Friday, June 29, 2007


In honor of BitchPhD's brilliant and impassioned takedown of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts's "reasoning" while explaining why the Court struck down some voluntary desegregation plans, I'll direct my handful of loyal readers and googlers lost in blogoramaville to my mid-'90s pre-blog graduate-student web-rant on whiteness, which was reprinted in slightly different form as "White-Blindness" in the 1998 and 2005 editions of The Social Construction of Race and Ethnicity in the United States (and which I last updated in 2005 to bring a few personal references up to date).

[Update: For more on race, you must check out Daniel Gall's plans for Hug the Shoggoth. If this isn't on your blogroll, it should be!]

Special bonus for those too lazy to click, here's my now-dated-yet-still-sadly-relevant piece, with dead links restored thanks to the Internet Archive and a few extra comments and sources thrown in for fun:

If you're coming from my OJ Page, you're probably wondering why I highlighted "white." I'll try to make the explanation brief and make it make sense even if you haven't come from there, and get on to the point of this page.

Why should it matter that I'm white in my opinion over OJ's guilt or innocence? What does my being white have to do with considering the evidence and making a decision? In short, what does race have to do with issues of evaluation, judgment, or epistemology? Hasn't the notion of race itself been shown to be incoherent, self-contradictory, fallacious, without basis in scientific fact or religious doctrine? So what influence can an illusion have on people or their habits of mind?

Well, I suspect that most people would say that the answers are simple: it shouldn't matter, it shouldn't have anything to do with it, nothing, yes, and nothing. But I'm not so sure the answers to these questions are at all simple (and I have a sneaking suspicion that "most people" really means "most white people"). I certainly understand and feel the appeal that the utopic vision of color-blindness underlying these questions and answers has, given the horrible history that race-thinking has been such a constitutive part of in modernity, from the slave trade and slavery to genocide to ethnic cleansing. But I want to question the assumption that if we stop noticing race, if we stop talking about race, if we stop thinking of ourselves as belonging to any race but the human, then the system of racial oppression that those who have identified themselves as white have established will simply go away. I want to question the assumption that to "stop" doing any of these things is a simple and easy process. I want to question the assumption so endemic to "color-blind" thinking on race that the best way to fight racism is to attack the notion of race by showing it to be a cognitive error.

You can see, then, that I fully subscribe to the insight of the social construction of race, but that I do not conflate the idea of "social construction" with the notion of "fallacy" or "cognitive error" or "illusion." I prefer to think the idea of social construction through the lens of such concepts as "ideology," "narrative" and "public fantasy." (But more on that elsewhere.) Thus I can fully agree that I am not "essentially" white (particularly because, as Karen Sacks and Sander Gilman have shown, Jews became white in the New World; David Roediger, Theodore Allen, and Noel Ignatiev have made similar arguments on behalf of Irish immigrants to the U.S. in the nineteenth century--for cites, see below), but at the same time I can not ignore, downplay, or dismiss the privilege being positioned as white tends to bestow, and not only in this country. Nor can I simply assume that how I've been positioned in and by U.S. race discourses and formations has nothing to do with how I experience or reflect upon the world.

So let me pose an alternative set of questions that will bring out why I think my being white has a lot to do with how I understand the OJ case: How does my self-perception and self-identification as "white" (as well as perceptions and identifications by others) affect my perceptions, experiences, thoughts, and judgments, not to mention my life chances? What does thinking of myself as "white" enable me to recognize or cause me to gloss over or elide? What relation does my "whiteness" have to other aspects of my "identity"--class, gender, sexuality, religion, political affiliations, order and area of birth, and on and on to even less obvious ones like the enjoyment I get out of watching The Tick, Daria, South Park, The Simpsons, Dr. Katz, Beavis and Butt-head, and, well, just about anything on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim)?

Here's why I think these questions are better than the first three above. For one thing, those questions take for granted as natural and eternal the existence of "the white race." I would counter that this concept is of relatively recent origin, and that thinking of whiteness or race as some simple biological fact is a mistake. I discuss why this is so at length in my race page, so I'll just say it again briefly here. When I say that it matters that I'm white in how I view the OJ case, I don't mean that my whiteness is this accident of birth that has locked me into an inability to understand people of "other races" ("it's a white thing, I can't understand"). Rather, I mean that being treated as white throughout my entire life (along with a whole range of other socially significant categories--male, middle class, short, Jewish, from upstate NY [no, not just north of NYC--the real thing!], and so on) has contributed toward shaping my habits of mind and emotions, including what I tend to take for granted and my gut reactions, my attitudes toward the police, crime, authority, and the law, where I've lived, who I hang with and am close to, and so on. What I'm saying is that "being white" is a learned phenomenon, and until I started thinking about what kinds of lessons I was learning (usually after a friend took the time to call me out on something), I didn't even recognize that I was being taught, much less question the value of the lessons I had been learning.

