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Some places are naturally good at recognizing what they lack; others are oblivious. Japan turns out to be extraordinarily good. Most important of all is that in comparison with history, clima- - tology fudogaku is the superior discipline for realizing and overcoming limits, with both the realizing and the overcoming completely self-initi- ated.
Weaknesses merging with strengths to produce overcoming is a dia- lectical movement, and Climate does proceed this way implicitly, from the Middle East as thesis to Europe as antithesis and Asia as synthesis. What interests Watsuji about the desert is its climatically induced im- perialism. Oneness being the key to success, the desert god requires absolute submission. Thus Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all variants of a culture formed out of both aggression, against nature, and submission, to God.
Yet be- cause they are so preeminently reasonable, Europeans are fully cognizant of their own agony and, historically, were ready to embrace the aggres- sive elements of the desert when Christianity offered them the chance. In places like India and Southeast Asia, he says, annual mon- soons must be met with resignation despite staggering humidity and wilt- ing heat, for without the moisture there would be no life.
The crucial difference for Japan is that its monsoons take place in a temperate climate. For him it is proof that the same moisture that makes the rest of Asia passive makes Japan lithe. According to Watsuji, this constant stretching to the outer reaches of endurance pro- duces a populace keenly attuned to its cultural limits. Climate serves as a kind of inoculation against history. Similarly, modern Japanese imperialism is not undertaken as a late entry into the global race for colonial wealth and dip- lomatic leverage.
Addressing the problems of Christianity, Western science, and a host of other interlopers, Climate simply recasts them as invited guests. Here, however, no attempt is made to camouflage the narrowly modern parameters of this mode of historicism. It may be that the fatigue affects us mentally, convincing us that we have acted dis- gracefully, with gloom and passivity the result.
Or it may be that our heads start out stuffed with traditional thoughts of love and sex as vulgar, so that, conversely, it is our melancholy mind that influences the flesh. In any case, it is clear that we are a race of people unable to withstand the more vigorous carnal pleasures. According to them, Japanese have much weaker desire than foreign- ers.
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He asks, Are Japanese men feeble on account of their race jinshu or on account of their - Either answer would allow for a properly timeless, un- tradition dento? Japanese men are feeble on account, quite literally, of prostitutes at international port cities.
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These are the women whom modern capitalism has positioned in the most strategic places for judging Japanese men against their global competi- tors. Accordingly, they are the ones who know. Words like beto beto sticky , nura nura slippery , jime jime soggy , and poya poya clammy drip onto his pages in a fit of sweaty exertion. Not only is his Japan not exempt from the tropical humidity that Watsuji says sinks the rest of Asia into languor, but it is even more resigned and passive, sexually, than its Asian neighbors.
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In deadpan application of the climatological method, the essay ex- amines two purportedly unique and interrelated geocultural properties: humidity and the physical vigor for indulging carnal pleasures: One would expect people in the humid countries like India Indo - and South China Minami Shina to be even less hearty in such pursuits, but somehow this does not seem to be the case.
They eat much richer food and live in more gra- cious homes than we do, seeming to live much more lustily akudoku as a result. People in countries with rich resources can well afford it, but people like we Japanese— born to a poor island nation, active, short-tempered, proud—are fundamentally unable to imitate such zeal.
For better or worse, our country would never have stood the test of time were it not for hard work and diligence, the warrior honing his military skills, the farmer toiling in the fields, all laboring slowly, endlessly, throughout the year, without a rest. This is as true now as it was in antiquity; we are a resolutely obstinate people.
It is as if humidity forces Japan to obey a global incest taboo by which only the Western father can have the mother—or more simply, have sex, have passion, indulge completely. Unwilling to submit, they are indeed cas- trated insofar as they can never have but can only be possessions of the truly powerful.
What fascinates Tanizaki is that they enjoy themselves so lustily anyway.
Suffering Through Japanese Culturalism If the rest of Asia lives so well, how can it be that only initial abstinence brings eventual indulgence? More important, how well is Japan really liv- ing?
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As Stefan Tanaka has shown, the early s were a time when prevailing attitudes held that China was in decay, senile and lethargic, its classical cultural achievements long since passed on as inheritance to a young and vibrant Japan. Identifying itself as the modern pinnacle of the culture of the East, Japan was busy using this identity to justify its leadership within the organic whole that was Asia at large — As the only country in Asia to identify with the West, it is not the pinnacle but the nadir of a culture that carries on much more successfully, and more lustily, in its absence.
