Thursday, February 26, 2009

Just in From Mrs. Gotō Yōko, Middle-aged Housewife in Saitama


Apparently unaware that my test was last month, Mrs. Gotō Yōko, middle-aged housewife in Saitama, today sent me the following correspondence. She gives some pretty sound advice, so if anyone has a written exam in Japanese coming up, I suggest you read her words carefully.
Beholdmyswarthyface君、

こんばんは。元気?いよいよ受験日が迫ってきたよね。大丈夫かな?そっちの研究室を調べたけど、とても良さそうなところで、Beholdmyswarthyface君には合っていると思うよ。

筆記試験の経験がないから心配だと君は言っていましたけど、あたしが思うには、次の三つの項目を覚えておけばきっと大丈夫でしょ。

1.まず、受験の時に思い出せない漢字があれば、他の表現にすること。

2.いつも読んでいるような難しい本の文章や文体を真似しないこと。友達へのメールを書いているかのように明確なアイデアを単純な言葉で簡潔に伝えれば十分。

3.特定の作品についてあえて具体的に書かないこと。なぜなら、具体的な話になるとさまざまな名前・作品名・場所の名前などを書かざるをえないから、最も曖昧に答えられそうな質問を択ぶことが大事だ。たとえば、「小説という概念は言語や民族を超えて普遍的なものといえるのか」みたいな質問があれば、それを選んでください。

それじゃ、頑張ってください。埼玉から応援していますから。

Of Burial Figurines


A couple weeks ago I wrote in a post that I couldn’t find an appropriate translation for the expression 俑をつくる, which appears in Ishikawa Jun’s essay “On the Conceptual Methods of the People of Edo.” Fortunately, Katō Kōichi over at Horagai and Matt Treyvaud of No-Sword were kind enough to help out. Mr. Katō writes:
「作俑」ですが、手元の漢和辞典に次のようにあります。

1 草木などで人を象った副葬品を作ること。
孔子はこの風習が殉死をまねいたと批判(「礼記」檀弓下、「孟子」梁惠王上)。
2 そこから転じて、悪い前例を作ること。

And from Matt:
I'm not going to touch that Chinese (there's gotta be someone on campus who specializes and can help you out), but I think 佣 is a typo/alternate spelling of 俑. 俑 is also a kind of figurine, specifically the kind that got buried with rulers, and 俑を作る means "put a bad process in motion" (because eventually that practice led to people being killed as well).

閉口後来客、含陰先達儒-- this is actually a I Ching scholar/Confucianist exchange. The full quote from is (taken from this online edition of the kiyushoran):

『十 訓抄』に、「漏剋博士季親は周易博士にて、其道に覚ありけれど、風月の方にうとかりけり。或文亭の連句の座にのぞみ、沈思しけるを、其中に宗徒の儒者有け るが、是をあなどりけるにや、閉口後来客といひたりける。言下に季親、含陰先達儒とぞ付たりける。にがりていふことなかりけり」。

Oh snap!

Two Brecht Links from Mother


Ryan,

Thought you might want to take a look at these two Bertolt Brecht plays: The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper, 1928) and this 1982 BBC production of Baal (1918), starring David Bowie. Unfortunately, I can't find Mother Courage and Her Children anywhere.

-Mother

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dispatch from Jarvis32 re: the Iwakura Mission of 1872


Beholdmyswarthyface,

As you know, in 2007 the NY Times decided to end its policy of online paid subscription. Writing in September of that year,
In addition to opening the entire site to all readers, the Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free.

This is good news for hagiographers like myself who can now work from home. Here’s an article I came across today, which I thought might be of interest to you. It’s from March 5, 1872, and is about the Iwakura Mission, which was, as far as I know, the very first delegation of Japanese envoys sent to the White House. Incidentally, the mission included about fifty girls, five of whom (see photo) were sent to study in the U.S. Here's a passage about the girls from the high school textbook, The Rise of Modern Japan:
The oldest was fourteen, the youngest six; none spoke English. The girls left Japan wearing the long-sleeved kimono proper for unmarried women, escorted by Mrs. Charles Delong, the wife of the American minister. The youngest girl, Tsuda Umeko, wore a red kimono. Her aunt overheard someone in the crowd whisper, "What heartless people their parents must be! Sending them to a barbarous land like America!"