For another thing, the first three questions above assume that color-blindness is always in and of itself a good thing. But think about that word. When you are color-blind, you only see in black and white, right? (Well, not exactly, they tell me I'm red/green color blind, although I can almost always tell them apart in real-life situations; still, I don't play those damn orange golf balls! But you can see the point here, right?) Isn't that counter-productive? Doesn't it actually reduce the question of race--the experience of living in a thoroughly racialized society--to a binary, instead of opening it up for interrogation? I can go on with this line of argument (the problems you run into when you reduce the complex history of race discourse, racial formations, and racial oppression to the realms of color, vision, and perception, particularly if you are committed to an anti-racist agenda that amounts to more than diversity management), but let's for the moment take this kind of "I treat people as people" position charitably. I submit that if you are truly committed to color-blindness, then your task shouldn't be to go around lecturing to all those (usually people of color) who are still caught in the grips of race-consciousness, but instead to make the case to whites of the necessity of color-blindness, that is, the recognition and rejection of white racial privilege. (For a less charitable take on "color blindness"--not to mention the first serious response to these comments of mine to date--check out Nkenge Maideyi Zenzele's "The Problem with Color Blindness".)

For those to whom this way of thinking is new, I would like to recommend a few works that were crucial in advancing the discussion and analysis of "whiteness" and "the white race" and which are indispensable today:

  • W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (especially the opening first few pages and the last chapter, but it runs throughout this 1903 book);
  • W.E.B. Du Bois, "The Souls of White Folk," in his mid-'20s essay collection, Darkwater;
  • W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction (a thick tome from the 1930s that challenges the then-popular racist interpretations of the Reconstruction era [1865-1877], but still a classic, and the source of the "wages of whiteness" thesis);
  • W.E.B. Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn (this 1940 autobiography/history of the pre-WW II era is still not often cited in discussions of Du Bois's career, but it is an absolutely crucial text for so many reasons, including an imagined discussion with a white friend in the middle of the book);
  • Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act (largely ignored by whites in the academy in the 1950s, this is now the bible of the "race and American literature and culture" movement; see also "What America Would Be Like Without Blacks" in Going to the Territory for an update of his ideas, and of course read his novel Invisible Man if you haven't already);
  • Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (don't believe the hype that puts him as the black demon to Martin Luther King's black angel; read this for yourself--he's one of the best at exposing white supremacy, not only as it worked in the past, but how it is working in the present as well);
  • Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider (a major collection of short and accessible essays that problematize the whiteness of the '70s women's movement and put racism squarely on the table in a challenging and constructive manner);
  • James Baldwin, "On Being White . . . and Other Lies," in Essence (from 1984; good, short, accessible);
  • Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark (very recent but very influential book on the literary construction of blackness and whiteness, and of course don't forget to read all her novels and the less well-known essay collections she's edited--on the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas and OJ Simpson spectacles);
  • bell hooks, "Representing Whiteness in the Black Imagination" (in the collection Cultural Studies and elsewhere);
  • Patricia Williams, "The Ethnic Scarring of American Whiteness," in The House That Race Built: Black Americans, U.S. Terrain, ed. Wahneema Lubiano;
  • Mia Bay, The White Image in the Black Mind (excellent historical study that is a response to hooks's and others' work, including George Fredrickson's The Black Image in the White Mind).

The reason I cite these classics along with the more recent African Americanist work on whiteness is that any exploration of whiteness today is practically worthless if it doesn't engage, question, and respond to them. People of color have had to figure out white people and survive under white supremacy for centuries. These works represent the tip of the iceberg of black thinking on whiteness. Check out collections like Home Girls, This Bridge Called My Back, ...But Some of Us Are Brave, Homegirls, Haciendo Caras: Making Face/Making Soul, Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, Criticism in the Borderlands, The Ethnic Canon, Mapping Multiculturalism, Race Consciousness, and The House that Race Built for a slightly larger (and broader) portion of the iceberg.

This is not the place to go into my full response to the important work of a journal like Race Traitor or David Roediger's Towards the Abolition of Whiteness or Ian Haney Lopez's White by Law, but I can at least recommend these and other works on the history and politics of whiteness (in no particular order, with no attempt at completeness, and perpetually [if rather belatedly] under construction):

  • David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness; Towards the Abolition of Whiteness ; Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White
  • Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism
  • Richard Dyer, "White," Screen 29.1 (Winter 1988); White
  • Alexander Saxton, The Rise and Fall of the White Republic
  • Cheryl Harris, "Whiteness as Property," in Critical Race Theory, ed. Kimberle Crenshaw, et al.
  • Mab Segrest, Memoir of a Race Traitor
  • Vron Ware, Beyond the Pale
  • Ruth Frankenberg, White Women, Race Matters
  • Eric Lott, Love and Theft
  • Karen Sacks, "How Did Jews Become White Folks?" in Race, eds. Steven Gregory and Roger Sanjek
  • Theodore Allen, The Invention of the White Race
  • Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White; ed., Race Traitor
  • Paul Kivel, Uprooting Racism
  • Ian Haney Lopez, White by Law
  • George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness
  • Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color

You might also check out the following links:

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pointless Plug

As if linking here to Mostly Harmless's Take Your Blog to the Course: U.S. Women's Open event will help encourage non-golf bloggers to give in to the carnival's spirit.... At least doing so might help explain to CitizenSE's few readers why I have been abusing your sites with comment spam and LPGA concern trolling this week. Despite the fact that so far as I can recall, Hawthorne devoted exactly zero words to golf. He mentioned Utica, NY, more often than golf, that's for sure--which is where my friend Moira Dunn is from, although not where she's at (Pine Needles, in fact).

