Tuesday, December 30, 2008
'Tis the New Year, and I'm stuck in my room reviewing Marxist terminology in preparation for an upcoming exam. If there's any one else out there in the same predicament, here's a very handy guide for brushing up on the terms. About 80% of the text is available.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
“Linked Poetry in Japanese Literature”
Haikai is an abbreviation for haikai no renga, which is now called renku. It was Masaoka Shiki who transformed haikai into haiku. “The name haiku," Miner writes," came to be widely used in the last decade or so of the nineteenth century as a result of the movement to reform haiku led by Masaoka Shiki.”
In haikai, each stanza relates only to the preceding and following stanza. There is no continuous "plot," and appropriate responsiveness is more important than dramatic consistency. The episodic structure of Genji monogatari exemplifies this, and in the "Picture Contest" chapter we see that the scroll painted by Genji has a similar sequential structure. “We may be sure that Genji's pictures made up no plot," Miner writes. "But they made a sequence.”
Miner also points out that while Western poetics are derived from ancient Greek drama, Japanese and Chinese poetics have their roots in lyric poetry, which emphasizes, above all, the response elicited in the reader. (Miner calls this "affectivism" or "expressivism.") However, aside from citing the brief preface to the Kokinshū, Miner provides little evidence to support his theory of "affectivism/expressionism.” Are we to make assumptions about the entire canon of pre-modern literature based on this preface?
Renga has its roots in poetic dialogue, which was a feature of such early works as the Kojiki, the Nihonshoki, and the Manyōshū. But the first real examples of renga are found in the fifth of the twenty-one imperial anthologies, Kin'yōshū (ca. 1125), which included some short renga. It was around this time that renga was developed by poets Minamoto no Shunrai (ca. 1057-1129) and Fujiwara Kiyosuke (1104-1177). By the Kamakura (1185-1382) and Muromachi (ca. 1392-1568) periods, “serious renga achieved true greatness.”
Miner points out that renga was the art of exile. “Among those leaving [the capital] were the priests and nobles who favored renga.” “Many masters," he continues, "were priests . . or, like Bashō later, they might have the habits of life by which priests were known.” Other examples include Nōin (998-1050), Saigyō (1118-1190), Sōgi, Sōchō, and, much later, Kaga no Chiyo (1703-1775).
Miner also discusses in some detail the organization of the Kokinshū (905), which is arranged according to subjects, natural progression of nature, or the progression of love affairs (from man’s yearnings to woman’s last miseries). After the Kokinshū, this arrangement became the norm. With later anthologies, the Zō section (miscellaneous poems) was often expanded, and "sometimes mirrored the collection at large."
As renga developed, its rules and categories grew more complex. Shinku (close) and soku (distant) relations were introduced, in addition to the new "ushin" and "mushin" styles.
Miner concludes that the history of pre-modern Japanese poetry can be divided into three major stages, according to the dominant poetic forms. First, there was waka, which, already possessing a tendency toward multiple narratives, grew into renga, which then found its final form in haikai (no renga).
“Some Canons of Haikai”
In the kasen style of haikai, there are 36 stanzas, two of which are "flower stanzas" (lines 17 and 35), and three of which are "moon stanzas" (lines 5, 14, and 29). In renga, there are typically 100 stanzas, and the rules are numerous. Yet these rules were abandoned in later renga, and elements previously regarded as vulgar became acceptable. Common artifacts from daily life found there way into poems, and aesthetic distance and fiction are introduced. “Such developments appear to signify a growing tendency to fictionalize,” Miner explains. He goes on:
Such developments are often thought to signify artifice, especially by the Japanese, and especially by Japanese today influenced by the kind of thinking encouraged by Masaoka Shiki. In truth, Japanese literature is often less fictional―or at least more autobiographical―than Western. But the deities in the ancient records were given for their speeches verse composed earlier, and in the Man'yōshū poems by sophisticated poets mask as compositions by the humble or even by animals. . . It is a mater of fine balance. The sabi style of Bashō’s great period is itself a specially fine balance―as it were―between the fictionalizing aestheticism of Buson and the more autobiographical character of Bashō’s own late and “light” style.
[Miner, Earl. Japanese Linked Poetry : An Account with Translations of Renga and Haikai Sequences. Princeton University Press. 1979.]
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
On Earl Miner’s Essay, “The Grounds of Mimetic and Nonmimetic Art: The Western Sister Arts in a Japanese Mirror”
Using Santō Kyōden’s（1761-1816) kibyōshi Edo Mumare: Uwaki no kabayaki (江戸生艶気樺焼, translated as Playboy, Roasted a la Edo) (1785) as an exemplary text, Earl Miner puts forth his thesis that the “Japanese aesthetic . . . rests not on the imitation of discrete agencies but on relation” (93). Therefore, he argues, one must avoid using Aristotelian concepts when assessing Japanese art, since Aristotle had something very different from Japanese poetry in mind when he wrote his Poetics. Miner insists that a better understanding of nonmimetic art― which, in fact, is a far more common phenomenon in the world than mimetic art― is needed for a more informed appreciation of Japanese literature.
Enjirō, the mock hero in Edo Mumare, is the spoilt son of a wealthy merchant who, after reading of the romantic exploits of several famed Heian playboys, sets out on a quixotic quest to transform himself into one such “uwaki.” But lacking both charm and looks, he must hire a slew of actors to follow him around town and bolster his image. Though the denizens immediately see through his ploys, Enjirō is oblivious to their scorn, and remains bent on being seen as the greatest lover of his day. The staged shinjū double-suicide in the end, however, does not go as planned when Enjirō is “greeted” not by his friends hired to stop the suicide, but by two robbers who leave the two hapless “lovers” with nothing but their underpants.
On one level, the work is a parody of the old tales, most notably Genji monogatari and Ise monogatari, both of which appear in the work. “The point of the parody,” Miner writes, “partly involves recollection of the old stories, whose cultural distance plays off against the modernity” (88). It is the task of each generation to make the tradition relevant again, and this is exactly what Kyōden sets out to do by retelling, or, as Walter Benjamin would say, "retranslating,” the old texts for a new age with new sensibilities. The idealized heroes are brought down to earth, and, even if they themselves are not directly ridiculed, the way in which others aspire to them is cleverly lampooned.
In Kyōden’s work, there “is no Aristotelian plot” (74), and the work is structured on a series of episodes, with both text and illustrations working together in a sort of “interpictorialism,” where the “two interplay, and no appreciation of the one is adequate without considering the other” (88). The “episodic,” you will remember, was condemned by Aristotle, who praised above all a unified and consistent plot. But in the Japanese tradition the episodic is frequently the norm, and it is therefore impractical to apply the Aristotelian standards as if they were a priori, universal principles. After all, Aristotle’s theories were intended for drama, while nearly all non-Western aesthetic traditions of the world were founded on the lyric (78).
Moreover, Aristotle’s fondness for unity, dignity of character, and logical plot structure rests on certain black and white assumptions about the world’s fundamental nature and knowability. Miner calls these assumptions a “tidying system,” and notes that it is upon these that Aristotle gives drama its moral purpose. Mimesis, Miner argues, has been the dominant mode in the West for so long simply because “it combined with the aesthetic certain philosophical, moral, and rhetorical matters―as well as because it provided useful underpinning for certain kinds of social order. It offers a realist philosophy― the world is real, knowable, imitable . . .” (84). And according to Miner, such assumptions are foreign to the Japanese.