-Jarvis32

Just in From Burford Niceweather


Burford Niceweather sends me this:
Beholdmyswarthyface,

God bless the internet. Before, exercising at home required that I stare at myself in the mirror for fifty minutes, but now I can work out while watching videos like this one of Peter Singer and Bryan Magee discussing the philosophy of Hegel, and Marx’s subsequent inversion of it. (Marx replaced Hegel’s concept of Geist (Spirit) with the Material.) I will explain no further. Watch the interview to find out more.

Signed,
Burford Niceweather

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Winning Number


The place: The Department of Contemporary Literary Studies
The winning number: 23705

Thursday, February 19, 2009

“We Dream Only of America,” First Installment


This just in from Lucy Tucker, aging exile in Holland:
Behold My Swarthy Face,

Thought you might be interested in this 1983 documentary by Joel Sucher and Steven Fischler called Anarchism in America. (Btw, this letter will be the first in a series to you called “We Dream Only of America.”) Years of exile and wandering have only deepened my love for the vanishing America of my youth, and now, lumbering toward old age, I weep for America.

The film’s central thesis is that America’s “essence”— if it can be called that— is revealed in the “instinctual anarchism in the American people [which] goes back to the Jeffersonian tradition.” Specifically, this anarchic spirit is characterized by a general distrust toward a) all forms of centralization and b) all forms of obligatory collectivism.

The film is studded with stars from anarchist history, from early trailblazers Emma Goldman and Benjamin Tucker to the more recent Goldwater-speechwriter-turned-anarchist Karl Hess, Russian-Jewish émigré and anarchist Mollie Steimer, political philosopher and Ron-Jeremy-lookalike Murray Bookchin, poets Kenneth Rexroth and Philip Levine, and an old lady anarchist from Nebraska whose manner of speech reminded me of your late grandmother from Omaha, Shirley Nesmith, who, incidentally, was also an active anarchist. Oh, and the Dead Kennedys even show up for a brief gig and interview.

Yours,
Lucy Tucker, aging exile in Holland

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Just In From Josh Lander: An Open Letter to Justin Raimondo


Josh Lander sends this:
Ryan,

Here’s my open letter to Justin Raimondo, editor of antiwar.com. I’d send it myself, but not having the connexions (we spell it with an “x” where I’m currently situated), I was hoping you might relay it to him at some point.

Dear Mr. Raimondo,

I don't know you, nor you me, but I think we share a common love for Philip Weiss. My name is Josh, Josh Landers, and I am a regular reader of your wonderful site. There’s just one thing I’d like to say.

I’d like to hear from your site more voices from the Left— the old-school anti-nationalist Marxist Left. It's a lot easier to critique Zionism and U.S. imperialism from a Marxian perspective than from a nationalist one, and there are many important contemporary writers who do so (I'm particularly thinking of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek). As an ideology, libertarian-nationalism is essentially the same as Zionist-nationalism.

I know you’re not too big a fan of Marx, but you should keep in mind that there's a rich tradition of anti-statism within Marxist thought. You’ll remember that many of the early socialists were anarchists as well. There is also much evidence to suggest that Marx himself was in fact anti-statist, despite what Friedrich Hayek had to say about him. Karatani Kōjin points this out it in his book Architecture as Metaphor: “Despite the fact that Hayek attempts to make Marx out to be a statist or an archist, as many Marxists have done, his position is, ironically, very similar to Marx’s.”

I hope a wider range of antiwar voices will be included in the future.
I hope you will forgive my impudence.