Monday, June 25, 2007

Modernization, Imperialism, and the Debate Over Japan

The lazy blogging from my upcoming talk continues...

Modernization, Imperialism, and the Debate over Japan

The continuing influence of this initial image of Japan as an exotic and backward society can be seen even in the writings of a sympathetic turn-of-the-century participant-observer like Lafcadio Hearn, who showed a marked preference for traditional and folk culture throughout his fourteen years of living in Japan. It’s not that he was unaware of the rapid modernization, industrialization, and nationalist consolidation of Japan in the Meiji era--surely the parallels between Japanese and American expansionism from the mid-1860s until his death in 1904 (after a civil war, the victors first gained control of core territories, then asserted influence abroad through annexation and occupation) didn’t escape him. Indeed, as distinguished Hearn scholar Roy Starrs has recently argued, it was precisely Hearn’s love of traditional Japanese culture that lead him to excuse and indeed support the very state policies in Japan that lead him to leave the United States and give up his American citizenship. At the end of his 1904 work, Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation, Hearn justifies the Meiji regime’s wars against China and Russia as attempts to preserve Japanese sovereignty against a gathering threat of European imperialism and cautions the regime to preserve as much of traditional Japanese culture as possible to avoid Western cultural imperialism.

It’s worth contrasting Hearn with another well-travelled American contemporary of his who in his journalism and fiction came to opposite conclusions about the tendency and legitimacy of Meiji-era transformations: Jack London. In such articles as “The Yellow Peril” and “If Japan Should Awaken China,” such short stories as “Goliath” and “The Unparalleled Invasion,” and most notably in his dystopian science fiction novel of 1908, The Iron Heel, London characterizes Japan as a potentially imperialist threat to China, the West, and the international socialist movement. As University of California at Berkeley American literature scholar Colleen Lye demonstrates in her brilliant study America’s Asia, London was particularly worried that Japanese military and management prowess and Chinese size and labor/trading capacity could combine to form a commercially dynamic, technologically advanced rival to Anglo-American civilization.

One way of reading these diametrically opposed attitudes toward and images of Japan from Hearn and London is to link their Pacific writings to late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century debates within American culture over the U.S.’s own modernization, industrialization, national consolidation, and expansionism. Hearn’s sympathy for a putatively anti-colonial Japanese imperialism and London’s horror at a putatively imperialist Japanese anti-colonialism are two sides of the same coin. They express the ambivalence many Americans were feeling toward the transformations of their own society and culture. With Germany and Russia, Japan and the U.S. were leading rising powers in an age characterized by the dominance of the British Empire; each modernizing nation-state had to choose whether to follow or how to modify the templates of European imperialism established by the Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, and British. It was precisely Japan’s similarities to the U.S. around 1900 that made its actions such a controversial mirror for even dissident Americans of the time.

Why Close Reading Matters I: Guantánamo Bay Poetry

Yoshie Furuhashi just forwarded the following Wall Street Journal article, Yochi Dreasen's The Prison Poets of Guantánamo Find a Publisher, along with a link to the collection of poetry it is about, Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak (Iowa, 2007) to the MLA's Radical Caucus's listserv. It's particularly relevant to me not just as a scholar and teacher interested in Hawthorne's portrayal of Puritan punishments or as a fan of Alan Moore's comic book series V for Vendetta, but also as a teacher of courses like Introduction to Ethnicity/Race and American Identities. I hope it will be of interest to you, too. Perhaps the following quotations will help inspire you to inquire into the reasoning behind the title of this post:

"While a few detainees at Guantanamo Bay have made efforts to author what they claim to be poetry, given the nature of their writings they have seemingly not done so for the sake of art," says Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Defense Department spokesman. "They have attempted to use this medium as merely another tool in their battle of ideas against Western democracies."

U.S. authorities explained why the military has been slow to declassify the poems in a June 2006 letter to one of Mr. Falkoff's colleagues. "Poetry...presents a special risk, and DOD standards are not to approve the release of any poetry in its original form or language," it said. The military says poetry is harder to vet than conventional letters because allusions and imagery in poetry that seem innocent can be used to convey coded messages to other militants.

The letter told defense lawyers to translate any works they wanted to release publicly into English and then submit the translations to the government for review.

