The May/June 2012 issue of Iwanami Shoten’s journal Bungaku is out now. It’s a special issue devoted to the theme of “Opening Up Soseki’s ‘Theory of Literature'”–in other words, new approaches to Natsume Soseki’s 1907 Bungakuron, his attempt to construct a fully scientific, universally valid theory of literature. The first part of the issue draws from a conference hosted last December by the University of Tokyo and features essays by Komori Yoichi, Joseph Murphy, Noami Mariko, Saito Mareshi, Atsuko Ueda and yours truly. It also includes a transcript of the concluding roundtable discussion from that event.
The rest of the issue includes a number of very interesting looking new articles on the topic by both veteran and younger scholars. I actually haven’t received my copy of the issue yet, so can’t say a great deal at this point about them, other than that their titles are quite intriguing. Check out the full table of contents here (Japanese language only).
Even after ten years of nearly constant work on it, I still find Soseki’s Theory of Literature a remarkably interesting, even mysterious, work. I know I will be wrestling with it for many years to come. This new special issue hints that it’s a fascination I share with many others.
Apologies for the radio silence around these parts in recent days. It’s been a busy, fun couple of weeks since last I posted here.
I was in Tokyo for six days last week, meeting with other scholars and visiting archives and bookstores. I also had a chance to get together with the good people at Byakuya Shobo, the publishing house that will be bringing out the Japanese translation of Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop next month. It’s the same team that was responsible for the Japanese edition of Julian Cope’s Japrocksampler a few years back.
Along the way, I also attended Day 10 of the May sumo tournament. I was disappointed that the new Kakuryu bento lunchbox was sold out by noon, but had an enjoyable day at the Kokugikan nonetheless. I also saw a couple of current films while in Japan: Waga haha no ki, adapted from Inoue Yasushi’s semi-autobiographical novel about a novelist’s relations with his aging mother and featuring a very strong cast headed by Yakusho Koji and Kiki Kirin; and Rentaneko, an engaging independent film by Ogigami Naoko (of Kamome Shokudo fame) about a young woman who rents out cats to lonely people. It’s a low key, often humorous, meditation on the pleasures and agonies of repetition in everyday life. Mark Schilling’s review for the Japan Times can be found here.
I flew back to Chicago last Saturday and was immediately plunged into adventure: trying to negotiate my way from O’Hare International Airport to the South Side through a maze of traffic closures in effect because of the NATO Summit.
This past Monday night, we took the whole family downtown to see the reunited Beach Boys in concert at the Chicago Theatre. Once again, the commute was a challenge: the Metra trains didn’t start up at 6:30 as promised, and Lake Shore Drive was still shut down. After some hasty improvising, we managed to get there in time. The show was terrific fun. The first half was heavy on early surf numbers, but things really came alive after intermission. Highlights included a lovely version of “Disney Girls,” a plaintive “In My Room,” and the final encore number of “Fun Fun Fun,” when Brian Wilson came out from behind the grand piano to (at least temporarily) strap on a bass guitar and resume his original position in the band.
My fifteen-year-old daughter, who takes her singing seriously, complained that they were using Autotune to correct pitch on the vocals. I pooh-poohed the idea, but when I got home and did some Googling, I found out that many Beach Boys fans are up in arms about the same issue. Either way, it was a fun and historic show, as Greg Kot noted in his review for the Chicago Tribune.
The group’s celebrations of California surf and car culture framed the opening set, but it was Part 2 where the music cut deepest. It began with the core quintet gathered around Wilson’s piano for a mission statement: “Add Some Music to Your Day.” Then it reclaimed the beauty of the band’s more melancholy and complex late ‘60s and early ‘70s work. “Heroes and Villains” melted into intricate, multi-part harmonies that brought smiles to the faces of the participants as Wilson waved his arms with uncharacteristic vigor. “Good Vibrations,” with its plush harmonies and outer-space sound effects still sounded futuristic. [...] In turn, the Beach Boys made falling in love sound both sacred and tragic – their joy tinged by sadness, their despair lifted by hope. And sometimes, as suggested by Brian Wilson’s performance Monday of “Sail On, Sailor,” it becomes too much to bear.
A couple of other odds and ends:
The Atlantic has a nice story by Patrick St. Michel about the trend toward hits by young children in J-Pop, including a mention of my new book. You can read the article online here, and if you haven’t yet checked out “Make Believe Melodies,” St. Michel’s fine blog on contemporary pop music in Japan, you should do so right now.
