluster 1: Marxist, Marxian, New Historicist and Postcolonial Theories

Let’s start with Marxism and its key terms: historical materialism, alienation, commodity fetishism, reification, base and superstructure, mediation, praxis, literary mode of production (Terry Eagleton’s term), cultural materialism (Raymond Williams’s term), dialectics, and commodity.

Next, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci and his notion of hegemony.

Then there’s the Frankfurt School (1930-1960s), which began in Germany before the war and was absorbed into the American New Left in the 1960s. Its chief task was to apply Marx’s economic theories to the realm of culture: from this we get “cultural Marxism.” Key members included Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin, Jurgen Habermas and Leo Lowenthal. The school contributed to the rise of cultural studies and the sociology of literature.

Among German-born Adorno’s important notions are the culture industry, authoritarian personality, and negative dialectics.

Next we have the Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukács, who expanded upon Marx’s notion of reification, and helped to develop the Soviet theory of montage.

You’ll also want to take a look at French Marxist Pierre Macherey’s writings on “ideological horizons” and absence.

Next is French philosopher Louis Althusser, whose key terms include “structure in dominance,” overdetermination (originally Freud’s term), ideology and apparatus, problematic, interpellation (subject, subjectivity of ideology), ideological state apparatus (in contrast to repressive state apparatus), and “symptomatic reading.”

We’ll also want to review the aesthetic theories of socialist realism, and the “epic theater” and “distancing [or alienation] effect” (Verfremdungseffekt) of Bertold Brecht:

Now before we move to New Historicism, we’ll want to quickly review the “old historicism” of Hegel, Marx, and Franz Boas. We’ll also want to look at Karl Popper’s critique of historicism.

Also key to understanding New Historicism is American anthropologist Clifford Geertz and his notion of “thick description,” which the New Historicists would later borrow.

Chief among the New Historicists is Stephen Greenblatt, whose key concepts include: [the circulation of] social energy, subversion and containment, negotiations, and the anecdote.

There’s also New Historicist Louis Montrose, who developed the idea of “historicity.”

Next, there are the postcolonial critics. They argue that our notions about the “Orient,” or, more broadly, about the non-Western world, are largely constructions of the Western imperial imagination. Edward Said uses the term “Orientalism” to refer to the discourse employed by Western scholars to explain the non-Western world. Because postcolonial critics argue that this discourse arose out of particular material, social and historical conditions (e.g., Western imperialism, economic and technological domination, etc.), I’ve placed postcolonial theories in this cluster alongside Marxian theories. Aside from Said, other key proponents of this school include Frantz Fanon, Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha.

You’ll also want to review some of the key terms of postcolonialism, including abrogation and appropriation, hybridity, primitivism, the noble savage, slave narratives, and Spivak’s writings on the “subaltern.”

Also see this general glossary of Spivak’s terms, and this summary of Spivak’s seminal essay, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”

Cluster 2: Formalists, Conservatives and Anti-Structuralists

What binds together the varied schools of this cluster is their underlying “formalism,” i.e., a critical orientation toward the text itself, rather than toward the world, author or reader. By my count, the earliest formalists (excepting Aristotle, of course) were the Russian formalists (1914-1930s), whose key members included Roman Jakobson, Victor Shklovsky and Mikhail Bakhtin, each of whom was associated with the Moscow linguistic circle (active from 1915-1924). Key concepts developed by this group include: skaz, heteroglossia, foregrounding, thematology, literariness, defamiliarization, fabula (story) and sjuzhet (plot), and deviation (from normal speech).

Bakhtin, the most influential critic of this group, developed the following key concepts: dialogic/dialogism, polyphony, assimilation, microdialogue (i.e., internal dialogue), utterance, popular culture, polyglossia, polyphonic, Menippean satire, monoglossia (heteroglossia), and embedding. Make sure you read each of those articles carefully, Mother.

The American version of the Russian Formalists— the New Critics, who reigned from the early 1920s through the 1960s— emphasized close reading, unity, intrinsic criticism, explication, analytical criticism, impersonality, organicism, and irony. Two of the school’s key proponents, William K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, warned us not to fall prey to the intentional fallacy. Also associated with this school were F.R. Leavis (his followers are called Leavisites), Cleanth Brooks, and I.A. Richards.

Brooks is remembered for his work The Well-Wrought Urn, in which he explains the importance of paradox.

I.A. Richards is remembered for, among things, his advocacy of practical criticism, and for his division of the metaphor into two parts: tenor (eg, world) and vehicle (eg, stage).

We should also keep in mind that it was proto-New Critic Irving Babbitt who revived the liberal humanist tradition of Matthew Arnold, sparking the movement that came to be known was as New Humanism. The works of Lionel Trilling and F.R. Leavis can be seen as extensions of this earlier movement.

As mentioned, Aristotle was a sort of proto-Formalist. His division of the elements of tragedy into mythos (plot), peripateia (reversal), anagnorisis (recognition), hamartia (tragic flaw), catharsis (purification), mimesis (imitation), and subplot served as a sort of rulebook for dramatists during the Renaissance and Enlightenment. However, in the 19th century the Romantics began to question some of his assumptions, and by the 20th century many modernist writers came to reject two of Aristotle’s key concepts, plot and mimesis. Formed in the mid-1930s, the Chicago School of Critics sought to revive Aristotle’s reputation and re-implement his theories.

The most prominent critics of the Chicago school were Ronald Crane and Wayne Booth. In his The Rhetoric of Fiction, Booth develops some of his key concepts regarding rhetorical criticism, including his notions of pluralism and the unreliable and naïve narrators.

Finally, I should point out that, unlike their Russian counterparts, the American Formalists (i.e., New Critics, Chicago School critics) emphasized pragmatic and practical criticism over theoretical criticism.

Cluster 3: Structuralism and Semiotics

Now on to Structuralism, which began with the work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. A member of the Geneva School of Structural Linguistics, Saussure’s ideas about signified and signifier, referrer and referent, langue (linguistic system) and parole (verbal utterance), and diachronic and synchronic relations revolutionized the way we view language. It might even be said that all subsequent developments have been but extensions of his theories.

One American semiotician particularly under the influence of Saussure was Charles Peirce, who developed his own theories about the index, icon and symbol.

Founded in 1929 and disbanded in 1938, the Prague linguistic circle included Russian émigrés Roman Jakobson, Nikolai Trubetzkoy, as well as Czech literary scholars Rene Wellek and Jan Mukarovsky.

For now, you’ll want to focus on Jakobson’s key ideas about poetic function, metaphor and metonymy (aka, synecdoche; metaphor being typical of romantic and symbolist writers, metonymy of realist writers), and contiguity.

Finally, there’s French critic Roland Barthes, who’s a little harder to pin down. Some say he’s more post-structuralist than structuralist, others say he’s equally both. I’ll put him right here on the border: at the end of the structuralist cluster and the beginning of the post-structuralists (continued in my next post). For now, Mother, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with his work, S/Z, as well as with some of his more important terms such as doxa, demythologizing, death of author, play, text, ecriture, readerly text vs. writerly text, closure (closed text vs. open text), writing degree zero (or, zero degree of writing), narratology, ecrivant, and lexia (i.e., arbitrary excerpts).

In the next post, Mother, we’ll continue with Clusters 4, 5, and 6.

Your dutiful son,