Signed,
Josh Lander, paleoconservative-turned-Hegelian-Marxist, 26.
San Diego, California

Dispatch from Sally Yoshizawa


Sally Yoshizawa sends this:
Hey, Ryan. I didn't have anything to do this weekend, so I thought I translate your recent post about Ishikawa Jun's "big discoveries." I got through most of it. Here's what I have so far:

石川淳の大発見

今まで、私は石川淳が1942年の『江戸人の発想法について』で展開した議論がいかに時代を先んじていたかということについて明確にしていなかったので、もう一度説明させてください。『江戸人の発想法について』で石川はモダンとポストモダンの思想の鍵であるような概念をいくつも指摘しています。そして、明らかに誰よりも先に、後にニュー・クリティシズムや構造主義、そしてポスト構造主義やディコンストラクショニズムといった形で展開される新しい批評の特徴を予見していると言えます。しかし、1942年の時点において、石川が論じている概念を表す言葉はまだ存在しておらず、(正式な意味での)理論家や哲学者ではなかった石川は自分の発見を体系化しようとはしなかったのです。それにしても、石川が何かを掴んでいたということは明らかです。ではその新発見とは何だったのか。それは大きく三つに分けることができると言えます。一つは、間テクスト性と「転換の操作」、二つめは、自己という概念を問題化する「韜晦振り」と作者の「無名性」、そして最後に、交渉と読者反応です。

一、 間テクスト性と「転換の操作」
『江戸人の発想法』におけるキーワードは「転換」です。言葉を変えながら、合計9回、使われています。石川によれば、江戸人は、古いものに生命を吹き込みながら新しい文化を作り上げ、彼らの日々の現実にちょうどよく一致させていきます。石川は江戸文学に見られる「転換の操作」を五つの形式に分けています。「見立て」、「俗化」、「やつし」、「本歌取り」、そして「俳諧化」です。この部分に関する第二次資料として挙げられるのは、
Harold Bloom’s notions of “creative misprision” and “poetic influence”; 
Julia Kristeva’s theory of “intertextuality”; 
Allan H. Pasco’s book Allusion: A Literary Graft (1994); 
Theories of parody by Mikhail Bakhtin, Simon Dentith, Linda Hutcheon, and Margaret Rose
; Theories of pastiche by Ingeborg Hoesterey and Fredric Jameson
です。

二、 韜晦振りと無名性
ここでは、私は石川による「韜晦振り」の概念を考察します。韜晦振りとは、石川が「作者が名を放棄することから世界を築き上げている」と評した天明狂歌の詩人の捕えどころのない傾向を指します。この点に関する第二次資料は、
Roland Barthes’s “Death of the Author” (1967); 
H.L. Hix’s Morte d'Author: An Autopsy (1990) on “authorial intentionality”; 
Wimsatt and Monroe’s “The Intentional Fallacy” from The Verbal Icon (1954); 
Fredric Jameson on the “problem with character,” in The Political Unconscious; 
Derrida’s notion of “free play” in Writing and Difference

.

I’ll also explore the Edoites’ general skepticism toward the notion of “a singular self”— a skepticism they seemed to share with Saussure, Freud, Barthes, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, and others.
です。

三、交渉
最後に、石川が、文学作品とは様々な交渉を通して生産されるものであり、読者はその交渉を十分に理解しなければその作品を解釈することはできない、と主張している点を考えていきます。石川は、どんな作品でも、当時の社会との交渉、あるいは伝統、つまり先行するテクストとの交渉から「離れたところではたちまち意味を失うだろう」と説明しています。
この点に関する第二次資料は、
Stephen Greenblatt’s theory of “negotiations” developed in his Shakespearean Negotiations, in which he “argues that works of art, however intensely marked by the creative intelligence and private obsessions of individuals, are the products of collective negotiation and exchange” (vii). I will also incorporate Stuart Hall’s “reception theory” into my analysis.
です。

Friday, February 13, 2009

Update, Anecdote, and Letter Just In From Mother


I try to keep this blog as depersonalized as possible, but now that the number of hits has doubled from 800 to 1600 per day, I feel somewhat obligated to keep readers informed about my goings-on. So here’s an update, an anecdote, and a letter just in from Mother.