The strict security arrangements governing anything written by Guantanamo Bay inmates meant that Mr. Falkoff had to use linguists with secret-level security clearances rather than translators who specialize in poetry. The resulting translations, Mr. Falkoff writes in the book, "cannot do justice to the subtlety and cadences of the originals."

For the military, even some of the translations appeared to go too far. Mr. Falkoff says it rejected three of the five translated poems he submitted, along with a dozen others submitted by his colleagues.

Cmdr. Gordon says he doesn't know how many poems were rejected but adds that the military "absolutely" remains concerned that poetry could be used to pass coded messages to other militants.

And maybe those with somewhat freer time than mine might, say, move from taking down Ann Althouse to taking on the American military's approach to literature. If I had the time, I would tell a long story about how Tom Keenan taught a 1980s'-era CIA-authored counter-insurgency manual's discussion of rhetoric in a grad course I was taking on literary theory, but I have holes to plug in one talk and another to start before I sleep....

Saturday, June 23, 2007

We Take Requests II

When Hug the Shoggoth asks about one of the section titles of next week's talk, CitizenSE listens. And excerpts:

Westward Expansion, Manifest Destiny, and the “Opening” of Japan

It makes sense to begin a history of shifting American images of Japan with the expeditions headed by Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853 and 1854. But I want to start in the previous decade with the Mexican War of 1846-1848, for there is a direct connection between it and the appearance of the Black Ships off Edo Bay. Beyond the fact that Perry himself was a celebrated veteran of the Mexican War, I will go further and claim that the “opening of Japan” was made possible by the “winning of the West.” To see why this is so, let’s review the larger history of U.S. westward expansion over the course of the nineteenth century and examine notions of American manifest destiny that became popular by mid-century.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, the United States went from being a small nation of thirteen states on the east coast of North America to a large nation in possession and control of much of the continent, including the noncontiguous territories of Alaska and Hawaii. Before the Mexican War, the largest expansion of U.S. borders occurred in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. What we now know as the Haitian Revolution, the world’s only successful slave revolt, made this purchase possible, as France lost interest in its North American holdings after losing the most valuable colony in the New World at the end of the eighteenth century. It took most of the first half of the nineteenth century for the U.S. to actually control the territory it purchased, as Indian Wars and Indian Removals punctuated crises and compromises over the expansion of American slavery. But by the mid-1840s, after the purchase of the Oregon territory from England, a border dispute between the recently-independent nation of Mexico (formerly New Spain) and the even-more-recently independent Republic of Texas (formerly part of Mexico) provided a pretext for the U.S. to start the Mexican War. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the war in 1848 on highly favorable terms to the U.S., along with the California gold rush in 1849, gave the U.S. government great incentive to turn their paper purchase of what is now the American Southwest into actual U.S.-controlled territory, not least to have Pacific ports for exploration, trade, and projection of military forces and strategic interests. Although this process was interrupted by the Civil War and took up much of the second half of the nineteenth century, even by mid-century many American explorers, scientists, and missionaries had joined the whalers and traders criss-crossing the Pacific—not to mention Herman Melville, who published several novels set in the Pacific and Pacific islands years before Perry arrived in Japan.

Having reviewed this process of U.S. westward expansion over both land and sea, we are now in a position to appreciate how white Americans’ prior experiences with, and representations of, enslaved Africans and their African American descendants, American Indians, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and peoples of the Caribbean and Pacific influenced their views of Japan and the Japanese people. The Perry expeditions also relied on European, particularly Dutch and English, accounts of Japanese culture and society, which were shaped in part by their own histories of colonization of Asia and elsewhere. Combined with the fact that the U.S. delegation wasn’t permitted to visit major Tokugawa cities, it’s no wonder the earliest American representations of Japan focused on exotic landscapes, architecture, and clothing, on village culture, non-Western religion, primitive technology, and simple weaponry, as John Dower’s Black Ships and Samurai documents. They fastened on what their history prepared them to see.

Please tell me how to make this better! And, if possible, shorter!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

To Delight and Instruct: Required Reading for Grad Students (and Others)

Click here. Read and click as directed, until done. End public service announcement. Back to bad bad bad bad bad ok bad bad bad bad bad decent bad bad bad bad [good coming anytime soon?] writing.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Shifting American Images of Japan

Still submerged in the non-bloggy writing process, so I'm going to do a cheap post today which excerpts my opening moves in my first of three lectures on shifting American images of Japan--it gives an overview of the lecture series, so should be of relatively general interest!

Thank you, Murahashi-san, for your generous and kind introduction. And thank you for the invitation to speak here once again--or rather, I should say, to follow up on my February talk with this “American Studies 101” lecture series. Its topic, “Shifting American Images of Japan,” has interested me for a long time, since I first became aware that a good deal of the popular culture I grew up on came from Japan or was influenced by Japanese culture, but I only started researching it in earnest two summers ago, back when I began working on my application for a Fulbright grant to teach American Studies in Japan. Having taught the course based on that research, “Representing Japan in American Culture,” to two classes of entering students in Kyushu University’s 21st Century Program this semester and last as a Fulbright Visiting Lecturer, I’m eager to share the results of my research and teaching with a wider audience. So thank you very much for inviting me back here and giving me the opportunity to do just that.

