PostModern Japan Forum One

Post
Modern Japan


Earl
Jackson, Jr.


talkingcure2000@aol.com

Yen
Economies


Variations
Without A Theme


Another
Scene

From: Donald Anderson

April 2,2002

Prof. Jackson,

One problem I have with (in, rather) your Japanese Postmodernism
class 


(well, not with the class itself, but the material) is
how to approach the 


texts, how to devise a suitable critical position/orientation
from which to 


confront them. While I try to problematize my position
in relation to/with 


all of the texts I read, watch, and experience, I’ve
had particular trouble 


while thinking about possible approaches to what we have
and will read. It 


is hard enough to critically approach „traditional“ „western“
texts, to 



decide/decode my place as reader in relation to the cultural,
intellectual, 


historical, literary, philosophical, etc contexts, even
with a supposed 


„shared“ cultural context (for instance, even though
I’ve learned what I 


know within a certain culture [the „Western“ world of
Europe and its 


various colonies] it is a mistake to assume that I have
a significant 


understanding of the contexts of, say, Hamlet, even though
it resides 


within the literary „tradition“ of the general „Western
catalog“ or that I 


am able to have an unmediated relation to „Hamlet“).

With this in mind, I’m having trouble deciding how to
best situate/mediate 


my readings. The stark absolute „Otherness“ of „Japanese“
culture confronts 


me directly, and I’m not sure what the best way to respond
is. The texts 


come from an entirely different culture, with contexts
that are completely 


foreign and unknown to Western society in general and
me in particular. How 


am I supposed to „relate“ to them (although reducing
it to a problem of 


relation is problematic itself)? What „traditions“ of
thought can I include 


in my reading of these texts, and what can’t I? How can
I „historicize“ 


these texts when I have pretty much no knowledge of Japanese
history (even 


with the introduction to recent history with Norma Field’s
book, which is 


itself a mediated history, there are centuries of history
that must be left 


untouched due to the time limitations of the class, depriving
me of all but 


either the most basic knowledge, or trivial knowledge
of individual events 


outside of context)? Not that this isn’t a problem with
all texts, but this 


problem is particularly evident in this case, when I
have no „Japanese“ 


history, and especially evident in the problems raised
by Field’s book – I 


have no „pure“ knowledge of Japanese history (not possible,
of course), 


only a mediated Western-centric history that has been
informed primarily 


through the filter of violence, as it is rare to find
an American 


mainstream narrative involving Japan that doesn’t somehow
involve 


(sometimes ridiculous) stereotypes about „martial arts“
or a relationship 


to Japan not mediated by the conflicts generated by WWII.
Basically, all 


that I can remember learning about „Japan“ came either
from bad movies 


involving ninjas and „codes of honor“ relating to martial
arts, or the 


three weeks in U.S. history in high school that we talked
about World War 


II (since „World History“ naturally didn’t talk about
anything beyond the 


borders of Europe until the colonial age, and even then
only mentioned 


other cultures when they fought back against European
oppression and 


encroachment).

Another problem with history is that the geographic area
is often 


amalgamated together into „the Orient“ or „Asia.“ It
is hard to know where 


one region’s history begins and ends because many times
it isn’t demarcated 


clearly; the interrelationships of China, Japan, India,
and the other East 


Asian cultures tend to get blended together in popular
portrayals, mixing 


various discrete elements together, and although these
areas‘ histories are 


indeed intertwined it doesn’t excuse Westerners from
lumping them all in 


together and confusing them with each other. The fact
that I have to be so 


general, that even as I recognize this problem I can’t
give specifics or 


examples of this cultural jumbling is an example of these
problems.


Aside from the problem of history, there are still textual
issues. What 


about the mediated status of translation, which does
of course occur in 


many other situations but has a special meaning in this
context (doesn’t 


it?) Most of the European languages are related and come
from the same 


origins, have a similar structure, etc, but the Japanese
language is just 


so radically different, I can’t help wondering about
how much must be lost 


in translation to English. How much of the work is the
„author’s“ and how 


much of the text is the translator’s? Though this is
somewhat outside of 


the practical concerns of the class, since I won’t be
able to read the 


author’s „true“ work unless I learn Japanese…

I’m thinking about these issues because I really don’t
want to practice any 


cultural imperialism by imposing „my worldview“ (nebulous
as it may be) on 


these texts, forcing „alien“ concepts to conform to preconceived
notions. 