Is this to say, then, that there were not any moral underpinnings to the Chinese and Japanese literary traditions? Certainly not. Traces of Confucian ethics, imported from China and Korea, can still be found today both in literature and life, and such traces were certainly more conspicuous during the Edo period. But Confucian teachings seemed to have had more of an influence on government officials than on artists. “The continental presumptions,” Miner writes, “did not influence writers as it did the officials of a repressive regime” (84). Kyokutei Bakin, Miner points out, was one of the rare exceptions.
However, in Japan where (if Miner is correct) phenomena are relational and dependent rather than discreet and isolated, such a clear distinction between a “self” and a “real imitable world” must not exist. This would explain why mimesis, or “exact replication” theory, made little if any headway in Japan until the Meiji period. “It should be obvious,” Miner writes, “that this [Japanese tradition] is not mimetic art. For mimesis, we require a reasonably stable sense of what is art, what is nature, who is the artist―and a definable relation between them” (76). A case in point is names. The fact that one person would use a different name for each activity reveals a very different attitude toward “self” than that held in the West, Miner claims. The birth name of the author-illustrator of Edo Mumare was Iwase Sei, but few ever referred to him as such. He is the writer, Santō Kyōden, or the illustrator, Kitao Masanobu, or, for that matter, someone else (he had a number of other names, each depending on the context). “A differing conception of the artist, indeed of selfhood, and therefore of arts and their nature,” Miner observes, “is obviously involved” (72).
If the traditional Japanese concept of art, then, is not mimetic, what it is? Miner calls the Japanese nonmimetic tradition an “affective expressive system,” which can be traced back at least to the preface to the Kokinshū (c. 920 CE), in which Ki no Tsurayuki writes that the “seed” (impetus) for all art is “kokoro” (mind, heart), which, stirred, seeks “leaves” (signs, words) to communicate this initial subjective experience (92). This original impulse to art begins as internal phenomena. The poet then finds its expression in outer things, through which it is communicated to someone else, who, in turn, is moved to continue the process. Such a concept is markedly different from what Aristotle held to be the original “seed”― that is, mimesis, or man’s natural impulse to imitate what he observes in the external world. As I have noted, this nonmimetic conception of art is the norm in non-Western traditions; and furthermore, this concept of the nonmimetic should not be confused with the anti-mimetic art of Western postmodernism, which, as Miner points out, already had a mimetic tradition against which it could react. The Japanese, “never having supposed the necessity for mimesis, never had to oppose it” (77).
One major feature of nonmimetic art is narrative flexibility, which is the ability to shift perspectives freely without having to make explicit demarcations in the text. Such flexibility, in turn, demands of the audience a certain interpretive flexibility. Miner points out an extreme example in Izumi Shikibu nikki, where four points of view are presented in one sentence. The shifts in perspective are not marked by punctuation (which, of course, did not exist in classical Japanese) or by any stage directions identifying the speaker. Rather, they are marked only by subtle shifts in tone or levels of politeness. The dialogue marker, too, is more often omitted than not, thus blurring the lines even further between narrator(s) and characters. Miner notes that which narrator or character is talking “seems to make less difference than what is being talked about” (74). He goes on:
The Japanese assumption [regarding point of view] clearly differs. Point of view and point of attention are variables, correlatives of each other; neither is the same as the other nor possible without the other―and the relationship between the two is more significant because it is also more flexible than in Western narrative. (91)
Also, the narrator can and often does intrude upon the scene to give commentary:
When the narrator intervenes to say, in effect, that Enjirō is an ass, we sense a sudden shift in the poise of ourselves as readers in relation to the narrator and Enjirō. Relation remains but is altered. (89)
Another feature of nonmimetic poetry is the synchronicity of what Miner calls the “three points,” namely, the points of view (the subject or narrator), the points of narrative attention (the object, or characters, place, etc.), and the points of understanding and affect (the reader or audience). A fourth element―“the world”― also comes into play not as the external and impregnable object of our imitation as it is in Aristotelian theory, but rather as both the “setting of what is under attention” and the “interrelation of the three correlatives” (92). In other words, aside from imparting both physical and referential location to the work, “the world” also serves as an intermediary force that links everything and everyone involved― the narrator, author, reader and audience, as well as the intertextual references, the language, and “the stuff” of the work.
As we can see, having independently functioning and distinct dramatic voices is not the most important element in Japanese poetics. Narrators frequently intervene or speak on behalf of characters, and characters often do the same, at times even breaking the “third wall” to speak as actors about the roles they are playing. (An example can be seen in Edo Mumare when Enjirō’s “friend” Shian complains about his assigned role, “Ore ga yaku mo tsurai yaku da”). Japanese audiences learn to expect such elasticity, and see no inconsistency or contradiction in the use of such involutional devices. In this sense, the Japanese narrative is more of a communicative act between characters and narrators, between present and previous texts (both literary and visual), and between the text and reader, with all parties equally capable of shifting roles.
[For the English translation of Edo Mumare: Uwaki no kabayaki, see Shirane's Early Modern Japanese Literature: An Anthology, 1600-1900.]
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Here are the remaining problem areas.
In considering the history of Edo kyōka we are confronted with the problem of whether to regard Tenmei kyōka as a natural development of the Kamigata style of Teiryū Yukikaze and his coterie, or of Mitoku Bokuyō and others of the previous generation.
Is Teiryū Yukikaze another name for Nagata Teiryū 永田貞柳 (1654-1734), aka Yuensai 油煙斉, the “early Edo kyōka poet [who was] born into an Osaka confectioner’s household, [and who] in 1729 [published] Kyōka Iezuto (Mad Poems as Gifts for Home),” and who is known for a sense humor that “specialized in the juxtaposition of the elegant with the vulgar”(PCCJL, 207)? And what about this Mitoku Bokuyō? Is this another name for Nakarai Bokuyō 半井卜養 (1607-1678), that “Early Edo kyōka, haikai poet, physician [who …] played a part in the redefinition of haikai, having 171 stanzas included in Matsue Shigeyori’s collection, Enoko shū [… and who…] also acquired a name for himself in prose. [… and whose…] haikai collection, Yakko Haikai (Haikai in Slave Language, 1667) preceded his kyōka collection, Bokuyō Kyoukashū 卜養狂歌集, which apparently came out within a few years of his death” (Princeton Companion, 208)? Or are these two people, Mitoku and Bokuyō? Again, why didn’t Professor Chiba include footnotes in his 『日本近代文学評論選』!?
Next, we have this sentence:
Perhaps it was this that sent the kyōka market into a sudden crash after the Bunka era.
What’s this business about 「佣を作つた」? I think 佣 itself is a kind of ancient figurine or doll, but I’m not sure how it relates to the sentence.
And in the following sentence there is the problematic phrase, 放昿自在の世界:
It bespeaks the exquisite temperament of Tenmei kyōka that when these authors, having defined the parameters of their art, finally emerged from their aliases to reveal their naked selves, their freely illuminating world suddenly disappeared, leaving in its trace only sordid people and second-rate goods.
