Friday, July 25, 2008

The Gaijin Nationalist Party of Japan (Follow-Up 2)

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.

The Gaijin Nationalist Party of Japan (Follow-Up)

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And Bryce, you are right about there being many in the IR world who consider Walt and Mearscheimer “hideously outdated.”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.

Grady Glenn on the Possibility of a Gaijin Nationalist Party of Japan

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 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


石川淳、江戸文学、そしてモダニズム。この三つの言葉をキーワードにして、今回の記事を書きました。そして、数多くある日本についてのウェブジャーナルの中で人気#1の NEOJAPONISME に掲載してもらうことになりました。いずれは和訳をしたいけれども、今のところは英語しかないので、興味ある方、これにクリックして頑張ってお読みください。

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Performance of East-West Discourses in Tanizaki's "In Praise of Shadows"

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

To Nadja, From Prison

Part three in a series of poems, collectively titled Oh, Loiterer.

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.”

Notes on Tsubouchi Shoyo's "The Essence of the Novel" and the Importation of Victorian Realism (Part 4)

A Puritanical Penchant

Despite his famous definition of the novel -- "The main business of the novel is human nature . . . [i..e.] man's sensual passions, what Buddhism calls the one hundred and eight appetites of the flesh" -- Shōyō surprisingly allows little room for realistic description of these "sensual passions." Seeking to distance himself from the Edo literature that was drenched with eroticism, Shōyō pursues a puritanical path that seems at odds with his own definition of the novel. Despite his bold claims about the novel, he ends up sounding like a prudish Victorian, or a Tokugawa Confucian scholar warning of the dangers of pornography (36-40). "It [the novel] must avoid lewdness," he chides, "as music avoids bawdiness; painting, eroticism; and poetry and drama, vulgar language" (28).

Shōyō concludes that there is no demand for the erotic among proper, upper-class, discerning men, and that the problem with past literature is that it was aimed at the uncultivated classes. Works that otherwise had the potential to become masterpieces -- such as Jippensha Ikku's Hizakurige and Kinga's Shichi henjin -- devolved into pornography because their audiences demanded it. If only these authors had aimed at a more discerning and civilized readership! Shōyō laments.

Though the Japanese are often thought to be indirect and ambiguous when it comes to the subject of sex, from Shōyō's essay one might conclude that the opposite is true. Here Shōyō, under the influence of Victorian mores, is making an appeal to his supposedly coy countrymen to stop the explicit eroticism that contaminates Japanese fiction, and to be more indirect in their descriptions. Love scenes, he writes,
"should be dealt with as briefly as possible, and the rest left to the reader's imagination. To lay bare the mysteries of the bedroom and reproduce the details of their conversation there in the name of realism is a task belonging not to the novelist but to the writer of love-stories" (79).

[Click here for Part 5.]

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Notes on Tsubouchi Shoyo's "The Essence of the Novel" (Part 3)

Our Days of Involution are Over

Whereas in the Japanese tradition a work of art tended be more art-referential than life-referential, Shōyō's new ideology of realism by contrast held that the work should be a response to life itself, rather than to the self-reflexive world of art. "An intelligent person once defined literature as existing solely to provide a critique of life," Shōyō declares, quoting a passage from John Morley in which he praises novelist George Eliot (Part I, Ch. 3). In this sense, the "new novel" that Shōyō advocates represents a break from the past; the existence, meaning, and value of a text is no longer contingent upon its place within the larger series. The tradition -- which, according to Roy Andrew Miller, begins with Po Chu-i's (白楽天, 772-846) "Song of Unending Sorrow" 『長恨歌』 and mutates through the various forms (waka anthologies, monogatari, Nō theater, kabuki, kibyōshi, ninjōbon, etc.) -- is no longer the starting point for Shōyō. Whether consciously or not, Shōyō is advocating a kind of "cult of living" where art refers only to the external, "lived" world and not to the "unlived" world of art. "Morley is right," Shōyō concurs, "authors should always make the discussion of life the first consideration of their writing" (29).