My talk today is entitled “From Manifest Destiny to War in the Pacific, 1846-1945,” but before I attempt to cover 99 years of American images of Japan in 33 minutes, I should say just a little bit more about the lecture series and the course it is based upon. I designed “Representing Japan in American Culture” as an introduction to American cultural studies for first-year undergraduate students in Japan. My goal was to offer a survey of changing American images of Japan, focusing on their form and structure, development and context, and effects and stakes. Along the way, I also emphasized the acquisition and development of certain interpretive methods and intellectual skills, such as close, contextual, and comparative reading and viewing and critical thinking, writing, and speaking. I wanted my students to be able, by the end of the course, to analyze any American image of Japan they happened to come across, from any time period, using a variety of approaches--but especially to consider how it relates to the history of American representations of Japan, what it reveals about American culture and society of its time, how it compares to Japanese self-representations, what it contributes to our understanding of present and future of U.S.-Japanese relations, and what it suggests about the possibilities and pitfalls of cross-cultural representation and intercultural communication. Through weekly readings, viewings, lectures, and discussions, a group presentation, and a final research paper, my students not only got many chances to practice these various analytical methods but also got to practice communicating their ideas and insights in a variety of fora and formats. In a sense, then, this lecture series is my own final exam: how well will I be able to do what I ask of my students? how effectively can I condense the flavor of my Representing Japan course?

Well, I want to start by commenting on one sentence from Murahashi-san’s preview flyer in particular: “By reviewing how America has observed Japan, the lectures will give a unique opportunity to see Japan in the reflections of American eyes and reflect on what those images reveal about American observers.” This language--of image and imagery, viewing and reviewing, vision and revision, reflecting and reflection, sight and insight, eyes and Is, observers and observed--should call to mind a variety of associations, from the inevitable distortions of any reflection to the necessity of perspective to the eyes as the mirror of the soul. It should call our attention to the relations between objectivity and subjectivity, perceptions and ideas, the material and the visual/discursive, and more. But we shouldn’t allow the richness of this language to lead us to assume that U.S.-Japanese representations and relations should be studied in isolation, as if the two countries were alone in the world, endlessly mirroring one another.

To counter this assumption, my goal in these three talks is to introduce you to the broader historical and political contexts in which American representations of Japan are created, circulated, and consumed. By demonstrating how American images of Japan borrow from and are in dialogue with representations of other countries and cultures, I aim to encourage you to look at American and Japanese history differently.

Today, then, I focus on representations of Japan from three time periods--the mid-nineteenth century, the turn into the twentieth century, and the mid-twentieth century--in order to recontextualize the War in the Pacific. My talk is divided into three sections--“Westward Expansion, Manifest Destiny, and the ‘Opening’ of Japan,” “Modernization, Imperialism, and the Debate over Japan,” and “Militarization, Propaganda, and the War in the Pacific”--that look in turn at key patterns in and examples from American images of Japan in the 1840s and 1850s, the 1890s and 1900s, and the 1930s and 1940s.

So what do you think? Let me know before June 30th!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Perhaps It's Better to Be the Obscurest Blog on teh Internets

Heading off in a few hours to Hiroshima to meet some old friends now living in Oklahoma (that is, when they're not enjoying the best two-week-tour-of-Japan itinerary I've ever seen in my life--and I'm not just saying that b/c it's the only one). So of course I woke up way too early and I thought, "why not catch up on some bloggy doings?" Let's just say I should have stayed in bed. Stay strong, Scott, Chris, Ilyka, Kevin.... This, too, will pass.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

We Take Requests Here at CitizenSE

A Japanese colleague of mine whom I've responded to here before recently asked me what I had on the sketch "The Intelligence Office." I emailed him back with some quick ideas and promised an update here. This is it (or maybe the first part if I can't finish it between classes today!).

As you can see here, the only time I've previously blogged on "The Intelligence Office" is to link it to Faulkner's Thomas Sutpen in an aborted larger argument aiming to show Hawthorne's intimate knowledge of the importance of international trade (including the slave trade) on the fortunes of Salem, colonial New England, and the northeastern United States. The narrator's comment, "Judging from its description, it was beautiful enough to vanish like a dream, yet substantial enough to endure for centuries," could apply to the idea of America as easily as it could to the estate of the "man of deplorable success." And indeed there are several sharp ripostes at American politics and imperialism sprinkled throughout the sketch.

But as you can see from the following excerpt from my email response to my colleague--

I think "The Intelligence Office" is a very interesting sketch. If you have time, I strongly recommend Kristie Hamilton's arguments on the importance of Hawthorne's sketches in general, in The Cambridge Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne (2004) or in her book America's Sketchbook (1998).