Isn’t one of the challenges of the class to see how we
confront these 


issues? It’d be easy, too easy, to just read these texts
as we would any 


other (although I try to maintain an alienated relationship
to every text, 


a critical distance so as to not be… sutured into their
ideologies) and 


this course should force us to examine our imagined unproblematic 

relationship to any text in general, though their refusal/inability
to be 


totally comprehendible/intelligible (what text is, though?
I should say as 


comprehendible/intelligible as „normal“ texts with which
we have a „shared“ 


historical/cultural background). How much are we able
to understand of 


these texts? What is the limit of intelligibility? At
what point does the 


unknown otherness of the text’s cultural context derail
our reading? At 


what level are we able to read the texts – as pure stories,
emptied of more 


than a cursory history? Should we suspect our own comprehension
of the 


„full“ meaning of the text (even though a „full“ meaning
isn’t really 


possible) – families, for instance, play different roles
within our culture 


and the Japanese culture. How much of the subtlety, the
rich history of the 


family as an institution is lost on the way overseas?
What are the 


political ramifications of our reading of the text? How
much cultural 


baggage are we allowed to keep with us while reading,
interpreting, and 


analyzing the texts? Do we have the right, or the ability
to read and 


interpret these texts (a politically loaded question
for sure, but worth 


examining)? There are many interpretations possible in
every narrative, not 


all of which are valid – any interpretation we make in
the class will 


probably be impoverished (in a historical sense, at least)
and tainted with 


the trace of Western culture.

How am I to approach these texts? Any suggestions would
be appreciated.


Thanks,

D.J. Anderson

 

XXXXXXXXXX

From: Matt Picola

Re: D. J. Andersen’s questions about reading.

April 3. 2002-04-17

This is regarding DJ’s original letter which I think
was very well put.


I have not ever worried about „devising a suitable critical

position/ orientation from which to confront“ any text.
I got a


really bad narrative in Post-Colonial theory, go figure.

I think that any position I have in relation to a text
is


constantly changing. In a field of meaning the text moves
every


time it is read and I move with every reading I do, right?

What else can you do besides contextualize your reading
of a text


with other texts that you think are right?

Regarding issues of translation in Japanese texts I once
again


feel

your pain. However, every text is a translation, so in
any case


where we would be inclined to ignore the author and look
at the


text on its own terms, I think we can also ignore the
translator


(but not the translation).

This thread seems like a dead horse now but still I need
to say


that I think we have been too PC with our hesitance to
use western


theory to read these texts. I understand and identify
with your


fear of doing a reading that „practice[s] cultural imperialism“

but

why? When we write our midterm papers with less assumed

historical context than an 8 year old Japanese girl its
not like


we

will be fooling anybody, western or Japanese.

By being liberal with our application of western theory
to these


texts we can begin to expose ourselves as ignorant and
racist, and


begin to „devise a suitable critical standpoint.“ By
sharing and


discussing our naive, precocious, ignorant readings of
these texts


,we can begin the process of becoming responsible readers
of


Japanese texts. So be obnoxious and just apply that western
theory


regardless of any incompatability with parts of Japanese
culture


that you don’t know about. You will be giving your classmates
the


rare chance to bate the colonizer in person.

James Matt Picola

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
FROM: D.J.Anderson

Re: Matt Picola’s response.

At 09:37 PM 4/16/02 -0700, Matt Picola wrote:

>This is regarding DJ’s original
letter which I think was very well put.


>

>I have not ever worried about
„devising a suitable critical


>position/ orientation from
which to confront“ any text. I got a


>really bad narrative in Post-Colonial
theory, go figure.


It isn’t „just“ post-colonial theory. Its really a question
of examining 


how you approach a text, the position which you adopt
in relation to a text 


(whether you realize you are taking a position or not),
which you do in 


every act of interpretation. Just because you don’t worry
about it doesn’t 


mean it won’t happen, and I think that it is better to
spend some time 


thinking about it rather than perform a commonsensical
reading (unknowingly 


or consciously). Not that you should pre-select a theory
and begin to apply 


it to a text, of course, but you could try to be aware
of various theories 


while reading and determine how the text fits in relation
with them. The 


reason I „devise suitable critical positions“ is to avoid
being „sutured“ 


(or whatever the literary equivalent is) by the text,
and to avoid a 


„readerly“ reading.

>I think that any position I
have in relation to a text is


>constantly changing. In a field
of meaning the text moves every


>time it is read and I move
with every reading I do, right?


>What else can you do besides
contextualize your reading of a text


>with other texts that you think
are right?


You can examine the texts that you think are right, why
you think they are 


right, and your notion of „context.“ Not that you need
to embark on a quest 


to do these things, but a little thought into why you
are doing these 


things is better than none. My email wasn’t about NOT
doing these things, 


it was (I should say „I intended,“ rather – not that
it matters what I 


intended) about examining why and how I am doing them.

 

>Regarding issues of translation
in Japanese texts I once again


>feel

>your pain. However, every text
is a translation, so in any case


>where we would be inclined
to ignore the author and look at the


>text on its own terms, I think
we can also ignore the translator


>(but not the translation).

As I said in the email, the status as translation is
not really addressable in 


the context of this class, I just brought up the issue
because I was thinking 


about it at the time.