Update: I’ve finished reviewing Sally Suzuki’s The History of Modern Japanese Literary Criticism, A Play in Two Parts. I found it incredibly informative and moving, and I intend to post it as soon as I return from Sendai on Monday. (I'm actually hoping the boys over at Neojaponisme will let me post it on their site.)

Anecdote: Because my government scholarship is barely enough to survive on, I’m forced to teach English for 90 minutes every Saturday. Just thinking about it depresses me. Last week, my two students, a husband and wife, were in a bad mood and demanded that I “tell American joke!” I told them the only one I could remember on the spot. It is an old theological syllogism joke, and goes like this:
Me: OK, the Devil is greater than nothing, right?
Students: Right.
Me: And nothing is greater than God, right?
Student: You are correct. God is greatest.
Me: Therefore, the Devil is greater than God! Ha! . . . Get it?
[Awkward silence.]

I doubt they’ll ever come back. If anyone knows any “American joke,” please send.

Letter Just In From Mother:
Beholdmyswarthyface,

Honey, I just saw the results from this year’s Best of Japan Blog Awards. We can’t believe you didn’t win. We think there are ideological reasons behind their decision. I mean, come on, you weren’t even mentioned! Everyone knows your blog tops all the others. I was so angry I wrote a letter to the judges. The whole family is in a state of bewilderment.

Your mother,
Mother

Mother, that’s very kind of you. Your words encourage me to press on.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Another Dispatch from Sally Suzuki, Japanese Dancer


Sally Suzuki sends this:
Relating to your last post, here’s Haruo Shirane from his Traces of Dreams:

"Ishikawa Jun, a modern novelist and Edo scholar, regarded the popular folk tale of Otake, the lowly maid who turns out to be a contemporary incarnation of Danichi nyorai (Skt. Mahavairocana), the Buddha of great light, as an archetypal example of such haikai imagination. Ishikawa found the historical precedent for Otake in the Noh play Eguchi in which a prostitute from Eguchi turns out to be the Fugen Bodhisattva (Skt. Samantabhadra). Not only does the profane turn out to be sacred, but a Buddhist deity that had lost some of its power in the Tokugawa period takes on new life and meaning through a lowly, commoner form." (Shirane, 254-255)

Letter from Mother Regarding Ishikawa Jun


This just in from Mother:
Beholdmyswarthyface,

Today I came across the following passage in Eiko Ikegami’s Bonds of Civility. It relates to the Ishikawa essay you recently translated, so I thought I’d send it along. Ikegami also hints at some of the “big discoveries” you speak of. Writes Ikegami:

“An important component in the cognitive complexity of haikai poetry was in its incorporation of two different sources of subject matter as well as its literary technique. One source was derived from the classical standards of the imperial court; the other was drawn from the contemporary interests, tastes, and opinions of the commoners. What we may call the ‘haikai-nization’ of the poetic tradition involved the transfer of classical images to the settings, contexts, and sensibility of urban commoner life. Ishikawa Jun, a perceptive critic and fiction writer, once articulated the inherently deconstructive nature of haikai poetry in that it breaks down the identity of words as signifiers by transferring them into different contexts that alter their meanings. Ishikawa offered a useful insight when he noted in his essay first published in 1943, long before deconstruction and post-modernism became fashionable in Western literary criticism, that this method of haikai-nization is ‘generally the fundamental literary method at work in any type of literature that arose from the sensibility of Edo commoners . . . The spirit of Edo literature . . . would mislead and elude the grasp of any modernist approach to literary analysis.'” (Ikegami, 191-192)

She goes on. If you’d like to read more, it’s available here.

Good luck with your interview this week,
Mother

Friday, February 6, 2009

This Just In From Sally Suzuki, Japanese Dancer


A while back, Matt Treyvaud suggested that we do a series of articles on some of the major contemporary Japanese literary critics. So far our list includes: Karatani Kōjin, Ōda Makoto, Fujita Makoto, Fujita Shōzō, Sakamoto Yoshikazu, Isoda Kōichi, Maeda Ai, Komori Yōichi, and Kamei Hideo.