A less well-suited leader for China, or for any part of the continent, is hard to imagine. This is exactly the sort of place where it is possible to lose oneself in insatiable desire. In the evening calm of the Inland Sea, all it takes is a tiny sip of beer to turn your whole body clammy, the collar and cuffs of your cotton robe greasy, and your joints com- pletely achy, even though you are only lounging about.
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At such a time romance is really the last thing on your mind, and the very thought of marital relations fills you with deep gloom. His relation to the politics of culturalism has been widely scrutinized, perhaps most famously by Karatani Kojin - — and Nakagami Kenji in Kobayashi Hideo o koete Overcoming Kobayashi Hideo. Kobayashi would continue to edit Bungakkai Literary world , the Romantic School magazine known for its right-wing politics, from its relaunching in and well into the postwar years. What I hope to offer by reading Kobayashi alongside Tanizaki is a glimpse of the critic avoiding cultural intercourse not from indifference but from a very canny sense of fear.
Literature - Japanese History, Literature & Culture - Research Guides at Kenyon College
Ostensibly Kobayashi wants only to identify and distance himself from a culturalism he deems both straight- forward and benignly outdated. As a result they live in extraordinary peace, the likes of which no Western geijutsuka is likely to attain One way Tanizaki supports this point is by relating how, when he worked at the Taisho- Katsuei movie studio in the early s, there was no enthusiasm for making trendy U. It was said that they appealed only to urban youth, whereas the common people, the minshu, - want tragedy.
If the masses are wringing their handkerchiefs in collective grief, prostrate in tragedy, can the harsh Western superego be far from the scene? A consummate close reader, Kobayashi is probably well aware of such moments. Is this unacknowledged awareness what compels him to absent himself so resolutely? The closing lines of his essay are em- phatic in this regard: It is a fact that ours is a literature of the lost home, that we are young people who have lost our youthful innocence.
Yet we have something to redeem our loss. We have finally become able, without prejudice or distortion, to understand what is at the core of Western writing.
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With us Western literature has begun to be presented fairly and accurately. Or what might be found would prove hardly worth the search. And so Mr. It speaks simply to the fact that Tanizaki himself has chosen a certain path and matured in a certain direction. At that point he substitutes ellipses for a few sentences and jumps ahead: Our politicians are taken to task for their lack of literary sophistication, or for be- ing oblivious to what is happening in the literary world, but does the blame not lie with the literati themselves?
That is to say, these politicians are not necessarily indifferent to the literary arts. Still, their taste runs, if not to the Chinese clas- sics, then to the Japanese classics, and not at all toward modern literature. The likes of our esteemed Inukai Bokudo- hardly need mentioning, while even a boor like Mr. Hamaguchi Osachi is said to have loved reciting the Hekigan roku. Former Prime Minister Wakatsuki is always tinkering with his latest attempt at Chinese poetry, and surely there are many others in the cushy post of elder statesman who pass their days absorbed in reading.
Still, their taste runs, if not to the Chinese classics, then to the Japanese classics, and not at all toward modern literature.
Ostensibly such books, available only in the form of Japanese and Chinese classics, are exactly what Inukai, Hamaguchi, and Wakatsuki en- joy. By omitting the names of the three politicians, Kobayashi has merely cut some examples to streamline an already long quotation. Prime Minister Hamaguchi Osachi — , however, was long dead by May , when Kobayashi published his review of Tanizaki.
For his opposition to hard-line nationalists Hamaguchi had been shot by a right-wing youth late in He turned control of his cabinet and party over to Wakatsuki Reijiro- — and died of his wounds in August Declining confidence in the Diet prevented Wakatsuki from taking strong punitive measures against those who carried out the Manchurian Incident on September 18 of that year, and his cabinet re- signed in December.
Inukai would have been in his grave for only eleven months, with the an- niversary of his death about to be observed by a public no doubt still in shock over its violence. Three men more in need of the comfort and soulful sustenance of gei are hard to imagine! Interestingly, the dead statesmen are not the only ones identified as the sort of elder Japanese who yearn to spend their days in the comfort of the classics; a fourth figure is included in this set.
Although on the surface the writing is mild and vague, what he says is very definite.