This next sentence has a rather abstruse line from A Treatise of Ten Rules embedded in it, which I’m not sure how to translate:
It makes little sense at this point to start quoting from A Treatise of Ten Rules (“Visitors show up after hours, Pioneer of the shadows, Confucius . . . ”) in an effort to trace kyōshi to its source.
In the sentence that follows there is a reference to the “Ominaeshi,” which is either a kind of plant of the title of a Noh play (again, Professor Chiba, not known for his footnotes).
If your goal is to seek the essence of this “poetic madness,” you could probably also count among your findings the autumn poems from volume one of the Ikanrōeishū or the Noh play Ominaeshi.
Next, here’s a poem in the Chinese style called “On Parting with Courtesan Kasen of the Gomeirō Brothel,”by Ōta Nanpo. Having only the vaguest idea of what it means, I’ve turned it into mush:
At night he is led by her sleeve into the bedroom
And the next morning she sees him as far as the entrance gate.
Answer, if one of the young courtesans-in-training asks how the night went:
“One-hearted as a lukewarm love letter.”
I should point out that Ōta Nanpo’s poem alludes to the following Tang dynasty poem by Wang Changling (698-795), called “At Hibiscus Inn (Parting with Hsin Chien),” which has thankfully already been translated by Witter Bynner in his Three Hundred Poems of the Tang Dynasty.
With this cold night-rain hiding the river, you have come into Wu.
In the level dawn, all alone, you will be starting for the mountain of Ch’u.
Answer, if they ask of me at Lo-yang:
“One-hearted as ice in a crystal vase.”
Next, will someone please tell me who this Hanka Sanjin 半可山人 character is, and also what his Myō 妙 is— is it the title of a work, or a particularly quality that his works possess? I think he’s the author/compiler of the Hanka Sanjin Shishō 半可山人詩鈔, a collection of comic poems written in Chinese, but I’m not even sure about this. Also, did he even write a version of Chūshingura: The Storehouse of Loyal Retainers, as Ishikawa implies? Here are the two problematic sentences:
Indeed, there are many kyōshi poets who excel Nanpo in craftsmanship. Hanka Sanjin’s Myō, for example, has received acclaim from the world. And doubtless it is true that the eleventh chapter of his Chūshingura: The Storehouse of Loyal Retainers displays certain features of Confucianism.
And finally, quoting Santō Kyōden quoting Tang-dynasty poet Cui Guofu, Ishikawa mentions these lines from the fifth book of the Selection of Tang Poems (poem 119). Unfortunately, no English translation exists, and I have therefore turned this poem too into mush.
The grass within Ever-Faithful Palace
Each year the places of sorrow
Trespassing on the footprints of bejeweled boots
Not letting [him] ascend the jeweled stairs.
In my last post, I said I was almost finished with my translation of Ishikawa Jun’s 『江戸人の発想法について』. Not true. Fact is, I’m bogged down. This thing is taking forever. Here are some of the reasons. (By the way, thanks to Matt of No-sword for helping me in the last post.)
First, the title. “On the Ways of Thinking of the People of Edo” has too many of’s. Not sure what to do about this. Also, there seems to be no decent English approximation for 発想法.
Next, my translation of these three sentences is still a bit awkward:
In the case of the Otake legend, this “secularizing” device is really only twofold. On the one hand it is devised to convert the historical reality of Eguchi into the real-life symbol of Otake. On the other hand it is a transformation tableau that gives us Otake, when eyes are opened, and the Dainichi Buddha, when eyes are closed.
Next, this whole paragraph is giving me trouble (and what is 右体の次第 !?):
Now when this hypothesis is suddenly applied to life, it holds firm, having been substantiated long ago by the narrative of the historical Eguchi. The diligent scholar will at once scrawl down “the true story of Otake” in his zuihitsu essay, while the acquisitive mountebank will put Otake’s artifacts on display in some interim shed; but insofar as it relates to Edo, the term “secularization” loses its meaning the moment it is removed from the order of circumstances I have described above. Likewise, the notion of yatsushi for the first time gains its vitality the moment it becomes inseparable from the operation of the same name.
And this honkadori-type waka by Yamate no Shirohito, included in Wild Poems of Ten Thousand Generations (1783). Not sure if I’m getting this right:
“Oak-leave Rice Cakes”
On Narazaka slope: Kashiwagi rice cake in hand I devour it, stroking it front and back.
Also, not sure if I’ve rendered this next sentence correctly, particularly the phrase 家集撰集 (does it really mean “Minamoto no Sanetomo’s personal anthology”?):
In a word, what we call an “allusive variation” poem is precisely the haikai-ization of an old poem, and this technique had been in use long before the Tenmei era. In fact, it can even be seen in some of the kyōka poems from Minamoto no Sanetomo’s personal anthologies of the Kamakura era.
This is enough for now. There are still several obscure Chinese poems that are troubling me.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Nanpo's position within Tenmei kyōka, for instance, corresponds to Bashō’s vis-a-vis Genroku haikai, and his position as compiler of Wild Poems of Ten Thousand Generations corresponds to Tsurayuki’s as compiler of the Kokinshū; furthermore, it seems that by willing itself into being, Nanpo’s very existence was to become the haikai-ed form of the combined existences of both Bashō and Tsurayuki.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Been stuck in my head for weeks, and I was hoping to get it stuck in your heads, too.
Discover John Adams!
Discover John Adams!
This just in from Jarvis32:
According to Aristotle, the poet is superior to the historian because he is at once concerned with the universal and general, the probable and possible, and the particular and facts, while the historian is concerned only with historical fact and particulars. The history of poetry, he claims, begins with the lyric, develops into epic (diegetic-mimetic mixed narrative), and reaches its final and most perfect form in tragedy (dramatic or mimetic voice).
Mimesis, in contrast to diegesis, is "the original impulse of imitation," and comes naturally to us. Poetry, Aristotle asserts, comes from this natural impulse to mimicry and improvisation. Aristotle then divides poetry into two categories, calling the imitation of things noble "tragedy," and the imitation of the vulgar "comedy" (Ch 6). For both types of mimesis, there are three components: the means (e.g., words, paint, or sound), the object (e.g., people’s actions, nature’s sounds, a landscape), and the manner (e.g., fictional modes, voice, authorial presence or absence, use of dramatic scene, etc.).
Aristotle does not define his concept of catharsis as clearly as he defines mimesis, and, historically, catharsis has be taken to mean any of the following: purgation, purification (compare to the Japanese notion of nagusame), or clarification (i.e., that of pity and fear within the play). The first two are phenomena that take place in the audience, while the third is an element built into the work itself.
In chapters 7,8, and 23, Aristotle discusses the notion of unity, which, together with mimesis, form the central thesis of his argument.
In his essay "Orientation of Critical Theories," M.H. Abrams discusses what he considers to be the six modes of representation. The first three are Aristotelian; the last three Platonic. First, there is Naturalism, which is the literal, scientific representation of natural objects and social life. Then there is Classicism, which is the "generalized representation of nature or the human passions.” Third, there is Pre-modern criticism, which is the representation of classicism, subjectively viewed. Fourth is the representation of ideal forms in nature and in the mind, an example being German Romanticism. Fifth is the "representation of transcendental ideal forms," such as found in Neoplatonic Idealism. And finally, there is the representation of art’s own world -- of the“Heterocosm," as he calls it. An example of this last mode of representation is found in the art-for-art's-sake movement, which began in Europe under the influence of Kantian aestheticism.
