34. An Open Invitation to Correspondence

So, it seems I return briefly from my self-imposed writerly exile–the book project is going, at least, even if not swimmingly–to note a few things you, dear reader, might be interested in and, since I can’t help it, to pontificate briefly on the state of affairs of manga studies within the broader framework of comic studies.

Back in October (of 2013), Ian Hague, of Comics Forum fame, contacted me with an inquiry about putting together a manga studies column for that site, a welcome development, seeing as, at the time, I was on the precipice of a several month long intellectual despair, which Ian’s kind comments, unfortunately, only temporarily put off.  I suggested it would be good to use this as an opportunity to bring together a number of people doing manga studies work (and to provide my own humble and often ill-formed excursions some legitimacy), in particular the inimitable scholar and organizer, Jaqueline Berndt, whose introductory piece serves both as the first in a series of manga studies columns and as a kind of manifesto for the work we will be doing from here on out.

I strongly suggest you read the post in its entirety, for Jaqueline, in a addition to being an accomplished scholar, has done much of the hard and ill-rewarded work that needs to be done in manga studies to bring people together, not just within Japan but internationally as well, into something like a scholarly/intellectual community.  She may not agree with me, but I see this column for Comics Forum, an internationally oriented outfit in its own right, as an important step in trying to bridge the wide gulf between manga studies and broader comic studies that I know I have had a difficult time putting even a dent in.  As Prof. Berndt herself says in the opening paragraph, “[m]anga does not easily attract scholarly interest as comics… [w]hether subjected to symptomatic readings of social issues or to sophisticated critical theory, media-specific contexts and manga-related expertise tend to be neglected. This is as much due to specific institutional requirements as it is indicative of a lack within the institution, that is, the absence of a respective field of research and criticism.”

Manga studies in Japan and comic studies without have a great deal in common: an uneasy institutional presence, despite a strong scholarly community; a recent, problematic move toward academic legitimacy; a complex, occasionally antagonistic relationship to fan communities; etc.  Therefore, it would seem as if these two scholarly milieux have a number of reasons to collaborate, but historically solidarity has failed to materialize for a number of, mostly, linguistic and logistical reasons, though I should note that the International Manga Research Center has made efforts in previous years to provide a bilingual (Japanese/English) conference framework.  I know my hope is that by providing wider access to Japanese manga/comic studies discourse we might, perhaps, overcome the reticence that some American/European comics scholars feel toward a critical discourse that appears from without to be impenetrable without years of focused language study.

With that in mind, I realize that the readership of this blog is a mixed bag, something I genuinely consider to be a plus, so I would like to end with an open solicitation.  Jaqueline has already noted in her introduction that you can contact her at comicsforummanga@outlook.com with ideas/suggestions for future columns, and if you have one, absolutely send her a note to that effect.  I would also, though, like to ask a question of you all, especially those who may have an intellectual or philosophical interest in manga but find academic discourses a little too off-putting.  What would you like to see that might help bridge the gap between, say, a high-minded fan sensibility and the jargony world of scholarly communications?  What, if anything, do you feel stands in the way of fan communities, which are quite strong in the West, being more actively involved in and inviting to a scholarly community, many of whom are no less fans?

If you have any thoughts on this project or how to move forward, leave a comment below or, if you prefer not to have everything you say openly available on the web in perpetuity, feel free to contact me at uahsenaa@gmail.com.

Stay Tuned!

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3 comments

  1. As a fan who likes reading some scholarly articles, I find that a lot of scholarship – not you, but stuff I’ve read in the past – I find that a lot of scholars are rather out of touch with the fandom. I can’t recall anything specific, but I remember reading quite a lot of material on the topic of “why women like BL,” most specifically, that wasn’t really informative (and often straight-up wrong) compared to just going on LJ/dreamwidth or tumblr and clicking on some BL tags and listening to peoples’ opinions and discussion. It’s not like we don’t do our own meta – perhaps it’s not as in-depth as scholarly material, but there are some real gems out there. I kind of feel like participating in the fandom should be a prerequisite for scholarship, to be honest. At the very least, it keeps you in touch with common opinions of and reactions to the media.

    Anyway, as for bridging the gap between intellectual fans and scholarship, I think sometimes you just have to stop assuming that everyone knows everything you do. For example, your article a while back on Ghost and the Shell and philosophy is high unreadable if you don’t have a deep knowledge of various philosophers and their works. I was reading it late at night and I just put it down because I didn’t have the braincells to trawl through it – it’s the kind of thing I could get through if I needed it for a paper, but damn was it not pleasurable to read. If you’re going to go in that deep, you have to break it down a little more and explain things! If you write in a more down-to-earth, journalistic style, you won’t be putting up such a barrier to entry. And I have an English degree, ffs. I can’t imagine what others might be thinking about the style on this blog.

    1. The point about opacity is fair, and I can say that I worry about how off-putting how I lay out my arguments can be. Yet, at the same time, I am pathologically adverse to “dumbing things down,” because the point is, as often as not, to simply think through a problem rather than come to an immediate and decisive opinion about it. The GitS piece you mention was, to my mind, speaking to a different audience–the intent was more to demonstrate how carefully one must tread when throwing out hardcore philosophical terminology without a sense of how that discourse developed–yet, I would argue that even for a non-specialist or a intellectually curious fan, sometimes it’s worth wading through difficult material, precisely because it’s hard.

      I can sympathize with the sense of disconnect with what academics find important. I have been on the reviewing side of some rather atrociously elitist comics scholarship over the past few years, and, though I am a trained scholar, I find myself growing ever hostile to the whole scholarly enterprise. Academics can be very parochial, and you’re right to note that scholarly indifference to fan conversations is often to their (our?) detriment. However, I would add that it’s not good enough for scholars merely to be listening, since you’ll likely get what you have now with so-called “fan studies,” which tends to view these conversations from an aloof, sociological perspective. The trick is getting academic types involved in the right way, so they (we?) neither patronize nor close ourselves (?) off from lines of inquiry we (?) may never have considered.

      I think you should take a look at Jessica’s piece on BL scholarship and let me know what you think. It would be good for those of us involved with the manga studies column to get more feedback.

      http://comicsforum.org/2014/07/29/manga-studies-3-on-bl-manga-research-in-japanese-by-jessica-bauwens-sugimoto/

  2. Did you by chance see this?
    http://ajw.asahi.com/article/cool_japan/style/AJ201409010003
    alt
    Legendary sci-fi writer Sakyo Komatsu’s earliest work found in U.S. archive

    Cheers and thanks for the links
    Muda-kun

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