Performance of East-West Discourses in Tanizaki's "In Praise of Shadows"


When Edward Said sent shock waves through the academic world by adding “-ize” to the word “Oriental,” writers and scholars everywhere were forced for the first time to think long and hard about the way they represent “the other” (i.e., non-Westerners). No one wanted to be branded with the new label of “Orientalist.” But what Said failed to identify in his study (in his defense, it was beyond the scope of what he set out to do) was Orientalism’s mirror phenomenon, Occidentalism: the East’s construction(s) of the West and, by extension, itself.

With the discovery of this new phenomenon, critics of Said were free again to voice their objections to his ideas — why worry about being called an Orientalist, they asked, when Orientals have been orientalizing themselves all along? As recent scholarship has shown, many of the stereotypes Said viewed as creations of the Western imperial imagination seem to have been, in fact, jointly created. Alastair Bonnett takes it one step further in his The Idea of the West: Politics, Culture and History (2004) and argues that the notions of both “East” and “West” may largely have been inventions of non-Westerners themselves. The case of writer Tanizaki Jun’ichirō (谷崎潤一郎) (1886-1965) can be seen as further evidence in support of Bonnett’s argument. Tanizaki’s famous essay “In Praise of Shadows「陰翳礼讃」 (1933; translated by Edward Seidensticker in 1977) is an excellent example of Tanizaki performing, and ultimately subverting, the two major East-West discourses.

Before I address Tanizaki’s essay, let me first identify the two major East-West discourses of the day. The first saw Asia as inherently inferior, backward, and existing outside human history, while the West was seen as a beacon of light at history’s center. This mode of discourse was exemplified by Fukuzawa Yukichi 福澤諭吉 (1835-1901), who promoted a Western-style nationalist agenda that sought to position Japan toward the West and away from Asia and its negative stereotypes. Fukuzawa’s ultimate goal was not to imitate and join the West for its own sake, however, but rather to become independent and autonomous from it. The only way this was possible, he argued, was through the creation of a modern nation-state.

Fukuzawa helped create and propagate many of the Orientalist stereotypes about the East, as evidenced by his many disparaging remarks about Asian, and particularly, Japanese culture, which he saw as backward, passive, and weak. He was especially critical of the Chinese influence on Japanese culture, which he held as responsible for Japan’s low international status at the time. He saw a “static and passive” China to be representative of Asia as a whole and urged Japan to move away from the lagging East in order to fulfill its “new destiny.” In his essay “Good-bye Asia” 「脱亜論」 (1885), he urges the Japanese to shed their passive “Asiatic” traits and abandon “our bad [Asian] friends,” so that they may advance through the creation of a modern, Westernized nation-state.

Although a fervent nationalist, Fukuzawa ended up “deploy[ing] a form of Orientalism in which Asia [was] cast as a separate and primitive realm, to be distinguished from both the West and their own nations. […] Rather than importing or translating a ready-made idea of the West, Fukuzawa actively fashioned a certain representation of the West to suit his own (and, in large measure, his social class’) particular political ambitions” (Bonnett, 70). Again, the driving factor behind Fukuzawa’s push to westernize was the desire to stave off subjugation. In this sense, like Tanizaki in “In Praise of Shadows,” Fukuzawa can be seen as consciously manipulating East-West representations for particular ends.

This first discourse eventually evolved into a counter-discourse that reconfigured the East in terms of spiritual purity and the West in terms of materialism and moral decay. Japan’s jingoistic and racist rhetoric of the 1930s drew from both the Fukuzawan discourse and the counter-discourse, merging them into a single anti-Western Occidentalism that served to bolster the justification for the Greater East Asian War (大東亜戦争). This counter-discourse was exemplified by Okakura Kakuzō 岡倉覚三 (1862-1913), a Japanese scholar who was instrumental in propagating the view of Asia “as a space of spirituality” (80). Tanizaki’s “In Praise of Shadows” can be seen partly as a parody of Okakura’s writings, most notably The Ideals of the East 『東洋の理想』 (1904) and The Book of Tea茶の本』 (1906). Okakura argued that Easterners were innately concerned with the Ultimate and Universal, while Westerners cared only for Particulars — a very dubious claim given that Confucianism tends to be an anti-Idealist and pragmatic philosophy. His notion of an Asia unified under the banner of “spiritualism” too was hard to swallow for those who saw India, Japan, and China as historically and culturally distinct entities.

The case of Okakura is one of the many examples of self-orientalization that challenge the notion that “Asian spirituality” was “essentially a Western idea.” Rather, the Asia-as-spirit concept was manufactured first by modern Asians, within the discourse of various projects of modernization (Bonnett, 96). “Asia is better understood,” Bonnett writes, “to have been created, re-invented and re-valued by Asians themselves” (81).