Finally, there is Aristotle's famous ranking of the elements of tragedy. Of first importance is plot. Characters and characterization ranks second. What he calls "thought" -- i.e., rhetoric, reasoning, speeches -- places third, while the diction of the speeches ranks fourth. Fifth goes to song composition, and, finally, the costumes and stage setting rank as least important.
It is interesting to compare Aristotle's ranking of the elements with that of Zeami, who held the most important aspect of the No drama to be the poetry itself, and that No theater's ultimate aspiration is to become waka, with which it shares a similar purpose -- namely, to be a pure transmitter of feeling.
Friday, September 19, 2008
This just in from Mabel Calahan:
If you're interested in the subject of Japanese "modanizumu," you'll definitely want to check out William J. Tyler's new anthology, Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 1913-1938. The anthology includes some of the big names-- Tanizaki, Kawabata-- but also introduces some relatively unknown writers like Takeda Rinatarō, Abe Tomoji, and Inagaki Taruho. Also included in the collection are previously untranslated works by Yumeno Kyūsaku, Kajii Motojirō, Yoshiyuki Eisuke, Okamoto Kanoko, Hagiwara Sakutarō and Ishikawa Jun. I'll try to write a bit about the stories when I have time. For now, I'll leave you with what the University of Hawaii Press Log had to say about the anthology:Modanizumu: Modernist Fiction from Japan, 1913–1938, compiled and edited by William J. Tyler, addresses this discrepancy by presenting in translation for the first time a collection of twenty-five stories and novellas representative of Japanese authors who worked in the modernist idiom from 1913 to 1938.
Remarkably little has been written on the subject of modernism in Japanese fiction. Until now there has been neither a comprehensive survey of Japanese modernist fiction nor an anthology of translations to provide a systematic introduction. Only recently have the terms “modernism” and “modernist” become part of the standard discourse in English on modern Japanese literature and doubts concerning their authenticity vis-a-vis Western European modernism remain. This anomaly is especially ironic in view of the decidedly modan prose crafted by such well-known Japanese writers as Kawabata Yasunari, Nagai Kafu, and Tanizaki Jun’ichiro. By contrast, scholars in the visual and fine arts, architecture, and poetry readily embraced modanizumu as a key concept for describing and analyzing Japanese culture in the 1920s and 1930s.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Just in from Jarvis32:
Though it’s now common knowledge that the ostensibly liberal but mostly neoconservative NY times editorial page is, for the most part, total crap (especially on matters of foreign policy), I’d always thought that when it came to the arts, the paper was still a legitimate authority. But I’m now beginning to doubt this, too, after reading some very off-the-mark reviews, including this one from 1987, in which avant-garde-unfriendly critic Donal J. Henahan pans John Adam’s opera “Nixon in China,” which is now regarded by most as required listening and, according to this Guardian music critic, is “arguably the most influential opera of the past 20 years.” Granted, the review is old, but it misses the mark so badly that I just had to mention it.
If you haven’t seen the entire opera yet, you might want to warm up with this. Also, if you haven’t seen Oliver Stone’s Nixon, rent it. Though very different, it rivals Adam’s opera.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Just in from Josh Lander:
Saw a very powerful documentary by Japanese director Hirokawa Ryuichi last night, called "Nakba." Think it might still be playing at the Bungeiza Theater in Ikebukuro. In the states, I think it's already out on video.
The film left me and those attending me pretty convinced that Zionism, in its extreme form, is a kind of disease. Despite several awkward scenes where the director insists on conversing with his subjects in very poor English, the film is, in my judgment, a groundbreaking success and should be made mandatory viewing in the U.S.
That is all for now, friends.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Something I came across today: an interview with Alisa Freedman, assistant Professor of Japanese Literature and Film at the University of Oregon, and translator of Kawabata Yasunari’s modernist novel The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa (Asakusa kurenaidan; 1930). Having gotten through Kawabata's original only by reading it in conjunction with her translation, I must say she's performed a most valuable service in rendering this highly experimental and difficult novel into English.
But more on this novel another day-- time has expired, and more, it's like a sauna in here.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
その時からも、毎年の、アメリカ独立記念日のお祝いで、あなたの別荘に行くことになり、普通の人が見ることの出来ない世界を紹介してくれたことは何よりです。アメリカに限らず世界のさまざまな芸能人や偉大な人物にも知り合えたのもお蔭様でした（ロシア大統領 プーチンは特におかしかった！）。そして、今、私がこの絶交状を書いていると同時に、あなたの次男 ジミーさんがイラク戦争の前線に出ているようですが、彼と、それから海軍兵学在中の長男 ジャックさん、二人ともと仲良くなったことも、僕のような身分の低いものにとっては、とても珍種の機会でした。本当に感謝しております。
Saturday, September 6, 2008
A fine piece in today's Sankei shinbun. It's an interview with pyschologist Kishida Shū 岸田秀, author of Nihonjin to 'Nihonbyō' ni tsuite, A Place For Apology: War, Guilt, and US-Japan Relations (trnsl.), among other works. Kishida first received attention in 1978 when he diagnosed the Japanese as schizophrenic in his book, Monogusa seishin bunseki (English translation: Slacker Psychoanalysis). He raised eyebrows again in 1996 with the publication of Nijūseiki o seishin bunseki suru, in which he likens Matthew Perry's rather ungentlemanly method of gunboat diplomacy to rape.
In today's Sankei interview Kishida discusses what he considers to be the root cause for the failings of the post-war Japanese political system, namely, subordination to America. He sees Japan as having two options at this point: either launch another all-out war against the Americans, or take the more pragmatic route of patiently waiting for America to collapse. Judging from the 笑 emoji inserted into the text, I think we can assume that Kishida favors the latter.
Friday, September 5, 2008
Like Horace, Henry James is more interested in the practical problems of his craft than in theoretical speculation. His essay “The Art of Fiction,” which is the last section of his book Partial Portraits (1888), is in part a response to an article by Walter Besant, who argues that there are certain “rules” to writing good fiction. James vehemently denies this claim, insisting that the only “rule” is that the writer must make his work interesting. Challenging “the old evangelical hostility to the novel”— which he blames for novel’s low status— James calls for a “new novel” that builds upon the groundwork laid by proto-modernist writers like George Eliot (1819-1880), Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), and Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897).
The novel, in order to enter the realm of “high art,” must “begin to take itself seriously" (661). (It might be interesting to compare James’s tract with Tsubouchi Shōyō’s “The Essence of the Novel” (1885-6), which advocates a similar kind of naturalistic realism.) Specifically, James insists that novelists must stop apologizing for being novelists, that they must accept the fact that they describe truths equal to those of the historian, the painter, and the philosopher, and that they are, at the very least, on equal footing with the philosopher, painter and historian, since “their inspiration is the same, their process (allowing for the different quality of the vehicle) is the same, [and] their success is the same” (662). In fact, the novelist may even be superior to his competitors, since he is by default all of them at once. “It seems to give [the novelist] a great character, the fact that he has at once so much in common with the philosopher and the painter; this double analogy is a magnificent heritage” (662).