My own interest in the sketch is different from her emphasis on Hawthorne's anticipation of modernist (and even postmodernist) aesthetic and social issues. I'm interested in the 19th C and earlier resonances of his emphasis on "proper place" (which I use to investigate Hawthorne's ideas on race, class, and gender politics).

--what I am most interested in is the way "The Intelligence Office" provides evidence that Hawthorne in the early 1840s was engaging his culture's interests in the relations between the external and the internal, the material and the spiritual, the physical and the psychological, the real and the symbolic, between manners and morals, appearances and essences, in everything from transcendentalism and romanticism to phrenology and physiognomy to the American School of Ethnography. If you read the sketch alongside such earlier meditations on these subjects as "Fancy's Show Box," "Roger Malvin's Burial," and "Young Goodman Brown," you'll see it reworking that earlier interest in the relations between thoughts and actions. And if you read it alongside contemporary or later tales and sketches like "A Virtuoso's Collection," "The Procession of Life," "The Birth-mark," "Rappaccini's Daughter," "The Christmas Banquet," "Earth's Holocaust," and "The Custom House"--or novels like The House of the Seven Gables and The Marble Faun--you'll see Hawthorne's abiding interest in classification schemes of all kinds.

The scholarly work I'd most recommend for understanding the context for Hawthorne's engagement of these issues is Samuel Otter's brilliant study Melville's Anatomies--I can't think of a better evocation of the times or investigation of an author's engagement with them than any other recent work except Eduardo Cadava's Emerson and the Climates of History, and Otter more systematically analyzes the various attempts to know (human) nature in the antebellum period than Cadava.

As for myself, I find Hawthorne's suggestion at the beginning of the story and confirmation at the end that the agent of the sketch's "Central Intelligence Office" to be the "Recording Spirit" a fascinating anticipation of Destiny in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series of comics and graphic novels. Certainly Hawthorne is engaging religious themes that energized the Puritans--the difficulty of reconciling God's omniscience, omnipotence, and benevolence--when he has the agent reveal

"My agency in worldly action--my connection with the press, tumult, and intermingling, and development of human affairs--is merely delusive. The desire of man's heart does for him whatever I seem to do. I am no minister of action, but the Recording Spirit!"

Thus the opening simile--"He looked like the spirit of a record--the soul of his own great volume--made visible in mortal shape"--and the intermediate elaboration of the book of life metaphor within it--

Human character in its individual developments--human nature in the mass--may best be studied in its wishes; and this was the record of them all.... It would be an instructive employment for a student of mankind, perusing this volume carefully, and comparing its record with men's perfected designs, as expressed in their deeds and daily life, to ascertain how far the one accorded with the other. Undoubtedly, in most cases, the correspondence would be found remote. The holy and generous wish, that rises like incense from a pure heart toward heaven, often lavishes its sweet perfume on the blast of evil times. The foul, selfish, murderous wish, that steams forth from a corrupted heart, often passes into the spiritual atmosphere, without being concreted into an earthly deed. Yet this volume is probably truer, as a representation of the human heart, than is the living drama of action, as it evolves around us. There is more of good and more of evil in it; more redeeming points of the bad, and more errors of the virtuous; higher up-soarings, and baser degradation of the soul; in short, a more perplexing amalgamation of vice and virtue, than we witness in the outward world. Decency, and external conscience, often produce a far fairer outside, than is warranted by the stains within. And be it owned, on the other hand, that a man seldom repeats to his nearest friend, any more than he realizes in act, the purest wishes, which, at some blessed time or other, have arisen from the depths of his nature, and witnessed for him in this volume. Yet there is enough, on every leaf, to make the good man shudder for his own wild and idle wishes, as well as for the sinner, whose whole life is the incarnation of a wicked desire.

--allows the story to be read as a gloss on abstract, even universal problems of theology and ethics. But I think even this version of the sketch is an interesting anticipation of Gaiman's Endless.

Now, the classic take on the sketch is Melville's claim in "Hawthorne and His Mosses" that the seeker after Truth is Hawthorne's own self-portrait, although I wonder whether the person the narrator jokes is "invariably out of place" and who cries in anguish--

"I want my place!--my own place!--my true place in the world!--my proper sphere!--my thing to do, which nature intended me to perform when she fashioned me thus awry, and which I have vainly sought, all my lifetime! Whether it be a footman's duty, or a king's, is of little consequence, so it be naturally mine."

--might be an ironically distanced sketch of a younger self. Of course, it's also possible to see in the figure of the Recording Spirit himself Hawthorne's own wishes for his art, or to argue that Hawthorne dispersed his own wishes and desires throughout a range of characters, so I'm not sure how productive this line of argument ends up being. The seeker after Truth's comment to the Recording Spirit could well be Hawthorne's commentary on the sketch itself:

"And what are you?" said he. "It will not satisfy me to point to this fantastic show of an Intelligence Office, and this mockery of business. Tell me what is beneath it, and what your real agency in life, and your influence upon mankind?"