It is these two East-West discourses that Tanizaki subverts by employing a self-orientalizing first-person narrator to ruminate on the subject of “Eastern aesthetics.” His central argument in “In Praise of Shadows” is that the East — though it has recently lost its way — has traditionally valued shadows over the glaring lights that boorish Westerners so admire.

Whenever I see the alcove of a tastefully built Japanese room, I marvel at our comprehension of the secrets of shadows, our sensitive use of shadow and light. […] The ‘mysterious Orient’ of which Westerners speak probably refers to the uncanny silence of these dark places. And even we as children would feel an inexpressible chill as we peered into the depths of an alcove to which the sunlight had never penetrated. Where lies the key to this mystery? Ultimately it is the magic of shadows. (20)

According to the narrator, evidence for the Eastern man’s innate love of shadows can be seen in numerous places: traditional architecture, washitsu rooms with their dark alcoves, the dark, earthy beauty of the noh theater, the inconvenient yet aesthetically satisfying toilet facilities and appliances, ink brushes, Chinese paper, lacquerware, and the lovely “grime” of Eastern jewelry. Japanese food also utilizes contrasts of light and is thus “to be looked at” and “meditated on” rather than eaten. The female puppets of bunraku too — with their blackened teeth and stock figures and faces that can be barely seen amid the shadows — suggest that beauty is not a thing in itself, but rather “the pattern of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates” (a notion altogether different from Aquinas’s “radiance, harmony, and wholeness,” which he held to be the three requisites of beauty). Nor are shadows limited to the spatial world, for the pauses (ma) that are so important in traditional Japanese music are in a way temporal shadows.

Why this love of darkness? Tanizaki’s narrator explains:

In my opinion it is this: we Orientals tend to seek our satisfactions in whatever surroundings we happen to find ourselves, to content ourselves with things as they are; and so darkness causes us no discontent, we resign ourselves to it as inevitable. If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty. But the progressive Westerner is determined always to better his lot. From candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light — his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow.

What are we, the readers, to make of all this? Traditionally, there have been two ways of reading “In Praise of Shadows.” The first is what I call the “nescient reading,” which is the out-dated, once-conventional interpretation that professors today try to steer their students away from. According to this reading, Tanizaki’s “essay” (the word “essay” is not an entirely appropriate translation for the Japanese literary genre of zuihitsu 随筆, which typically allows for more fictive elements) is naively read as the author’s treatise on a dubiously broad and ahistorical “Eastern aesthetics,” and the points presented in the text are all taken at face value. What the careful reader notices as satire (e.g., when the narrator, echoing the fascist propaganda of the 1930s, extols the “superiority of the Japanese toilet”) is missed by the nescient reader, who unquestioningly accepts the assumptions of the two Orientalist/Occidentalist discourses (“dark East” versus “bright West”; “spiritual East” versus “material West”). Today, very few read “In Praise of Shadows” in this way, and I venture to guess that those who do are in Japan where there is still a market for this sort of self-orientalizing.

The second reading is the “ironic reading,” which sees the work as Tanizaki’s satire of the described East-West discourses of the day. This way of reading the work paints Tanizaki — who was not known for his resistance to the war — as a principled critic who defiantly mocks his age from behind the mask of his narrator. Readers from this camp put great emphasis on distinguishing the narrator from the author himself and insist that Tanizaki believed very little, if any, of the points articulated by his narrator. Instead, they argue, Tanizaki uses the narrator only as a prop to undermine the very rhetoric espoused in the essay.

But to Tanizaki’s credit, neither the “nescient” nor the “ironic” reading is wholly sufficient by itself. While certain sections are obviously intended to be humorous, the work seems to be hinting at something more than strict parody, and the way the work simultaneously demands multiple interpretations is a testament to its resilience. Tanizaki anticipates both the “ironic” and the “nescient” readings, and navigates carefully between the two. In the end, his readers are not sure whether to take the work as a parody of Orientalism/Occidentalism or as an Orientalist aesthetic treatise; and it is this resulting confusion that attests to Tanizaki’s ability to transcend ideology. For on the one hand, it is hard to say that Tanizaki is entirely insincere — a glance at his body of work shows that he later employs much of what he advocates in the essay. In his A Style Reader文章読本』 (1934), too, he talks about the importance of “shadows” and obfuscation in literature: 「余りはっきりさせようとせぬこと」. Moreover, it is hard to believe that his entire “return to Japan” (「日本への回帰」) phase was mere farce. On the other hand, it would be equally difficult to argue that “In Praise of Shadows” should not be read, at least in part, as a satire on the essentialist claims of Orientalism and its mirror, Occidentalism.