The novelist, James continues, must assume the semi-omniscient perspective and confident manner of the historian. “To represent and illustrate the past, [and] the actions of men is the task of either writer,” and therefore the novelist must “speak with the assurance, with the tone of the historian” (662). His story—regardless of whether or not it is true— must be delivered as if it were history. (One is reminded here of Mori Ōgai’s 1912 short story “Ka no yō ni” (“As If”), in which Ōgai, borrowing from Hans Vaihinger’s (1855-1932) notion of “als ob,” argues that man, in order to avoid the endless cycle of skepticism and moral relativism, must behave “as if” there were certain objective universal truths, and “as if” subjective noumenal experience actually corresponded to external phenomenal reality.) To admit to your readers that the story you are about to tell is false— as Anthony Trollope and other 19th century writers had done— is “a betrayal of a sacred office . . . a terrible crime” (662). To James, giving the “air of reality” and the “illusion of life” are the supreme virtues of the novel (665).
This just in from Tom Landers:
Monday, August 25, 2008
Watching this Andy Kaufman video after spending most of the day reading Dazai Osamu, I noticed that there are some striking similarities between the two artists. No time to go into detail now, but here are a few of the similarities. I hope to elaborate on this topic at a later date.
a) Both view the audience as an object to be manipulated, and employ similar methods of manipulation.
b) Both present with a straight face a fictionalized self as if it were "the real self."
c) Both deliberately use bad humor, over-the-top pathos, and bathos.
d) Both frequently wallow in self-pity for comic effect.
e) Both incorporate neurotic "self-critiques" into their performances.
f) Both insert into their act from time to time hecklers or critics who mock their performance as it is being delivered.
g) Both often show signs of death wishery (or at least the characters they are playing do).
h) Both perform phony crying routines.
i) Their performative techniques are often thrust into the foreground.
j) And, most importantly, they share a central preoccupation, namely, of problematizing the concept of “self,” and of blurring the lines between performance and reality.
I hope I'm not belaboring the obvious here. Oh, and also, both died young (Dazai of suicide, Kaufman of kidney failure). Perhaps dying young was the only to keep people from saying it was all an act.
(This article was originally posted here at 『ガンジー村通信』)
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Sometimes I write poems. Here is the first in a series, collectively titled, Oh, Loiterer. This one I wrote today while watching Blanka Vlasic, Croatian Oympic high jumper. The poem doesn’t really have anything to do with sports, though, or Croatia. It is called, "Into the Fat After." Grammarians be advised that there is some deliberate ungrammatical usage in the poem.
Into the Fat After
You wish I went to the mountain
And dedicated it to you
When all was hierarchical and
And an instinct for salvation purged the mind of dross.
I laughed at your sex's little unguarded follies,
Wandering cuttle-fish of life.
Man, whose convulsions are squelched
Under these long days
That, like a pacifier,
We forever suck on like babies?
See the once-bounding gaiety slink away
As we’re left to pass, together, through today
And into other days,
Where other systems will administer
The evening’s racing through the city
Bluer than any bluefish,
Through the demystified music and solitude
Commonly known as “adulthood”?
Saturday, August 16, 2008
This just in from Grady Glenn:
I went to the Yasukuni Shrine on Friday to see what all the hubbub was surrounding this sixty-third anniversary of Japan's surrender. I was expecting a little excitement from the uyoku dantai, but I'm afraid they've lost their moxy in recent years.
After listening to a few of their speeches, I realized that their movement lacks two cardinal components: a coherent vision and a charismatic leader who can articulate that vision. Their main complaint this year: "China [or Shina 支那 in their parlance] must stop making rotten gyoza that sickens our nation's valiant young men and virginal maidens!" Not a word about Japan's foreign policy, the "special relationship" with America, their increasing irrelevance on the global stage, or any other real problems.
Apparently last year riots broke out among the police, the uyoku, and the left-wing student groups. This year, only the police and the uyoku showed up, so there was little scuffling. I did get to see some of the Cabinet ministers paying their respects to the dead, but I was too far away to tell which was Abe Shinzo and which was Koizumi Jun'ichiro.
Although I tend to be more sympathetic to expressions of nationalism than your average enlightened Western liberal, on the whole I must say the experience was a bit creepy, especially the part where several hundred crusty seniors strutted out in formation wearing Imperial Japan Army uniforms and armed with bayonets. But as anyone who's recently visited Washington D.C. knows, our war memorials-- especially the newly-added National World War II Memorial that is a testament to our drift toward fascism-- are no less creepy.
Tomorrow I'm off to Sendai, Sakunami, Matsushima, and Yamagata city. In preparation for the trip I'm reading Kirikirijin 『キリギリ人』(1981), Inoue Hisashi's long comic novel written in the Tohoku dialect. Be back next week.
[Note about picture: I think that's me in the far background. Look closely.]
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Friday, August 8, 2008
Matt asks: "How do you see Sōseki fitting into the Edo vs Meiji takes on modernity, as defined here? Seems to me that he’s big on shabbification, but also pretty invested in realism (at least in certain novels and on certain topics)."
Well, Matt, it’s an interesting question. I wish you’d posted this yesterday before my meeting with my professor, who’s a Sōseki expert of sorts. She’d be able to answer this.
My general impression is that Sōseki lacked the kind of nostalgia for Edo that we see in later writers like Ishikawa Jun and Nagai Kafū. Perhaps he was still too close to the period to feel any nostalgia for it, or perhaps things hadn't gotten that bad yet.
Sōseki did, however, appear to relish his role as critic of modernity (particularly of the Fukuzawan sort), but he seemed to come at it from a different angle. I think he was altogether too stern, ethical, and grandfatherly (even though he died before reaching a grandfatherly age) to enjoy the relatively rowdy and sexualized culture of the Edo plebes. Then again, I could be totally off here.
One example: Sōseki constructs a sort of alternative to the Fukuzawan modern in his novel Kusamakura, in which a first-person narrator leaves the modern city to pursue his solitary, utopian vision of art. But the sources of this vision seem to be Rousseau and the solipsistic Romantics, and the wenren literati of China and Japan, rather than the Edo poets.
But if anyone knows of any instances of him drawing from Edo culture (particularly from the haikai poets), do let me know.
Final note: My apologies for the excessive 渋み of the article! I’ll try to add a little 軽み to the next one!
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
W. David Marx, editor of the popular online journal Neojaponisme, has kindly invited me to post this article, in full, on his site. In the article, I explore the connection between Ishikawa Jun's "modernist" literature and the literature of the Edo period (1603-1868), particularly of the Tenmei era (1781-1789). This being my second contribution, I need you all to post flattering comments that make me look smarter and cooler than I really am. (Last time they tore me apart!)
Click here for the article.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Just in from Josh Lander:
In response to Bryce's second comment: While a grad student in the states, I actually attended that John Dower lecture where he compared the Bush administration to the government of Japan in the 1930s. (Not that my being there means anything.) It was a very moving speech, and Dower had many good points. But I think to blame nationalism for, specifically, the disaster in Iraq, is to ignore the broader picture.