So the sketch could just as easily be linked with Hawthorne's exploration of various writer analogues--whether artist or scientist--in his fictions of the 1840s and 1850s, and thus be autobiographical at a remove, in the sense of exploring the functions and powers of literary texts and the roles of authors in the antebellum U.S.

In the end, though, I would emphasize that Hawthorne's idea of the Intelligence Office is connected to the Herald's Office that runs throughout his writings in this same period. I've blogged on heraldry in Hawthorne's and others' fiction a little bit here already, so I won't say too much more right now. But it would be both interesting and informative to explore the ways the Intelligence Office discloses Hawthorne's interests in subjectivity (a la Pfister, Gilmore, Goddu, and others who look at the emergence of the middle class and domestic/affective life in this period) and the Herald's Office in genealogy (a la Bentley, Yellin, Carton, and others who look at the emergence of whiteness and classification schemes/racial sciences in this period).

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Representing Japan in American Culture

Attending the JAAS conference here at Rikkyo University in the Ikebukuro neighborhood of Tokyo has helped me focus my thinking on the talks I'm going to give at the Japan-America Society of Fukuoka on June 30 (“From Manifest Destiny to War in the Pacific: 1846-1945”), July 7 (“The End of the American Century in Japan? 1946-1995”), and July 14 (“What[’s] Next: The Past 25 Years and the Next”). The panel/workshop "Migrating Cultures" in particular has encouraged me to emphasize in my talks what has been a part of my Representing Japan course but not its main emphasis--the broader historical and political context in which American representations of Japan are produced, distributed, and consumed, as well as the overlaps and interarticulations of myths, stereotypes, ideologies, and discourses on Japan and the Japanese with those of other racialized places and groups within and outside the U.S.

Here are some examples of what I'm talking about here (and what I'm going to be talking about in Fukuoka). I start my first talk in 1846 with the Mexican War and the idea of American manifest destiny in order to emphasize that the first American-produced images of Japan--coming out of Commodore Perry's voyages to Japan in 1853 and 1854--were made possible and were part of a process of U.S. westward expansion, over both land and sea. Between the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 and the gold rush in 1849, the U.S. government had great incentives to turn their paper purchase of what is now the American Southwest into actual U.S.-controlled territory, so as to have a Pacific port for exploration, trade, and continuing expansion of U.S. military and strategic interests. White Americans' prior experiences with, and representations of, African Americans, American Indians, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and peoples of the south Pacific and Caribbean thus influenced their views of Japan and the Japanese people. After briefly examining some of those early images, I flash forward to the turn of the century and put American re-examinations of Japan in light of Meiji-era industrialization, modernization, and expansionism in the context of the U.S.'s own parallel processes (epitomized by the many Indian Wars of the late 19th C, the annexation of Hawaii, the Spanish-American War and the debates over immigration from Asia and from Southern and Eastern Europe). By contrasting Lafcadio Hearn's, Jack London's, and George Kennan's views of Japan, I show how Americans were in part debating their own society's imperial turn at the turn into the twentieth century. I then flash forward again to the 1930s and 1940s.

Seeing as I have to go to the last panel/workshop right now, this will have to be, as usual, continued....

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

"Death Is a Nice Sandman"

Thanks to Gillian Brown's wide-ranging reading of Hawthorne's histories for children, particularly Grandfather's Chair, in The Cambridge Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne (2004), I was reminded that Neil Gaiman's Sandman draws its inspiration from all over the map--including Hans Christian Anderson's "The Sandman." It was a nice touch to turn the original Sandman's brother Death into Dream's gothy sister--wondering if the specific quotation that supplies the title to this post inspired Gaiman's characterization of Death. Seems spot-on to me.

Postbellum Hauntings

I'm about to go teach "Rappaccini's Daughter," but wanted to do a quick follow-up on one of the many loose threads here at CitizenSE--a comment or two on the relation between the hauntings in Charles Chesnutt's "Po' Sandy," Ambrose Bierce's "The Haunted Valley" and "The Stranger," and Lafcadio Hearn's "On Ghosts and Goblins." What I've been trying to emphasize in the Haunting America course I've been teaching this semester is the relation between literature and history. To the key course question, "What is haunting (about) America?" one answer I've been emphasizing is its history of conflicts and tensions over land, wealth, and power. Chesnutt suggests the history of slavery haunts the postbellum South, Bierce suggests that the Indian wars and other conflicts engendered by the massive migrations to the newly U.S.-owned (but not yet held) Southwest after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gold Rush haunt the frontier, and Hearn puts Japanese and American hauntings in relation even as his travels and writings suggest parallels between the late 19th C modernizing and expansionist programs in Gilded Age America and Meiji Japan. Elaborations to come--later!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Time Flies When You're Not on a Schedule

I've been keeping up with my kids/family blogging mostly at Mostly Harmless, but I'm going to take advantage of the freedom from the CitizenSE Programming Schedule to fill you in on the events of the extended weekend and the doings of the Dramatis Personae here in Fukuoka. With less than two months to go in the Fulbright year, we are already missing it and already nostalgic for it. So we've been doing a lot together as a family and meeting other families, trying to pack as much into the time remaining here that we can.