In the end, Tanizaki leaves his readers in a state of aporia — irresolvable paradox — which is perhaps the ultimate aim of art. The best we can do at this point is to accept the work as a kind of half-parodic, half-sincere monologue that performs all of the discourses mentioned above without advocating (explicitly or implicitly) for any of them. Thus, the case of “In Praise of Shadows” presents a challenge to Said’s argument that Westerners are to blame for the East-as-shadow/East-as-spirit stereotypes and lends further credence to Bonnett’s theory that it was the non-Western world that willfully invented and manipulated ideas about East and West for political — and aesthetic — ends.

Works Consulted

Bonnett, Alastair. The Idea of the West: Culture, Politics and History. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Tanizaki, Jun’ichirō. In Praise of Shadows. Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker, foreword by Charles Moore, afterword by Thomas J. Harper. Leete’s Island Books, c1977. Originally published in 1933.

谷崎潤一郎.『陰翳礼讃』. 東京: 中央公論社, 1995. 初出版 1933.

谷崎潤一郎.『文章読本』.東京: 中央公論社, 1996.

June 19, 2008

Ryan Morrison grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and went to school in California. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Tokyo. His blog is Beholdmyswarthyface.

31 Responses

  1. Aceface Says:

    A Keio grad here.

    “He was especially critical of the Chinese influence on Japanese culture, which he held as responsible for Japan’s low international status at the time.”

    He didn’t just attacked “Chinese influence on Japanese culture” but feudal thoughts legitimized by neo-confucianists.If you are applying our value standard to the thought of the era,I think better comparison would be how East Europeans rejecting Stalinism as negative Soviet influence upon their society.

    “He saw a “static and passive” China to be representative of Asia as a whole and urged Japan to move away from the lagging East in order to fulfill its “new destiny.” In his essay “Good-bye Asia” 「脱亜論」 (1885), he urges the Japanese to shed their passive “Asiatic” traits and abandon “our bad [Asian] friends,” so that they may advance through the creation of a modern, Westernized nation-state. ”

    Did you know that “Good bye Asia” may not even written by Fukuzawa himself?

    It was marely an anonimous editorial on 時事新報,a paper owned by Fukuzawa and only cosidered because it was included in collected works of Fukuzawa Yukichi in 1933 randomly along with other editorials on Jiji Shinpo.

  2. James Says:

    I think your conclusion accurately captures the spirit of the work.

    Looking forward to more posts.

  3. Leonardo Boiko Says:

    I don’t want to be an Orientalist, but as long as I claim to “love Japanese culture” I kind of have no alternative but being one. So that half-parodic, tongue-in-cheek state of mind is the only possible synthesis.

    As for Tanizaki, call me nescient, but I confess I’m enticed by the idea of (literal) shadows in Japanese æsthetics. Like he points out, I find lacquerware does look better in half-light… :3

  4. Kiliman Says:

    Though certainly many a reader – Western and Japanese alike – has inadvertently ended up taking “In Praise of Shadows” at face value (remember the famous architect-anecdote), I have never heard of anyone who reads the work as all irony.
    Nor do I believe that Tanizaki, who famously asserted to be interested solely in aesthetics and pleasure, and not in the least in politics, would be deliberately satirizing “the essentialist claims of Orientalism and its mirror, Occidentalism.”
    “In Praise of Shadows” should obviously – at least to a certain extent – be read as a piece of fiction, but I think that rather than parody, Tanizaki employs exaggeration and hyperbole as narrative strategies.
    As you pointed out, the aesthetic visions he describes likely are his own essentially, but what he did was to greatly magnify and embellish them, in order to capture the readers’ interest and make the work an amusing, fascinating, and – above all – artistic zuihitsu, instead of a dry but truthful essay.
    If anything, he is parodying himself, and not any existing essentialist, ‘Orientalist’ aesthetic theory.

    “Tanizaki — who was not known for his resistance to the war”-
    Who was, but an exceedingly limited few?
    He was known, conversely (and unlike the countless Japanese writers that did contribute to the propaganda machine), for his utter neglect of anything that had to do with the war, retrieting with 『細雪』 (“The Makioka Sisters”) into reminscences of an idyllic and pleasurable pre-war Japan.

  5. James Says:


    Perhaps Tanizaki was not interested in politics, but he often satirized society, at least certain aspects of it. While I’m not going to claim having any extraordinary insight to the social climate of the 1930s Japan, I don’t think it would be far-fetched to say Orientalism and Occidentalism hadn’t found their way into social discourse, if by influence on perspectives rather than deliberate assertion.