JERO, the African-American Enka singer who was raised in Pittsburgh singing Misora Hibari numbers with his Japanese grandmother, will be making his New York debut in a concert/talk appearance at the Japan Society next month. Details here. It’s been a while, so to refresh your and my memories, here’s his wonderful 2008 debut single, “Umiyuki” (Ocean snow):
I’ve created an online companion for readers of my book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop, including sound samples, links to video clips, and other goodies. You can check it out here. If you have any suggestions for improvements or additions, please send them along.
In the meanwhile, the Japan Times newspaper (13 May 2012) has run a nice review of the book by Kris Kosaka. Kosaka concludes:
Stylistically, Bourdaghs’ work beats consistently up-tempo, direct, clear prose revealing his nearly 35 year engagement with Japan. Bourdaghs’ analysis reads quickly yet fully covers an important historical span of modern Japan. With the Japanese translation to be in published in June by Byakuya Shobo Publishers, Bourdaghs’ work will soon be heard by Japanese audiences as well. For music, history, or cultural fans of contemporary Japan, this book is a chart-topper.
You can read the full review here.
It’s going to be a busy weekend.
Friday, I’m planning to head downtown to catch Kids These Days, a terrific group that combines hip hop, jazz and R&B, in their set at Columbia College’s “Manifest” festival: 5:40-6:30 p.m. “Under the Big Tent” at 1001 S. Wabash Ave. There will be free music performances all day as part of the event.
Then on Saturday it’s the big “Atomic Age II” conference at the University of Chicago, with guest speakers including Kyoto University nuclear physicist Koide Hiroaki (one of the few specialists in the field willing to speak critically about Japan’s nuclear power industry and the government’s role in promoting it), Muto Ruiko (a prominent anti-nuclear activist from Fukushima), and Robert Rossner, professor of Astronomy, Astrophysics and Physics at the University of Chicago and former Director of the Argonne National Laboratory. Last year’s conference was enormously informative and energizing, and I am hoping for more of the same on Saturday.
Sunday, we’ll be visiting Site A/Plot M Disposal Site, the final resting place of Chicago Pile-1, Enrico Fermi’s first nuclear reactor. It was originally located under the grandstands of Stagg Field (currently the site of Regenstein Library) here at the University of Chicago.
In the midst of this flurry of activity, the May sumo tournament gets underway Sunday at Kokugikan in Tokyo. Yokozuna Hakuho is the favorite going in, but sumo has been pretty unpredictable as of late. I have a ticket to attend day 10, and I can’t wait. It just might take my mind off the seemingly unending miseries of the 2012 Minnesota Twins. After a dreadful 2011, Twins fans came into 2012 buoyed by one slender hope: that this season couldn’t possibly be as bad as last.
Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding (2011). The much-celebrated debut novel tracing the sentimental education of a promising young shortstop for the Westish College baseball team. I think I came to this a victim of inflated expectations; it’s a good novel, yes, with two or three marvelously constructed characters and a handful of scenes that spring vividly to life as you read them (the last page, for example). But these come embedded in 500+ pages of text. It’s as if F. Scott Fitgerald had launched his career with The Beautiful and the Damned instead of This Side of Paradise.
Marvin Sterling, Babylon East: Performing Dancehall, Roots Reggae and Rastafari in Japan (2010). A compelling experiment in multi-sited ethnography: what happens when Jamaican music travels to postmodern Japan? And what happens when its Japanese devotees start winning international sound system and dancehall queen contests–including back home in Jamaica? Sterling unpacks the complexities of contemporary global discourses on race, cultural tradition, and gender.
Ogawa Yoko 小川洋子, 『妊娠カレンダー』 (Ninshin karendaa, Pregnancy calendar, 1994). Ogawa’s 1991 Akutagawa Prize winning novella, in which a younger sister narrates diary-style and with something less than complete sympathy her older sister’s pregnancy, plus two other works by one of Japan’s most popular novelists of the last two decades.
Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (2008). I’m reading this at the insistence of my 15-year-old, but am in fact enjoying my adventures with Katniss and her rivals and friends, even as I unavoidably keep flashing back to Battle Royale.
Now that her band Tokyo Incidents is history, Shiina Ringo isn’t standing still. She has a new single out, “Jiyu e michizure,” in which she taps into her punky shrieking-guitars vein. I kinda like it:
J-Rock veterans Grapevine will be providing a free live Ustream feed on May 2 of the final date from their current concert tour, direct from Club Quattro in Shibuya. Details here.
The fine blog, “Make Believe Melodies: The Latest On Music From Every Corner Of Japan,” tipped me off to Ç86, a free download compilation of current indies’ rock bands from Japan, available from International Tapes. Uneven, of course, but it includes some good stuff, and you can’t beat the price.