Onechan has started taking swimming lessons on Fridays with her yochien classmates, so after giving her a few sessions on her own "to get her feet wet" without us, this past Friday we decided to see what it was like. We got to take a 10-minute bus ride from the yochien to the pool, riding with the middle class of three in her yochien, their teacher, and the other parents (well, moms) and younger siblings. It was a lot of fun to see and hear the kids' rapid mood swings, from the excited race to the yochien gate to see who would be first to get in line for the bus to the exuberant conversation as the bus left the school bus to the first dispute that lead to tears to getting excited again as the bus pulled into the pool lot. We could only wonder what onechan's ride was like--the younger and older classes were on a different bus. When we got to the pool, we waited with the other moms and younger siblings in a glass-enclosed area as the yochien kids went into the locker room to change and eventually emerged into the pool area. All three classes had to march in, following their leader, then line up for warm-up dancing/stretching, then march over to the part of the lane that was blocked off for them. Onechan was in a group of two girls and two boys (the youngest in the yochien). They practiced getting in the pool, jumping up and down in the water, getting water on their face and heads (and wiping it away from their eyes), holding hands and converging on the center of their circle and moving back away from it, going under and inside and under and outside a floating hula hoop (which invariably got raised a bit so they wouldn't have to submerge completely if they didn't want to), then going through the same hula hoop held perpendicular to and partly above the water surface (most would lift it higher so they could get under without getting their faces wet), then running in a circle while the teacher made waves, and on to other games to get them comfortable in the water and used to being wet. Right next to them, the middle and oldest classes were running through the same exercises more quickly and going on to more advanced things. There was no real drama, except when onechan tripped and her teacher had to do a quick rescue (she didn't cry at the time, only when they were waiting for the bus to return to the yochien, and then only for a little bit), but it was totally hilarious and cute to watch her and her friends in the water. You could really see the kids' personalities in the different ways they approached doing the same thing--and how different many of them were in the water from the way we were used to seeing them in the playground at the yochien. We got a bit sad that we wouldn't get to see onechan doing what the middle and oldest classes did in the coming years, but for the most part were too busy cracking up to worry at the time.

The next day, we also got to see a bunch of kids together--this time, ages 4-12--when we sat in on an English Day for an elementary school that one of my Japanese professor friends helped organize and which his oldest daughter attends. Like with the swimming lessons, the kids were divided into groups by age and performed skits or sang songs that allowed them to learn together, without anyone being put on the spot or singled out. With all the parents and younger siblings in attendance for this two-hour program, there must have been 50 kids and 30 adults there. My friend said that he started volunteered in April, teaching English for the youngest kids after school; each week, more and more kids signed up, until he had to start turning them away after the class reached double digits. So there's great interest and enthusiasm in English in this eastern suburb of Fukuoka. After the program ended, we visited the professor's family at their house. The girls loved playing with their 6-year-old girl, 4-year-old boy, and 3-year-old boy. We went shopping at Costco for barbecue materials and ended up staying until 10 pm. We would have stayed overnight with them, but we didn't bring diapers for imoto and we had another meeting set up with a different Japanese professor's family in a different part of town on Sunday morning. This visit also involved a train ride out of the central city area and then a car ride to their actual residence. The girls had a great time playing with their 3-year-old daughter and her neighbors at their small apartment complex. Onechan never quite got the hang of riding a bike or jumping rope, but she sure got a lot of practice. And imoto learned what skinning her knee felt like, as she kept trying to walk too fast on the sloped and rough pavement. We got a chance to talk about living in the States with the professor and his wife, the first of many conversations to come, as they will be moving to western Pennsylvania in late July so he can do some advanced graduate work and professional development. We're already looking ahead to getting together in the States.

One of the amazing things about the Fulbright year has been seeing what the lives of couples with young children in Fukuoka are like. We've been fortunate to get to know many families with infants through the kominkan system, many parents with pre-school kids through onechan's yochien, international couples with largely younger children through the Mixi group that meets at various places in the city as well as online, and even some families with kids in elementary and secondary schools through my faculty contacts. It's given us a lot to think about in terms of what's best for our own children and what options we can and should pursue as an international family.

But home is calling us, too. There have been a few births among faculty friends and news of more to come in the fall and winter. There have been new hires in my department and elsewhere. We're already making plans to send our stuff back to the States, get the utilities for the house back in our name, and have a new Prius ready for us to buy when we get back in mid-August. The tsuma is signing up for courses in her Masters in Library Science program that starts in late August around the time my semester does. It's hard to anticipate how much the place has changed in our absence--or assess how much we have. But it's hard not to try.

Maybe imoto's recent clinginess--calling for her mom whenever she's out of sight, wanting me to hold her as much as possible and crying when I leave for work--is tied to this feeling we have of being in two places at once, and neither. Speaking of which, it's time to finish what I need to do here in the office and head home!