    Also, I’m not sure how you can reconcile referring to In Praise of Shadows a work of fiction, then assuming it is a parody of the author rather than the narrator. Tanizaki has often employed an unreliable narrator in his works.

    And last, the setting for Makioka Sisters was *during the war* as far as Japan was concerned. There are subtle references to the war throughout the work. Perhaps it does reminisce of pre-war Japan, but only indirectly. The work centers around an aristocratic family whose prestige and fortune is in decline, foreboding the shape of things to come.

  6. Kiliman Says:


    I certainly believe that Japan of the 1930s saw many strains of Orientalist/Occidentalist discourse, and you are right that Tanizaki did satirize aspects of Japanese society more than once, but nevertheless I find it very hard to read “In Praise of Shadows” as a social critique or parody (not in the least because no one seems to have been “praising shadows” in a way that even remotely resembles Tanizaki’s).

    And yes indeed, the setting of “The Makioka Sisters” was wartime Japan, but that the war is nonetheless only subtly referred to proves what I wanted to say: that Tanizaki did all he could to ignore it. As you probably know, there was nothing that Tanizaki hated more that the military, so I just wanted to object to Ryan’s insinuation that Tanizaki was in favor of Japan’s imperialistic war.

  7. Janice Says:

    Reading this was pure joy! If not for the political interpretations I think the East and West are sometimes closer in theroy if left up to the artists as is evident in this quote, “. . .Bonnett’s theory that it was the non-Western world that willfully invented and manipulated ideas about East and West for political — and aesthetic — ends.”

  8. j echo Says:

    To be blunt: your essay is making a very dangerous claim and comes off as some academia-light counter-punch.

    I have not read Bonnett, but in your presentation of him, he completely evacuates the actual social and economic imbalance between the “west” and the “orient” that conjoins with discourses of otherness — an in doing so, evacuates all political ethicality. Is his argument simply some come-uppance against Said, as though that exonerates the entire discourse of Orientalism as practiced in the west? A “they did it first so what we do is okay”?

    Moreover, the application of Said must be done with a number of qualifications, not just because for Said the “Orient” primarily pointed to the middle east. First, discourses of otherness have *always* existed in major civilizations. Said’s revolutionary interjection was not simply to point out the constructed nature of Self/Other. He pointed out the political, military, and social ramifications of such discourses as they played out in specific historical situations. It is not simply that western politicians, writers, artists, etc circulated certain stereotypes that became legitimated in discourse; it is that those stereotypes framed an entire world view, entire colonial administrative systems, etc.

    You yourself point out that self-orientalizing discourses consciously aligned with the discourse of western univesalism. Fukuzawa, Tanizaki and friends did not elaborate on prototypical Nihonjinron in some bubble; they were specifically responding to the dominant challenge presented by the discourse of western universalism in a moment of competing colonialisms! Thus, I do not understand the value in pointing out self-orientalizing practices. We are all already familiar with the pitfalls and problems of nihonjinron. This does not erase the problem of orientalism.

    Moreover, Japan has always been situated ambivalently in Asia. Fukuzawa would not have considered Japan to be “Asian” at all and in fact, even today, you see traces of this “middle tier” persona. Japan is “almost white, but not quite.” Have we also forgotten that Japan colonized much of the Pacific in a bid to challenge western universalism? To that Bonnett is ridiculous in conflating “Asia” as one (an ironic move in an essay on orientalist stereotypes):
    “Asia is better understood,” Bonnett writes, “to have been created, re-invented and re-valued by Asians themselves” (81).

    Finally, your claim that art can “transcend” ideology is either incompletely explained or perhaps a simplistic understanding of ideology. Yes, I am being mean and snotty here but, what kind of claim is that? That is the lazy and romantic belief that the human subject (esp the lionized artist) somehow exists prior to, above, or free from his/her society.

  9. Ryan Says:

    I’m glad I could spark such a lively discussion. Aceface, thanks for pointing that out about Fukuzawa’s possibly not being the real author of “Good-bye Asia.” I’ve actually heard that theory before, but I’ll have to look into it some more.

    And Leonardo, you brought up an interesting point: that no matter how hard we non-Easterners try to avoid being “Orientalists,” ultimately we are only capable of seeing things through an Orientalist perspective. And sometimes it is the most self-consciously “non-Orientalist” Westerner who, in reality, does the most Orientalizing.