>This thread seems like a dead
horse now but still I need to say


>that I think we have been too
PC with our hesitance to use western


>theory to read these texts.
I understand and identify with your


>fear of doing a reading that
„practice[s] cultural imperialism“


>but

>why? When we write our midterm
papers with less assumed


>historical context than an
8 year old Japanese girl its not like


>we

>will be fooling anybody, western
or Japanese.


I am certainly not trying to be „PC“ with these questions.
To invoke the 


specter of „political correctness,“ regardless of your
feelings on the 


subject, is convoluting the question and leading away
from the issue at 


hand (and personally, it sounds a little derogatory as
well). I know that a 


certain degree of „cultural imperialism“ will occur,
and our „historical 


context“ is pretty anemic – I was never suggesting that
they wouldn’t be. I 


was asking these questions seriously, but sometimes rhetorically,
just to get 


a conversation started about them. In any case, most
of the questions I ask 


in the email are questions for the sake of questioning
– just to get the 


questions circulating and introduce them into our discourse.
Not that I was 


the only person to ask them, but I was the first to bring
them up in class. I 


think.

>By being liberal with our application
of western theory to these


>texts we can begin to expose
ourselves as ignorant and racist, and


>begin to „devise a suitable
critical standpoint.“ By sharing and


>discussing our naive, precocious,
ignorant readings of these texts


>we can begin the process of
becoming responsible readers of


>Japanese texts. So be obnoxious
and just apply that western theory


>regardless of any incompatability
with parts of Japanese culture


>that you don’t know about.
You will be giving your classmates the


>rare chance to bate the colonizer
in person.


XXXXXXX

    „Liberal“ is such a politically charged
word… but I think I see your 


point. I do agree that we should attempt readings and
learn from our 


mistakes. I’m not questioning our right to attempt readings,
I’m not trying to 


get us caught in paralytic fits of frustration and confusion
in order to keep 


us from making mistakes, and I’m not trying to shut down
any discussion. I 


was preemptively addressing issues that I could see myself
thinking about in 


the future, in order to circulate these potentially problematic
issues that 


could derail our papers into unfortunate casualties of
Prof. Jackson’s 


unrelenting criticism. If there has been one thing I’ve
learned in his classes, it 


is to always think carefully before doing anything, and
question initial 


assumptions about everything, otherwise when you get
your paper back you’ll 


find that his commentary is longer than your actual paper.
Not that his 


commentary is a bad thing, but when you discover that
your paper was 


written upon shaky ground and was entirely invalidated
because of one false 


assumption and tumbles like a house of cards when he
pulls one out, you’ll be 


wishing you had thought about these things before. 

I’m speaking from experience here. If something seems
too easy to be true, 


it probably is. Thus, a questioning of every assumption
and technique you can 


think of is helpful. We will definitely make many mistakes
in this class, but if 


we examine the cracks in the foundation before we build
our house of lies we 


won’t get started in the first place. Sorry about the
bad metaphors. I don’t 


mean to sound preachy, either, so sorry if I sound condescending
– I’m not 


trying to be.

D.J. Anderson

 

From: Nathan Walker

Re: D.J.Anderson and „PC“

When reading D.J.’s e-mail, one thing leapt out at me
right away: 


he refers to the term „politically correct“ as seeming
derogatory. 


While IÕm not greatly familiar with the whole
PC movement, it does 


seem that the entire purpose of it was simply to avoid 

inadvertently saying things that might insult others.
The idea that 


saying that someone tries to avoid insulting others has
become an 


insult, I find amusing Ñ the more so, because
itÕs true. I was 


worried, in writing this e-mail, that I might sound too
PC. So, I 


should say right off that I do not consider myself a PC 

person Ñ not that thereÕs anything wrong
with that Ñ and that, 


when writing, I make every effort not to put too much
effort into 


considering its impact on others.  (Perhaps
what we really 


need is a more appropriate term for ‚politically correct:‘ 

Ôlinguistically self-awareÕ, maybe, or Ôstereotypically
uninclinedÕ).


At the same time, though, thinking about this term got
me to 


thinking about the concept of being PC. After all, what
is politically 


correctness except trying to redefine our language? Ñ
something 


which, to my mind, the Japanese were far more successful
at than 


we
were. From the enormous volume of words they adapt from 


western languages every year to the introduction of politically 

correct terms for „rectal bleeding,“ the entire Japanese
society 


seems to be constantly redefining their language to a
much 


greater degree than we do. The chrysanthemum
taboo
seems to 


me at its heart to be an attempt to bring about Ôpolitical 

correctnessÕ (albeit for a different system of
political views from 


ours) on a far more massive scale than we ever considered.