In Chapter One, Shōyō classifies art into two categories, the visual and the abstract. The visual (e.g., painting) makes use of color, shapes, and textures. The abstract arts (e.g., poetry, music, jōruri) make use of human emotions, and appeal not to the eye but to the mind. (There is a third, hybrid type, such as dance or theater, but this is not discussed by Shōyō in any detail.) The novel, therefore, in dealing with human emotions, "attempts to describe human nature [by which he means the 108 Buddhist bonnō passions] and social conditions" (8). Under these new conditions, pastiche, which had been a predominant technique in traditional Japanese arts, is suddenly deligitimated. In this new framework, art that is conscious of its being art is no longer acceptable. The old tacit contract between writer and reader which acknowledged that all art is, alas, an artifice -- a contract not dissimilar to what Coleridge called the "willing suspension of disbelief" -- was no longer binding, and as a result much of the richness that resulted from the ambiguity between "real" and "unreal," "art" and "life," was lost. Under this new ideology of the real, the artist's formal techniques, too, were pushed into the shadows. The new novelist, Shōyō proclaimed, must adhere to the technique of shasei 写生 (the presentation of "reality as it is"), and all pastiche, involution, and reference to anything outside this "reality" was roundly discouraged. "The spell is instantly broken," Shōyō writes, "when closer inspection reveals both the operator and the mechanism" (24-25).

What eventually followed was a "cult of truth," represented most radically by the Naturalists, which sought to eliminate all traces of artifice, literariness and refinement, and to retain only, in the words of Tayama Katai 田山花袋 (1871-1930), "rokotsu naru byōsha," or "straightforward descriptions." A second consequence of this "cult of truth" was the conception of the narrator as an omniscient or semi-omniscient bystander. Novels in the third person grew significantly in number. The narrator was recast into the role of objective perceiver of reality who, with his powers of insight, stood apart from his creation, and, god-like, ruled over it with little or no intervention. New values such as "sincerity," "innovation," and "originality" also became buzzwords, and the old Edo writers were scorned for not adhering to these. Nouveaute replaced pastiche, and writers were discouraged from borrowing from either the classics or contemporary works. "A novel," Shōyō declares, "is the product of its author's imagination" (74).

Citing Bakin's Hakkenden as an example of what not to do, Shōyō provides a few pointers for his readers. Like the brothers in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, each of the eight main canine heroes in Bakin's Hakkenden personifies an abstraction, in this case each of the eight Confucian virtues. Since people are more than the embodiments of abstracted virtues or vices, characters must be so as well-- to do otherwise would be to go against the rules of psychological realism. Thus, Shōyō dismisses Bakin's characters as no more than "marionettes." To write psychological depth into a character, Shōyō explains, the writer must avoid idealization and construct him out of observable reality and according to "psychological principles." (27) Unfortunately, Shōyō does not tell us what these principles are. He does say, however, that the writer's own subjectivity should be minimized or, if possible, buried completely into the work. Elsewhere hailing Shakespeare as the master of this buried subjectivity, Shōyō here urges writers to subdue their own subjectivity and remain detached, objective, and scientific. "Once his characters make their appearance in the story," he writes, "he should think of them as living people. In speaking of their feelings, he should stand by as an onlooker and describe things as they are, rather than superimposing his own ideas of emotion, good or bad, upon them" (25). Ironically, the complete opposite occurred with the Japanese Naturalists, who at first showed the influence of Shōyō's ideas but eventually became so solipsistic that they lost all sense of objectivity and distance.

As stated earlier, Shōyō expresses strong opposition to escapism in art. He distinguishes "true fiction," which possesses verisimilitude and takes as its object human behavior, from "fantasies," which are marred by absurdities. Incidentally, a similar distinction is made in the "Hotaru" chapter of Genji monogatari, and Motoori Norinaga 本居宣長 (1730-1801) too makes mention of this in his Genji monogatari tama no ogushi (1796). But whereas the dinstinction is made in Genji in order to defend the value of monogatari based on the merits of nagusame (or consolatory powers), Shōyō makes the distinction in terms of the novel's relation to "truth." Knowledge of human nature and society-- much like scientific knowledge-- is possible only through the study of "true fiction"; by contrast, nothing can be learned about human nature from reading fantasy. Revealingly, the value of fiction for Shōyō is proportionate to its relation to knowledge. Shōyō writes of the escapist fantasies,
Yet because they wrote in order to satisfy public demand, they could know nothing of such things as the real purpose of art. Flights of fancy unrelated to the truth went being being merely acceptable to being a matter for pride. No doubt the readers loved it (13).
[click here for Part 4]