    And as for Tanizaki, I think his claim to “not be interested in politics” must be taken with a grain of salt. There is a sort of unconscious politics to all his works. His “Nihon e no kaiki” phase itself was certainly a self-conscious political move. Sasame yuki (or, The Makioka Sisters) is a political novel, and so is Chijin no ai (or, Naomi), as well as his historical novels. The question is not were his works political, but what are the politics of these works? That would take a while to address, so I’ll that question aside for another next article.

    Also, one point about Tanizaki not participating in pro-war propaganda: it’s simply not true. He gave a famous radio broadcast at the fall of the Philipines. His Nihon e no kaiki phase was and is seen by many as a form of capitulation.

    You are right, however, in pointing out that, on the whole, he despised the military, and that he was not as active in propoganda as other writers– say, Kobayashi Hideo or Shiga Naoya.

    And, Kiliman, if you still don’t think “In Praise of Shadows” can be read, at least in part, as parody, go back and read the second section of the essay. I think that, like those weird optical illusion patterns, if you stare at it long enough something previously unseen will begin to emerge.

    And Janice, I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  10. j echo Says:

    Maybe I was too mean to get a shout out from the author…Let me rephrase.

    1. In your presentation of Bonnett, the man came off as another manifestation of the idiot Ian Buruma. Perhaps this is incorrect. But, in any case, I don’t see why you need Bonnett to elaborate on Tanizaki. The reason being…

    2. The Japan vs “the West” obsession (still a favorite among western Japanologists) consistently obscures a very basic fact. Japan and “the west” (usually the US and W Europe) were the most powerful, richest nations in the 20th century. After both world wars, they were…still, the most powerful and richest nations in the world.

    If we’re going to touch on questions of representation and power and PEOPLE, shouldn’t we consider the rest of Asia: an amalgamation of different countries and cultures utterly ravaged by the practices of the above group?

    Even as postcolonial studies have been jumpstarted by Said way back in the 1970s, very few Asia studies scholars have attempted to apply the critique here. The study only attends to Japan as exotic other in the eyes of the West. And while this was an important critique, it has stalled here. Perhaps the tendency stems from the post-nuclear romance of Japan as only a victim and never an aggressor. Maybe it also stems from the area-studies model of a focus on the nation-state only.

    3. Close reading and textual analysis are always key. But towards what claim could you apply those analyses? To Tanizaki the great writer, as one who offered, er, well, no position on the discourses of Otherness?

    This is the ethical lapse I see in this odd close-reading of Tanizaki – an essay that, despite efforts to incorporate some theoretical misgivings, ultimately recenters one of the canonical great men and even seems to congratulate him on his ambivalence. Is this deconstruction gone wrong? I tire of conservative literary studies.

  11. W. David MARX Says:

    ”the rest of Asia”

    There’s a rest of Asia?

  12. ryan Says:

    J Echo,
    Thanks for the challenging response. For some reason, your comment hadn’t been posted when I replied to the other responses.
    Let me digest what you have to say, and I’ll get back to you. I get the feeling, however, that you’re misunderstanding Bonnett’s argument, which is by no means an attack on Said. If anything, it builds on Said’s concept of Orientalism, adding a new dimension to it. For a better summary of the book, see my (somewhat scattered) notes posted here:

    Again, I’ll get back to you on your other points.

  13. mozu Says:

    j echo,

    You can not exclude and differenciate Japan from “a rest of Asia”. You will find similar phenomena modern Japan has been experiencing in “a rest of Asia”. They have their own versions of Westernisationalism, Nativism and Asianism. They have their own versions of Nihonjinron. The “modernisation” process of non-western countries accompanies similar pains and ideological conflicts. If you think that japan is “almost white, but not quite,” this is simply wrong assumption. And it sounds even insulting at least for me.

  14. James Says:


    Ryan’s conclusion is that neither a face-value or ironic reading of In Praise of Shadows is complete unto itself. Rather, the work is a kind of meta-representation of the discourse at the time, but beyond that it stands as a work of art that transcends these ideologies. Within this context, if you’re arguing that any suggestion of an ironic reading is unwarranted I simply have to disagree. And if I understand you correctly, you can find a similar example of “praising shadows” as early as 20 years prior in Soseki’s Kusamakura.

    To follow up on your second point, I don’t see where any insinuation is made that Tanizaki supported the war. The argument is that a complete ironic reading inaccurately depicts Tanizaki as an open critic against the war, which we both seem to agree he wasn’t.

  15. Chuckles Says:

    This thesis is completely implausible – and I wonder if the author has read Said. Buruma & Margalit’s Occidentalism is a load of horsecrap.

    It was not the East that needed a rhetoric to justify plunder: You ignore the central tenet of Said – that Orientalism is essentially borne out of a play of power. This point is a Foucauldian one and without it, any attempts to claim an equivalence between performances in the East versus performances in the West is ultimately futile.

