As the result of a recent spike in traffic, despite me not having posted anything in quite some time, I noticed, through the wonders of analytics, that a MOOC which shall remain nameless had identified me as a critic of Frenchy Lunning or, more specifically, as a critic of her conception of “the shōjo,” which I have to cop to, since the evidence for it is as plain as day. This identification also caused me to wonder whether it had anything to do with Professor Lunning putting in an appearance in the comments a full three years after the post to which she was responding had been posted, though, I suppose, it could just have been a coincidence. Contra what some may believe, I actually relish these opportunities to engage directly, because, as my response to her comment demonstrates, it provides me with the occasion and the necessary motivation to clarify and expand upon ideas that, at the time, were given short shrift or only sketched out in the most cursory ways. I often, perhaps wrongly, begin from the assumption that lengthy genealogies and philosophical underpinnings bog down and bury the lede of what I actually want to say. That said, sometimes those tedious digressions are more than necessary, as became overwhelmingly clear to me when writing a piece I only just sent off to its editor a week ago.
In that spirit, I wanted to give a rough outline of what it is I have been doing and how things will proceed in the near future. The translation work will continue at its haphazard pace, hopefully even moving beyond the rather voluminous corpora of Rakuten and Ippei, with whom I could easily waste the rest of my life, to a wider range of materials from the prewar/kindai period. But before I return to posting and commenting upon translations, I would like to take the opportunity of having been identified as an internet contrarian–I believe the technical term is “independent scholar”–to go back and cover some of that digressive material I have left by the wayside over the years, in particular prewar historical developments that might shed light on why it is I tend to approach things like gender in fundamentally different ways from those who are my… colleagues? I feel rather uneasy using that word, because, though I am not opposed in any way to behaving in a collegial manner, the relationship I have established with my scholarly peers hardly seems to amount to a collegium.
What I have planned for the coming weeks follows roughly along these lines:
- A historical background on Japanese feminism in the first half of the twentieth century as well as a then novel form of iconography representative of women and girls that has persisted into the present
- A close, interpolated reading of Lunning’s “Under the Ruffles” essay (with reference to her subsequent book) that builds upon the points laid out in item 1 in order to show the remarkable paucity of her purely discursive/Kristevan reading of “the shōjo”
- A similarly interpolated critique of Saitō’s Beautiful Fighting Girl, one, to make the point that the circuity of this discursive approach is not limited to Lunning but rather reflects a larger problem inherent in theorizing media girls in mostly objective terms, and, two, to show how such ahistorical thinking creates more problems than it solves
- A mostly unrelated critique of Hillary Chute’s chapter on Nakazawa Keiji in Disaster Drawn, this time with a mind to the absolute limits of working on Japanese materials from an entirely Anglophone scholarly perspective
So, there you have it. For the foreseeable future, I will continue to be my best worst self, picking fights by answering questions no one has even bothered to ask. This, it seems, is what people most want from me, especially given how just this year I was asked on three separate occasions by three entirely unconnected individuals to write a polemical takedown of some scholar’s recent output. Over lunch yesterday, I pointed out to a close friend of mine that I do not particularly enjoy being this best worst me, that one of the reasons why I became so involved in the MFA in Translation program at Iowa was that it provided me the opportunity to use my critical faculties so as to help people rather than tear them down. This I have done for two years now entirely without remuneration, because the pleasure of being in the company of a diverse group of people from all walks of life and helping them grow as translators has been a joy in and of itself. “Independent scholarship,” on the other hand, has been a bit of a slog over the years, unrewarding financially as well as spiritually–and that’s before we get into the issue of people harassing my spouse at professional conferences simply over things I have said on the Internet.
Yet, my friend made a good point, one that I may not have wanted to hear but nevertheless needed to. He noted that, as often as not, academics especially keep quiet, not because they are not thinking similarly unkind thoughts, but because they know all too well that giving voice even to perfectly valid criticism could easily lose them their job or generate a rather icy reception to the work they need to get published in order to maintain their professional status. I, however, have no real dependence upon that system of patronage and so, despite the hardships–which are very real, by the way; just try doing archival research on your own dime sometime–I am free to say what I think, how I think it, without needing to worry whether it will ruin me. For Janis Joplin understood that “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” As I say above, though, being that guy gives me no pleasure, even if something something about heroes deserved and/or needed.
Another important takeaway from that lunch meeting, besides the bread, was that I am never going to get the people who really ought to read what I have to say to do so until it appears in codex form with “University of Wherever Press” stamped on the spine, until it is catalogued and shelved by only the finest research institutions the First World has to offer. Apparently, you are not somebody until your name appears in WorldCat. So, with that in mind, I am going to be working on another book project better suited to academic publishing, that takes as its premise that period in manga history Paul Gravett did not seem to think mattered all that much, namely the 60 or so years that preceded the end of WWII. What I hope to show, in more overwrought and deferential prose, is something that should have been apparent to any reader of this blog over the course of its several years of existence, that much of what one sees in the kindai era persists into the present and that uncovering this manga repressed is not only worthwhile but key to unraveling a number of critical oversights.
For now, though, you will have to be content with cantankerous old me lobbing hand grenades into the darkness. Hopefully, I will be able to get this out of my system and go back to working on translations.