There’s no doubt that the rhetoric of the Bush administration is often couched in nationalistic/patriotic terms, which the media of course echoes. But the rhetoric used to talk about the war and the ideology that drove us into war are two very different things. My point is that the ideology that drove us to war had nothing to do with any nationalist agenda (even if Bush himself thought it did); in fact, most of the ideologues who pushed for war openly scorn the “old notions” such as the nation, sovereignty, etc.
I don’t mean to sound like a defender of nationalism– believe me, I’m not– but I think we must be aware that nationalism’s anthetitical ideology– “globalization” or whatever we might call it– can be just as dogmatic and unpleasant.
Just in from Grady Glenn:
Statiq is absolutely correct when he says: “In essence it is probably easier to reject nationalism when your nation is part of the dominant international culture. If you don’t feel that your culture/identity is a part of that, but rather that you are left out or worse under attack by external elements, then the nation state is still a relevant frame of reference.” Well put.
And Bryce, you are right about there being many in the IR world who consider Walt and Mearscheimer “hideously outdated.” Their ideas and methods are indeed rather unhip. They’re old-school. But the hip, left-wing internationalists who dominate IR (and social sciences in general), by focusing excessively on ideology and philosophical platitudes, have tended to overlook state power, which W & M see as the driving force in international relations.
And though the Ron Paul camp is a diverse group, I think his base regards itself as the nationalist opposition to an administration that has discarded “national interest.” Those on the left who see the Bush administration as excessively “nationalist” are misreading things.
Just in from Grady Glenn:
Is it possible to be a gaijin and a Japanese nationalist? If so, I think I’m becoming one. The only time I’m not annoyed by the newspapers here is when I come across that rare article written with the “national interest” in mind. Most are written from this phony “global perspective” identical to the mainstream media in the U.S. (Try lining up today’s Asahi and Sankei Shinbuns with yesterday’s NY Times: the international news articles and op-eds are nearly identical.)
Given the history of the first half of the 20th century, it's easy to see why "nationalism" has been a dirty word for the last sixty or so years. But I think it’s starting to make a comeback— and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In the U.S., there’s been the resurgence of political science realists like Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, and others. In politics, populists like Pat Buchanan, Ron Paul, and Ralph Nader seem to have only increased their following in recent years. On the net, there’s Antiwar.com. And in the blog-world, there’s Philip Weiss and others who argue that “national interests”— regardless of how imagined the notion of “the nation” might be— cannot be ignored.
If America can have its resurgence of nationalism, why not let Japan have theirs?
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Sunday, July 6, 2008
W. David Marx, editor of the popular online journal Neojaponisme, has kindly invited me to post this article, in full, on his site. The article is about Tanizaki's famous essay, "In Praise of Shadows" 「陰翳礼讃」. This being my first contribution, I need you all to post flattering comments that make me look smarter and cooler than I really am. Click here for the article.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Part three in a series of poems, collectively titled Oh, Loiterer.
To Nadja, From Prison
To Nadja, From Prison
Reveal to me how fragile is, how we
Did it before the rose, heads like melons,
While the others razed the ramparts of the city,
How the clouds were gauzy like a veil.
At least ballpark it for me. The ump
In me cannot, will not accept desire
As the only blanket to keep us warm
While night forgives our more serious flaws.
Today didn’t do what we wanted it to do.
The first thrills of revolt now fade
Into the terror of major decisions and stress.
Now, nowhere to turn, we sink further into the present,
Smiling at its vast simplifications.
“I’ve come to love forests, only messy ones
That leave you rootless, bedraggled, a pauper for feeling.”
Monday, June 16, 2008
In the preface to the collectionTakemoto Gidayū 竹本義太夫 (1651-1714) relates the story of a friend who came to him in search of the secrets of Nō and Jōruri. During their meeting, Gidayū discusses the various techniques of the two dramatic forms, and the importance of mastering Heike recitation and “maintaining the balance between the masculine (skill) and the feminine (heart)"; but he stops short there, advising his friend to dig through the "Kadensho" to find the deeper secrets.
Yet the practical advice he gives his friend reveals much about his attitude toward Nō and Jōruri. Here are some of his points:
*First, he explains that Nō is not the father of jōruri; rather, jōruri is both the mother and father of jōruri. Nō is jōruri`s foster-parent.
*Regarding individual tendencies and inevitable idiosyncrasies, Gidayū advises his friend to observe the laws of decorum and not to “startle the listener.” “When asked to perform at a private residence," he goes on, "one must tailor the performance to the desires of the patron.” Such an emphasis on decorum might be compared to similar advice given by Horace in his "Ars Poetica."
*Gidayū's Nō is no art-for-art`s-sake. For him, the purpose and meaning of the Nō lies explicitly in its relation to the audience, without whom there would be no Nō. “Is not its purpose to entertain the hearts of the audience?" he asks. Gidayū is ever-mindful of the primary importance of entertaining audiences. “The ability to entertain without boring one’s audience," he explains, "should be considered the secret tradition of the art of Jōruri. Those who achieve this skill should be considered masters.”
*Regarding the tradition, Gidayū recommends “listen[ing] to many kinds of music, drama, and storytelling, and to discard that which is not pleasing to one’s heart; that which remains will most likely be effective as art.” Again, the success of the work is measured in terms of its effect on the audience.
*Gidayū also warns not follow blindly the dictates of any single school. “One must open one’s ear and mind," he explains, "because no one school has the secret teachings and traditions.”
*Finally, he advises against seeking fame, for it will come naturally to those who deserve it.
[A translation of this preface can be found in Gerstle’s Circles of Fantasy: Convention in the Plays of Chikamatsu]
Friday, June 6, 2008
Saturday, May 31, 2008
The first to be interviewed in this Fox news segment, Grandpa Shaldjian appears about half way through. He's the old man with glasses and a yellow shirt, talking about the one million Iraqi dead. He is a die-hard Ron Paul supporter, but I still may be able to convince him to vote Obama.
He was also interviewed for the local paper. Here's the clipping:
Phoenix resident Michael Shaldjian, 80, a Ron Paul supporter, said he feared what could be next.“All Bush and McCain now want is to go to Iran,” Shaldjian said.“When is this madness ever going to end?” (Mesa Tribune, May 28, 2008)
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
In the next chapter, “From Soulless to Slacker: Idea of West from Pan-Asianism to Asian Values: Asia and West,” Bonnett examines some more recent stereotypes of East-West, particularly the notions of the West as "scene of social anarchy and idleness" and the East as “the home of efficiency and selfless duty."
In Chapter Six, “Occidental Utopia: The Neo-liberal West,” Bonnett discusses how the concept of the West has been narrowed to a vision of economics and politics due to the influence of neo-liberalism, which he sees as a flawed ideology that is utopian in nature, and thus prone to failure. “I use the charge of utopianism,” Bonnett proclaims, “to criticise the mythic structure of neo-liberal ideology" (12). The concept of “the West” today, he argues, is more ideologically limited than "the West" of the past, which had a much greater variety of associations.
As I have pointed out, “the West” has served throughout history as a kind of undefined variable which can be defined in any number of ways. Benjamin Kidd, for example, defined the West in terms of its militant mission to civilize the world. Ramsay MacDonald defined it in terms of its superior legal and ethical traditions, which had unfortunately been "[of late] betrayed by the imperial powers." Trotsky saw the West as the "home of the socialist imagination." Though these definitions of the West are vastly different, what they do share is a faith in Western Europe as the center of world.