    The essential trope is that of paternalism: Why is it that one finds this trope *everywhere* one encounters the imperial occident? That is, the material west versus the spiritual east is not merely a function of west – east dialectics, one finds the same replicated in material whites versus spiritual blacks; i.e., the same construction of Asians as passive and weak is replicated in the construction of Africans as passive and weak and in need of white guidance – to the point of slavery.

    Replace West with white and East with blacks and you find essentially the same dialectic.

    Was it not this dialectic that justified colonialism? It is replicated everywhere. Thus the thesis that Orientalism was largely a creation of the West’s other is dubious – even more dubious is the notion that it was jointly created. Western civilization as a literary trope does not emerge with the cogitation of those we have come to know as the West’s alters.

    V Y Mudimbe, in his thesis on alterity illuminates this point rather starkly. As one can observe from Senghor’s Negritude, the development of a spiritual Africa, i.e. Greece is Reason and Africa is Feeling was motivated by a need to legitimize what had already been ascribed. Senghor’s folly was not the creation of such an ascription, but validating it, and justifying it through Negritude discourse.

    It is the same folly that plagued the literary constructions of Japan: this essentially is cultural ventriloquy, a tactic at which the West is sans pareil – the recruitment of native voices to speak with the voice of the oppressor even when they are speaking in their own defense.

    If we find native voices replicating hegemonic discourses, surely we do an injustice to speak of co-creation: This is a Gramscian point and none the worse for it – it is not an appeal to false consciousness per se, rather it is pointing out that those who dictate the terms of perception dictate the terms of discourse: It was Whites who taxonomized the world and named the races: This was power play – not only through force, by through the literating of cultural discourses where text is flattened and reality is communicated via the pages of a book: Hence, the Christian idea of a God is revealed in flattened scriptural text and communicated to natives devoid of experience and even the idea of a Western civilization is flattened in text and communicated to natives via education in schools – a hegemonic enterprise designed to alienate, digest and assimilate the other.

    Let us have none of this cocreation business. East is East and West is West – that wasnt Tanizaki.

    What next – are we to blame Phyllis Wheatley for the emergence of Sambo?

  16. M-Bone Says:

    While I enjoyed the essay, I have to agree with Chuckles and j echo. I strongly suspect that if this was to be put through academic peer review, the two responses coming back would look very much what Chuckles and j echo have already written.

    There is a huge difference between self-essentialism and Orientalism and that difference is the power project that is mentioned above. When an Islamic fundamentalist represents Islam as one and ready to oppose `The West` with violence he is doing so with a certain type of political motive in mind. The exact same image coming from an American pundit serves to justify interventionism and domination. I would like to see you historicize this discussion by looking more at the motives behind representations. Tanizaki (and legions of Nihonjinron writers for that matter) may be interested in essentializing Japanese and others for their own purposes, but this is a very different way of orienting knowledge than, say, MacArthur`s description of `the Japanese` as a collective 12 year old – a representation that was all about the necessity of American guidance.

  17. W. David MARX Says:

    I also think Chuckles and J Echo have strong points, but I am bothered again with what I see as a serious detriment to this entire endeavor, the idea that all the “smart guys” have to stay anonymous in order to bestow criticism.

    I don’t want to slag the entire academic world, but I am always amazed about how many great thinkers there are out there who refuse to take credit for their ideas online, out of, what I am guessing, is occupational fear. As it is, Neojaponisme isn’t a forum where we can “share ideas” – this is a place where non-academics write and academics behind the protection of anonymity criticize them. The world would be better off with blogs from Chuckles, J Echo, and M-Bone, but I guess those who have the information can’t be seen giving it away. Really, how much courage is required to stand by what is being said here with a real name?

  18. M-Bone Says:

    On blogs – I`m not sure that it is occupational fear but it is certainly occupational – when we publish something new, it is expected that we will not have published something similar before. As a result, academics tend not to blog their better ideas. For example, I`m working on an article now that I have been thinking about for three years. In order for me to get credit for it as a part of my job, I HAVE to publish it in a peer-reviewed academic journal. In any case, we certainly don`t get paid for those articles (you could say that our universities pay us a salary partly based on the expectation that we will produce them) and do give them away to public consumption eventually (and I`m 100% behind free online academic jouranls). Also, this is by no means an academic only thing – Patrick Macias, for example, saves most of his best stuff for publication.

