Thursday, November 1, 2007

OFF-STAGE GHOST DANCES

Just in from Cniva Albinus:
With my graduation thesis deadline fast approaching, I'm currently considering some possible topics, one of which I'll post here as an abstract. I might get rid of the first paragraph altogether and scrap the idea of using Walter Mead's definition of the term "ghost dances." I still haven't decided whether it's entirely appropriate or not. Another problem is that the two works (Ishikawa Jun's “Meigetsushu”『明月珠』 (1946) and Nagai Kafū's “Ameshōshō”『雨瀟瀟』 (1921)) are separated by a space of 25 years -- a fact which might make it difficult to come to any meaningful conclusions about the works. At any rate, here it is:
According to American historian and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations Walter Russel Mead, the term “ghost dance,” while originally referring to the Native American religious movement in the 1890s, can be seen as the more general phenomenon of any nationalist or nativist movement that under certain historical conditions arises almost automatically as a resistance to a set of external pressures, whether in the form of invading imperial armies or calls for Westernization, internationalism or “globalism.” In order to promote a unified resistance to these external pressures, these “ghost dance” movements are often constructed upon the dubious grounds of “internal”national and racial mythologies that are intended to counter the “outer” ideologies. This same drama, Mead argues, has been played out in various theaters around the globe since the 19th century — from China and Japan to Latin America, Ireland, Africa, and even within the United States. More importantly, because they are formed upon unstable grounds, these “ghost dances,” Mead argues, invariably collapse and are defeated. Mead points out the case of Japan’s “ghost dance”-- the period between 1930 and 1945 that saw the rise of a highly jingoistic nationalism, the spread of empire, and a resistance to Western imperialism -- as a prime example, as it ultimately ended in total defeat.

But while this more militant version of the Japanese “ghost dance” was being played out, another one was simultaneously being performed by writers such as Nagai Kafū 永井荷風 (1879-1959) and Ishikawa Jun 石川淳 (1899-1987), who, disillusioned with the jingoistic ideologies of the day, created a cultural revival of their own. As William Tyler points out, “there are many Japans,” and deciding which parts of the tradition one wishes to revive makes all the difference. For Kafū and Ishikawa, retreat into art – particularly into the old plebeian Edo arts — was itself a form of resistance against both the uncritical Westernization that had gripped the country since the Meiji period, and against the nativist backlash to the Western imperial powers. By turning to the traditional arts of Edo — kyōka, haikai, ninjōbon, etc. — Kafū and Ishikawa were able to perform a highly effective and patently modernist “ghost dance” that significantly differs from Mead’s rather unnuanced understanding of the term. Kafū and Ishikawa created a movement that was “aesthetist” in the highest sense and that also served -- albeit often in code -- as a form of political resistance. For this paper I plan to explore this “off-stage ghost dance” phenomenon as it presents itself in Ishikawa Jun's “Meigetsushu”『明月珠』 (1946) and Nagai Kafū's “Ameshōshō”『雨瀟瀟』 (1921).

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