Yet "the West" of one hundred years ago was far more plural in concept than today's "neo-liberal West," which Bonnett sees as stubborn, inflexible, and unwilling to adapt to recent changes in the global power structure. Bonnett holds the ideology of neo-liberalism largely responsible for this narrowing of the West. Placing himself in the long line of alarmists such as Oswald Spengler and Pat Buchanan, Bonnett makes the prediction that the West— because of its devolution into “a Utopian political discourse”— is prone to collapse.
In the seventh and final chapter, “Western Dystopia: Radical Islamism and Anti-Westernism,” Bonnett sets out accomplish two things: “(1) to illustrate how anti-Westernism [of the old Left] has been recuperated by radical Islamism; and (2) to exemplify how radical Islamism constructs a dystopian model of West.” Bonnett examines how "dystopian images of the West developed within both radical Islamism and some of its putative forbears" (12).
First, he outlines the history of anti-Western utopias, dividing them into four types: Communist utopia, primitivist utopia (e.g., anarchist, pre-industrial, man in “natural state”), indigenist utopia (e.g., xenophobic nationalisms that oppose the Western powers), and transnational cultural utopia (e.g., Pan-Asianism and Pan-Arabism). Radical Islamist utopianism has absorbed these previous models, but has been “narrowed by religious radicalism,” much in the same way that the West has been narrowed by neo-liberalism (160). Focusing on two cultural critics— the leftist Jalal Al-e Ahmad and Islamist Maryam Jameelah— Bonnett shows how radical Islamism has become provincialized as it refuses to engage in a public economic policy dialogue with the West to address questions of alternative forms of modernity. Instead, it has put its head in the sand and retreated to private domestic matters and Sharia law— something that can lead only to further isolation, possibly allowing the West “to triumph”in the end after all.
Monday, May 26, 2008
In Chapter Four, “Soulless Occident/Spiritual Asia: Tagore’s West,” Bonnett examines the origins of non-Westerners’ constructions of East-West stereotypes by looking at the two cases of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), a Bengali poet and essayist who was at the forefront of the movement to invent Asia "as a space of spirituality" (80), and Okakura Kakuzō 岡倉覚三 (1862-1913), a Japanese scholar who articulated a similar view of East-West. These two cases show that the notions of “West-as-material” and “East-as-spirit” were to a large extent created by non-Westerners long before Bernard Lewis and other Orientalists were around to “other” them.
Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was a Bengali poet, novelist, religionist, composer, and essayist who in 1913 became Asia’s first Nobel laureate. He was born into a Westernized elite class in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India. Though “pro-Western,” he saw the Western mode of modernization as "a misguided form of modernity . . . for it represented the despoliation of personality and individuality by an increasingly standarised and industrialised social system" (81). Tagore was heavily influenced by English and German romanticism, and much of his “Oriental-ness” might in fact have had its origins in his readings of Western poetry. Though critical of Western industrialism, he remained enthusiastic about the possibility of technology alleviating suffering. Throughout his life he insisted that there must be alternative forms of modernity, and he spent much of his life trying to discover and articulate these forms.
Unlike Gokalp and Fukuzawa, however, Tagore was highly critical of nationalism, which he referred to as the "cult of the nation." He was most alarmed by the case of Japan, which he saw as having adopted much of what is wrong with the Western imperial powers. Tagore thus spent much of his career trying to define and promote a “modern" that was distinct from what he considered to be Europe’s (and Japan’s) “misled” form of modernization.
Like Fukuzawa and Gokalp, Tagore too consciously employed forms of self-orientalization in order to advance certain political causes. Many of the East-West stereotypes that later took hold in the Western imperial imagination were in fact first articulated by “Rabi” (his nickname in the West). He described Asia as an ideal, remote and provincial space, while the West he presented as faceless, spiritually impoverished, and urban. He helped to create the negative essentialist image of Western man as soulless, murderous, enslaving, trapped by irreconcilable "good and evil," "inherently destructive," and incapable of "creative unity"— traits he observed from the behavior of the British during the Opium Wars.
Tagore draws an equally essentialist picture of “obedient” and “harmonious” Easterners, whose women are modest and chaste. And only in the East, he asserts, is individual and social creativity possible, since only Asians are capable of maintaining a balance between collectivism and individualism.
Tagore was loved in the West, where he was flattered and orientalized by celebrities ranging from Yeats to Einstein. By contrast, he received a far colder reception in Asia, where the bureaucratic elites faced problems far graver than the nebulous matters which concerned Tagore. Many in Asia— especially the Japanese— were skeptical of his passivity and "resignation." Tagore grew increasingly wary of the uncritical acceptance of the Western-style nationalism that he observed around him, and his three tours of Japan—in 1916, 1924, and 1929— proved to be the most difficult of his Asian tours. The Japanese people, he would later write, are “solely aesthetic and not spiritual,” and are therefore the least qualified of the Eastern peoples to lead Asia. Japan was a culture that lacked depth, he argued, citing this as the reason for their vulnerability to Western imitation.
Despite meeting resistance throughout Asia, Tagore continued to press for a non-imperial, non-national Pan-Asia, which he saw as Asia’s last defense against the imperial powers. Tagore's message, however, was increasingly ignored by the rapidly expanding and increasingly belligerent Japan, which looked at him as representative of a defeated, old, and conquered India. They dismissed his ideas as a "loser's philosophy" (90).
His 1924 trip to China, where the revolutionary Communists had moved ideologically toward a pro-Western position, was "even more bruising" (91). Their "revalourisation of [the new] West" left little room for tolerance for Tagore's anti-materialist and pro-spiritual message, which the Chinese blamed for enfeebling India. To the Chinese, Tagore's message was a recipe for disaster, and he was attacked by both conservatives and communists alike. Dejected, Tagore returned to India, disillusioned about the presumed "spiritual" nature of Orient. He lamented that Western alienation had pervaded the world, and that "Western colonialism had become the paradigm for all human contact" (94).
Okakura Kakuzō (1862-1913), a.k.a. “Tenshin,” was a scholar of the arts of Japan, most famous for his The Book of Tea (1906). Like Tagore, Okakura too was born into a Westernizing class, which allowed him to work his way through the elite schools until reaching Tokyo University, where he studied under Ernest Fenollosa.
In 1904 Okakura published The Ideals of the East, in which he argues that Easterners are concerned with the "Ultimate and Universal," while Westerners care only for Particulars— a very dubious claim, given that Confucianism tends to be an anti-Idealist and pragmatic philosophy. His notion of a unified Asia, too, met with skepticism to many who saw India, Japan, and China as historically and culturally distinct entities. Furthermore, his idea that Japan sat atop the "hierarchy of [Asian] authenticity" seemed rather odd to those who regarded Japan as the most Western and “least Asian” of the Asian nations.
The idea of Asia as a single entity was largely unheard of before the 20th century, and its introduction met with much skepticism. Pan-Asianists such as Okakura and Tagore had a rather hard time identifying unifying elements that could reach across the “Asian continent,” and they awkwardly tried to resolve the problem by linking the various cultures through the supposed common thread of Buddhism. The problem, of course, was that the Buddhist influence—where it existed— varied in importance from region to region.