    On anonymous posting – I became aware of Neomarxisme after seeing a Marxy post on Mutantfrog. It is no secret that some posters like I, Aceface, Adam, etc. comment on a bunch of different blogs and bring understandings of the positions of others into discussions that are often unrelated. Often, my decision to post or not will be how many `familiar faces` are involved. As a result, the same username is useful. Sometimes I like to post trash talk about an Alex Kerr or KTGreenfield or an Ian Buruma so I also think that remaining anonymous is useful. As academics, we also go through a couple of hundred students a year and some of them will Google us. Since I will say certain things on blogs that I would not say in the classroom, it is useful to keep the online activity anonymous. In essence, there may be some `fear` (more worry) involved but academics are quite a bit more vulnerable online than non-academics.

    On Criticism – The way I look at it is that criticism, to a certain degree, should be taken as a form of flattery. My posting here should be taken as an indication that I find the find the content interesting and feel like engaging. There are no `M-Bone` posts on Japundit. Here, there is a sharing of ideas going on. Also, it is commonly acknowledged that 99% of everything posted on the net is critical (or in the form of counterpoint). In the case of this blog, it shows that I saw something that got me fired up enough to post. The `praise` (I also try to be explicit, I wrote `excellent post` over on the Dave Barry thing before I saw your response here) is really in the traffic and the number of discussion posts that you pull in, right?

  19. W. David MARX Says:

    I also think that remaining anonymous is useful

    Anonymity is also useful for making death threats.

    There are no `M-Bone` posts on Japundit.

    I am always grateful that great minds show up to parse the posts, but my frustration is that there will always be a wall between “a broad audience who is happy to learn accurate information about Japan” and those academics who can probably provide that information. Neojaponisme will never be able to be an academic-level print publication, but I hope to introduce a lot of the better academic stuff to audiences who wouldn’t think to look at academia.

  20. Aceface Says:

    “Anonymity is also useful for making death threats.”

    But that’s the exact reason why I keep my anonymity!

    And that is the reason why I try to make contact to people who have blogs that I post hundred times in one week.Giving them my namecard and cellular phone number directly makes me feel less guilty about hiding in anonymity.
    Also I need to have my superior’s authorization to write anything,either that is online or offline,and being anonymous helps.

    Anyway,in my view,people less trust facts presented by anonymous,especially from the dude who writes in bad English.

    And about “Japundit”.
    Personally I think the blog should be included in “What White People Like”lists.And I’m no white guy.

  21. Aceface Says:

    Trying to put the topic back,I think I’ve read an article on Tanizaki a few years ago,that a letter was found and Tanizaki was boosting the morale of the soldier heading to the frontline in China there.
    Any of you know about this?

  22. M-Bone Says:

    `Anonymity is also useful for making death threats.`

    I think that I actually threatened to kill some jouralist or other over on Mutantfrog one time.

    `Neojaponisme will never be able to be an academic-level print publication`

    Nor should it be. I`m happy to see Neojaponisme as more of a replacement for the type of stuff that we see on the NYT. So you guys are better than the NYT, AP, etc. on Japan by far and different than an academic jouranl. In any case, I don`t think that what I have to say in these comments is necessarily better or more insightful than what you guys have to say just different (and not necessarily academic all of the time either – that Macross thing was pure nerd on my part). It is great to have forums for all sorts of different points of view. I actually tell students who ask about Japanese fashion or music to read Neojaponisme, BTW. I don`t give much better compliments than that.

    One last point – this particular essay did invite an academic response by taking an academic structure.

  23. j echo Says:

    So late to the party.

    I do not blog for some of the reasons provided by M-bone. But, I have always disliked academic name dropping, the posturing that we have to do, and the anxious flurry of name googling (you know we all do it) when we try to pick apart an author. Would you read my comments differently if my name was HD Harootunian? If I was an unknown or a graduate student? What if I was a man in his 50s? Or if I was a young woman? The anonymity of the internet helps to temper some prejudices (mine and others). That being said, I do enjoy neo-J and neo-M for the variety of topics and voices here.

    But mostly, it is quite a bit of work in an already hectic life. Who’d want to read a blog updated twice a year?

  24. j echo Says:

    re: mozu

    Perhaps my position was not clear. I am not detaching Japan from Asia. Rather, as we’ve been posting, “Asia” is less a geographical based reality of some shared culture, race, or whathaveyou than a discursive construction specifically created under a moment of imbalanced world power. Japan has almost ALWAYS been positioned ambivalently within the idea of “Asia.”

    Under Japan’s empire, the concept of “Asia” was taken up as an elaboration and expansion of the growing kokugaku studies field. It is at this moment that the modern notion of “we Japanese” as better than the rest of “Asia” was firmly established. “We” might all be “Asian” but, “we JAPANESE” must lead the filthy unenlightened masses.