Before posting these articles, however, I thought it’d be a good idea to give a little background information about the history of modern Japanese literary criticism, which dates back to the 1880s. Lucky for us, Sally Suzuki has offered to give a crash course in the subject. Writes Ms. Suzuki:
Beholdmyswarthyface,

I like your idea about doing a crash course in modern Japanese literary criticism. My first thought was to do it in epistolary form, in the manner of your recent “Letter to Mother (Or, Crash Course in Modern and Postmodern Literary Theory”). However, I could never hope to outdo you as an epistler, so I thought I would instead take a stab at the dramatic form, which I hear you’re no good at.

And so I've composed a little play in two parts, called The History of Modern Japanese Literary Criticism. The first part covers the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taishō (1912-1926) periods, while Part Two covers the Shōwa period (1926-1989). All the big names are in it-- Tsubouchi Shōyō, Mori Ōgai, Tayama Katai, Natsume Sōseki-- as well as some others you might not be familiar with. I’m hoping that it will prepare your readers for your upcoming series on contemporary Japanese critics. What do you say? If you’re willing to post it, I’ll send it in my next mail.

Yours,
Sally Suzuki

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Major Literary Disputes (Bungaku Ronsō)


This just in from Dubliner Mabel Callahan:
Hello, Beholdmyswarthyface. I’ve got a little problem, and I was hoping you could help.

My problem is I can never keep track of all those pesky “literary disputes” (bungaku ronsō), which are such an important feature of modern Japanese criticism. There’s the debate on politics versus literature (seiji to bungaku ronsō), the debate over subjectivity (shutaisei ronsō), the "novel without plot" debate between Tanizaki and Akutagawa, the famous debate on National Literature (kokumin bungaku ronsō), the debate concerning the “I-novel” (watakushi-shōsetsu), another on the “pure novel” (junsui shōsetsu ronsō), the 1891 “idealism debate” between German-influenced novelist Mori Ōgai and Shakespeare scholar and translator Tsubouchi Shōyō on the purpose of literature (botsuri ronsō), and many others I can’t recall at the moment.

How and when they started, who was involved, what literary magazine hosted the debates, how they ended (one ended, I think, in a suicide)— all these details get jumbled in the messy secretary-less office that is my brain. Please, Beholdmyswarthyface, tell me what to do. I’m at my wit’s end.

Well, first you might want to hire a secretary. Second, it’d be nice if somebody would put together a book in English that covers all of the major bungaku ronsō. I’m sure it would be a best-seller, at least among Orientialists like us. Until then, however, we’ll have to use this handy site, which gives a summary in Japanese of all the major debates.

Hope this helps,
Beholdmyswarthyface

Monday, February 2, 2009

Karatani Kōjin: Beyond the Trinity of Capital-Nation-State


Jarvis32 sends me this link to a lecture by Karatani Kōjin at Stanford in October, 2007. Writes Mr. Jarvis:
Finally, a theory that both socialist and anarchist can agree on. Karatani Kōjin calls it associationism. In many ways it’s similar to Chomsky’s libertarian socialism, which advocates the abolition of both capitalism and the state.

Marx predicted that in a socialist society the state would eventually disappear. So far, things haven’t quite worked out that way. Marx failed to see that a) the state is an autonomous entity which is not contingent on capitalism and b) many social evils (particularly war, militarism, etc.) are attributable not to capital, private property or free trade, but to the Leviathan state itself.

Taking such anti-statist critiques into account, Professor Karatani proposes associationism, which has its roots in the early anarchism/socialism that arose in the wake of the European Revolutions of 1848.

OK. That’s enough talking. Now watch the lecture series, courtesy of Professor Indra Levy. Oh, and also read Slavoj Žižek’s review of Karatani’s Transcritique: On Kant and Marx.