From where and when did the concept of Asia arise? Bonnett points out that he word “Asia” has existed for centuries, and can be traced back to Babylonian roots (asu, sun's rising). It was eventually adopted into Greek, Latin, and finally the European languages. The word was then brought to China by Italians in the 16th century. However, the word axia (to which the Chinese assigned the characters 亜細亜“inferior-trifling-inferior”) was used by the Chinese to refer to “inferior” regions that surrounded China; so according to the Chinese, China was not a part of axia.
From the above two cases, and from further evidence cited from the histories of Bengal, India and Japan, we can see that the commonly held notion that “Asian spirituality” is "essentially a Western idea" does not match up with the facts. Bonnett shows that the notion of Asia-as-spirit was created first by modern Asians, and within the discourse of various projects of modernization (96). "Asia is better understood,” Bonnett writes, “to have been created, re-invented and re-valued by Asians themselves" (81).
Sunday, May 25, 2008
In Chapter Two, “Communists Like Us: The Idea of the West in the Soviet Union,” Bonnett examines "how the idea of the West was employed and deployed by Soviet politicians in order to define the meaning of communism” (11). The West was originally associated by the Bolsheviks with socialist modernity, and, in fact, much of the non-Western world saw the West as socialist in the early 20th century. It was not until the 1930s that the West was recast as the polar opposite of the Soviet state— a change that occurred with Stalin and his condemnation of the West as corrupt, cosmopolitan, and capitalist.
In the next chapter, “Good-bye Asia: The Westernisers’ West, Fukuzawa and Gokalp,” Bonnett examines two cases of the Western-style nationalist agenda— one in Japan and the other in Turkey— in which we see a new positioning toward the West, and a distancing from Asia and its negative stereotypes. Bonnett argues, however, that the ultimate goal of these newly formed nation-states was not to join and imitate the West (as many claim), but rather to become independent and autonomous from it. These two examples thus offer a challenge to the hybridization hypothesis, and demonstrate how the East’s invention of “the West” was in fact "creative and original."
Post-colonial discourse has tended to divide the non-Western personality into two roles: slavish "colonial imitator" and “active resister." The non-Westerner could be one or the other, but never both or a combination of both. But the cases of Fukuzawa Yūkichi 福澤諭吉 (1835-1901) and Ziya Gokalp (1876-1924) show that the realities were often more complex, for both men were fervent nationalists who at the same time "deploy[ed] a form of Orientalism in which Asia [was] cast as a separate and primitive realm, to be distinguished from both the West and their own nations."
Fukuzawa Yūkichi was born in Nagasaki, where he was trained from a young age in rangaku 蘭学 or “Dutch studies,” the only European-style education available to Japan at the time. He was part of the famous Takenouchi mission to the West in 1862. Fukuzawa’s observations while abroad were formulated in his highly influential An Outline of a Theory of Civilisation 『文明論の概略』 (1875), in which he argued that Japan must recreate itself "for the sake of its own future" (67), and that merely copying the Western “surfaces” would not be sufficient. “We must first reform men's minds," he argued, “before we can begin to reform the nation.”
Fukuzawa was by no means a cultural essentialist, as evidenced by the negative attitudes he held toward his native culture, which he regarded as passive and weak. He advised that the Japanese do away with their native culture themselves, as it was doomed anyway to be erased by the unforgiving boot of the Western imperial powers. He was also critical of the influence of Chinese culture, which he held partially responsible for Japan’s current low status in the world. He saw a “static and passive” China to be representative of Asia as a whole, and urged Japan to move away from the lagging East and toward the West in order to fulfill its “new destiny.” In his essay “Good-bye Asia” 「脱亜論」 (1885), he urges the Japanese to shed their “Asiatic,” passive traits and abandon “our bad [Asian] friends,” so that they may advance the nation through the creation of a modern, Westernized nation-state.
To Fukuzawa, the most important task was the creation and preservation of a national polity. To create a new modern state, Fukuzawa thought it necessary to encourage an open, meritocratic system of public education that favored innovation and individualism, and that valued and nurtured cleverness. He insisted that the old, hierarchical feudal system based on lineage had to go, and that a degree of risshin shusse 立身出世 (“social mobility”) must be allowed for new talent to rise. (His statements about traditional Japanese culture being feudal and backward reveals that he was thinking mainly of samurai culture and not the plebeian chōnin 町人 of Edo, for whom a fair amount of social mobility was in fact permitted.)
Notably, Fukuzawa did not advocate the expulsion of the authoritarian Tokugawa government; rather, he foresaw that a powerful and potentially ruthless central government would in fact be needed for creating and maintaining the modern state.
Ziya Gokalp was a "Turkish nationalist and critical proponent of Westernisation," who served as "chief ideologist [for] Turkey's creation as a modern nation" (71). Aside from his political contributions, he was also a sociologist, historian, poet, and novelist. Like Fukuzawa, Gokalp advocated leaving Asia and joining the West, citing the example of Japan. Asians, he argued, had two choices: either westernize or become enslaved to the Western powers.
Like Fukuzawa, Gokalp too regarded “East” and “West” not as discrete realities to be exported or imported, but as "categories animated and employed in the service of an attempt to create a novel political identity and national project.” For Gokalp, this meant namely the project of cultivating “Turkishness," a new concept that sought to move Turkish identity away from the “backward and doomed” Ottoman culture (71). Gokalp, like the Zionists a generation later, took the lesson from recent European history that in order for the tribe to survive it must establish a mono-cultural nation-state.
Gokalp was a staunch anti-Ottoman, and was therefore against all that it represented: imperialism, cosmopolitanism, and pluralism. His vision for a modern Turkey consisted of the “cultural homogeneity of the modern nation state" (72). He saw Turks as the victims of a cosmopolitan elite that ruled the Ottoman empire by merely copying the West. He accused this elite of marginalizing Turkish culture and language, while promoting "Arabic, Persian, Russian, and Chinese" (73). As Bonnett points out, his pro-national, anti-imperial stance, however, conveniently overlooked the inherently imperial nature of many of the modern states.
Gokalp made an important distinction between “culture” (a sort of collective imagination of the tribe) and “civilization” (the institutions and techniques of power). He insisted that Turks should retain Turkish culture, but import Western civilization.
Both the Fukuzawa and Gokalp cases challenge "the political naïveté of contemporary theories of hybridisation" (70). About Fukuzawa Bonnett writes, "I would cast doubt on the utility of conceptualising his work as an example of hybridity at all. Rather than importing or translating a ready-made idea of the West, Fukuzawa actively fashioned a certain representation of the West to suit his own (and, in large measure, his social class's) particular political ambitions" (70). Again, the driving factor being Fukuzawa’s push to westernize was the desire to stave off subjugation. In this sense, Fukuzawa— like Kidd, Spengler, and Toynbee in Europe— can be seen as a conscious manipulator of East-West representations, which he used to serve particular political ends. Gokalp, too, defies the hybridization thesis, since he also "actively constructed, rather than merely mirrored, deconstructed or mixed, a series of stereotypes of self and other." Thus, these two cases illustrate how "the West" was creatively invented by the East for certain political goals.