    Moreover, Japan was also discursively and materially privileged by Western scholars – especially during the Cold War. Again, we see that “Japan” is positioned as different, special, a rare ally in a sea of Asian communists.

    Even by the 1990s, when Japan suddenly found itself in an Asian culturalist boom, do we see this sentiment. “Japan” is now proudly Asian again…but, you also see a recycled discourse of Japanese leadership, superiority, advancement that is an interesting throwback to the sort of lines thrown about under the Greater East-Asia Co-P Sphere.

    “The “modernisation” process of non-western countries accompanies similar pains and ideological conflicts.”

    I will not deign to respond to this throw-back to the “belated modernity” thesis.

  25. W. David MARX Says:

    But mostly, it is quite a bit of work in an already hectic life.

    Tell me about it. I write three other blogs, freelance articles, plus have a job and family and hobbies. It’s not just academics who are busy.

  26. Royall Tyler Says:

    When you have armchair Japanologists posting wannabe academic articles on
    self-aggrandizing websites, it is not surprising that bonafide academics cannot help but jump in to correct the
    plethora of erroneous notions.

  27. W. David MARX Says:

    Royall Tyler!

  28. Chuckles Says:

    Come on Marxy, take it easy. This is one of the reasons why your blog is so hip. A nice mixture of formal and informal.

    But seriously, Royall Tyler?

  29. Ryan's Former Professor Says:

    In general I agree with your thesis. Thanks for alerting me to the article. A few minor comments: (a) Instead of saying Said added “ize”, I’d say he redefined “Orientalism,” a term that had been around for a long time. (b) You should give credit to Thomas Harper for his role in completing Seidensticker’s translation in 1977. (c) By 1933 the “East” and “West” myths were long established. TJ certainly manipulated them, but it would be hard to show that he had a role in creating them. Naomi and Some Prefer Nettles show beyond a doubt that he realized “East” and “West” are social constructs. In the latter he even cites the phrase 元来無東西, which couldn’t be any more clear. (d) The Sino-Japanese terms 東洋 and 西洋 obviously being translations of Orient and Occident, it seems obvious to me that Japanese writers were adopting a Western construct–which they then manipulated and embroidered. (e) I think it’s unfair to say that TJ was not noted for his opposition to the war. Overt opposition wasn’t an option; but he continued writing 細雪, with its subversive messages, despite suppression and threats of worse from the government, and never actively supported the war. Even his little piece on the fall of Singapore has been read as ironic.
    My reading of “Shadows” is that it all comes down the the last page–it is, in short, a treatise on literature, in which he takes a typically anti-Naturalist, anti-confessional stance.

  30. Asian History Carnival, Part III–The Grand Finale | Jottings from the Granite Studio Says:

    […] What’s an Asian History Carnival without the token Orientalism post? Ryan Morrison at Neojaponism rethinks Said with a little help from Junichiro Tanizaki in “Performance of East West Discourses in Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows.” […]

  31. Inst Says:

    Just want to point out the obvious here…

    First, I haven’t finished IPOS, but I’m about halfway through. I notice Tanizaki complaining about the newfound preference towards wasteful use of electric light, and the increasing proliferation of neon signs. For me, the obliteration of the shadow aesthetic, is a type of obliteration of history. Reading his description of the patina accumulating on tin dishware suggests the accumulation of history, as does his description of the toilet room. If you really want to be paranoid and see things that aren’t there, you could say that Tanizaki is aware of the historical aspect of his shadows, and the commentary on the toilet room is a commentary on history, Japanese and Western, and the associated approaches towards history.

    What really provoked this hypothesis was a reading of Pico Iyer reviewing some Chinese cultural revolution novels. One interesting aspect of Chinese myopia towards the CR period would be that as the period becomes more distant and the society becomes less similar, the electrical power available for lighting increases and the relevant entities put it to greater and greater use. I still remember in ’97 when visiting one of my relatives for the last time, the cityscape had a vague resemblence to what Pyongyang must look like now, relative darkness at midnight. These days the buildings shine with empty splendor.

    So, porting this back to the Japanese example, might the obliteration of the shadow aesthetic reflect a disconnect with the historical past?

    One other thing. Even if you accept the hypothesis that the use of shadow is central to Japanese aesthetics, there must be something wrong with it. How well does it interact with Shinto aesthetics favoring purity and cleanliness? Take a Japanese restaurant decorated in “traditional” wood and compare it to a Korean or Chinese restaurant with similar usages of wood. If I’m right, the Korean or Chinese institution would have deeper shades of wood, but it could just indicate better access to tropical hardwood.