It may be that this comparison isn’t completely apt and
that I am 


myself being quite un-PC to suggest a connection between
our 


attempts to revise our language so as not to insult minorities
and 


the Japanese attempts to revise their language and society
so as 


not to insult the emperor. And, if we’re looking for
parallels to the 


movement against censorship in Japan, should we look
to the KKK 


in our own society for their courageous stand against
politically 


correct language in the United States? (Sarcasm, there.)
However, 


I think that, in judging different societies, we are
naturally inclined 


to attempt to draw comparisons such as this, even if
they don’t 


precisely fit the reality of the other country. Which
is why I’m 


going to send this e-mail, even though it’s just occurred
to me 


that I haven’t actually said anything.
From Lauren Harden:

I have been waiting for the appropriate place to enter
into these discussions, and as I 


have not seemed to find one I will just begin (so as
not to further postpone any


feelings of apprehension). The issues of historical context
brought- up by D.J. are


very necessary concerns, but at some point may become
counter productive. The 


texts which we read and view along with historical facts
that we gather and are 


given (at least those of us without a developed historical
context) are the tools we 


need to begin the process of historicizing. This said,
the overwhelming tendency that 


I must avoid is trying to prematurely stick together
the texts in order to create some 


kind of oversimplified or (false) notion of understanding.
It is very easy for me to 


pick out the reoccurrence of madness in Oe and associate
with a generalized 


„Japanese madness“ connected directly to the bits of
history that I am grasping at: 


Japan during WWII as a country being bombed and invaded
by Americans (as well 


as Japanese in Okanawa) and being told to die for their
godlike emperor only later 


to hear from his mouth (over the radio) that he is in
fact a man. While readings like 


this may not be devoid of „truth“ it is beneficial to
my understanding (and to the 


integrity of Japanese culture) not to reduce its‘ complex
and dynamic history/ 


present to my own limited understanding.ly to the bits
of history that I am 


graspping at: Japan during WWII as a country being bombed
and invaded by 


Americans (as well as Japanese in Okanawa) and being
told to die for thier godlike 


emperor only later to hear from his mouth (over the radio)
that he is in fact a man. 


While readings like this may not be devoid of „truth“
it is benifitial to my 


understanding (and to the integritiy of Japanese culture)
not to reduce its‘ complex 


and dynamic history/ present to my own limited understanding.

lauren harden
Subj: Japanese Postmodernism

Date: Tuesday, April 2, 2002 18:33:21

From: jlouv@cats.ucsc.edu

To: talkingcure2000@aol.com

Hi Earl,

Just thought I’d share a couple of questions/impressions
on the class 


and reading material.

I’ve been very striken with the accounts of the Emperor’s
concession 


that he was human. Thinking about the Japanese experiencing
this and the 


destruction of Hiroshima & Nagasaki in such quick
succession in hard to 


imagine and puts the reactions to especially the Nagasaki
mayor’s 


statement in perspective. In the west we killed god slowly,
in print for 


the most partÑin Japan it was sudden & cataclysmic.
I sometimes think of 


postmodernism as the long cultural recuperation to World
War II, the 


recuperation time from the devaluation of human life
and experience that 


the war and specifically the atomic bomb produced. I
was talking to my 


mom the other day and expressing my frustration with
the previous 


generation and its failure, in some ways, to make any
provisions for the 


future and specifically for my generation. She said „You
have to realize 


that we all grew up in a time when we thought we would
literally be dead 


any day now.“ Japan strikes me as maybe existing in an
exaggerated state 


of thisÑspecifically because the bomb already
had been dropped on their 


country.

My generation has grown up idolizing Japan and Japanese
entertainment. 


But I remember my grandfather telling me stories about
killing Japanese 


soldiers. He was in the Navy and served as a medic, and
at his funeral I 


met some of his shipmates who told me that his ship had
been recalled to 


Pearl Harbor two days before the bombing. That was something
he never 


told me stories about. It really is amazing how much
relations have 


changed between the US and Japan so quicklyÑeven
since around the time I 


was born, when Japan was the scapegoat of US industry.
I think that 


media have had a huge amount to do with thisÑmy
friends and I all grew 


up on Nintendo and fantasized about the newest equipment
from Japan, 


which was always at least a year ahead of the US. We
also were very 


excited by anime and manga which were just becoming popular
with kids 


our age.

At any rate… just some jumbled impressions. I hope
that my generation 


is the one to break the grip of „meaningless“ that Postmodernism 

represents in some cases, and I think our relations with
Japan may play 


into this quite a bit.

Enjoying the class so far!

Jason


Post-Modern
Japan Forum One
Post-Modern
Japan Forum Two
Post-Modern
Japan Forum Four
Post-Modern
Japan F
orum Three
Post-Modern
Japan Forum Five
Post-Modern
Japan Forum Six



Post
Modern Japan


Earl
Jackson, Jr.


talkingcure2000@aol.com

Yen
Economies


Variations
Without A Theme


Another
Scene