Masao Miyoshi. Trespasses: Selected Writings.
It is uncommon enough for scholars to change their fields of study in mid-career. Masao Miyoshi did it two times: a tenured professor in the English department at UC Berkeley specializing in Victorian literature, Miyoshi moved in 1986 to the Literature department at UC San Diego, where he became one of the leading figures in the study of modern Japanese literary and intellectual history. Then, in the 1990s, he turned from Japan studies to become a pioneering theorist of globalization, focusing his attention in particular on the problems of the contemporary university. Trespasses reflects a significant portion of this intellectual trajectory: while his scholarship on English literature is not directly represented, the book includes a rich array of Miyoshi's writings on a variety of topics, including essays on architecture, art, globalization, and environmental studies. The book traces the development of a powerful, critical voice across diverse subject areas, one that comes into its most compelling expression in Miyoshi's critique of the university.
Trespasses constitutes something of a personal and intellectual biography of Miyoshi, who died shortly before its completion. Thus, fragments of his remarkable personal story come through at different moments, including in the strong introduction by Eric Cazdyn, the interview conducted by Kuan-Hsing Chen, and various sections of Miyoshi's own essays. Growing up within the stifling, authoritarian atmosphere of World War II Tokyo, Miyoshi registered his sense of unease at the historical events unfolding around him through his study of English. The end of the war, however, was not an unequivocal experience of liberation--he notes that his skepticism of the Japanese state was re-directed toward the American-led occupation. The attempt to escape from that closed environment set in motion a life-long professional and intellectual journey in which Miyoshi never really settled into any comfortable point of fixity. His writings display a consistent concern with unresolvable antinomies, with outsiders, and with identifying points of opposition and tension in discursive formations and institutions.
The book begins, in a sense, with the end: the first chapter, "Literary Elaborations," was one of Miyoshi's last essays, which he wrote specifically for this volume. It represents a culmination of the subject that consumed Miyoshi's attention in the last decades of his life--the role of the university within the accelerated global spread of capital and its effect on the production and dissemination of knowledge. The centerpiece of the article is a powerful and provocative call for reformulating the humanities (as well as all other academic disciplines) into the study of environmental justice. The chapters that follow this dramatic opening salvo are arranged chronologically, from earliest to most recent, and can be seen as filling in the back story, the complex path that led Miyoshi to the articulation of this position.
The shift from the first chapter's apocalyptic tone to the textual analysis that underlies the second, an excerpt from his 1979 book As We Saw Them, is somewhat jarring. The chapter involves a close reading of writings by members of the 1860 Japanese government mission to the United States, focusing in particular on the noticeable absence of the first-person narrative voice. Yet the chapter also expresses a concern that would permeate iMiyoshi's writings, namely the focus on irreducible antimonies. As Cazdyn notes in the introduction, the "we" of this book's title is "appropriately ambiguous" (p. xx), for Miyoshi examines not only the travel diaries of Japanese visitors to the United States, but also texts left by American visitors to Japan. In short, it is the interstice between incommensurable discursive positions that emerges as the true subject of his analysis.
Animating much of Miyoshi's work on Japan is a resistance to the assimilation of cultural difference to universalism, part of an attempt to counter modernization theory, with its assumption of the universality of the Western developmental model. He thus argued, in his 1991 book Off Center and elsewhere, for the distinctiveness of the Japanese shosetsu, enumerating all the qualities that differentiate this form of narrative fiction from the novel. In his essay "Turn To the Planet" (2001), Miyoshi notes a subsequent change in his thinking, in part a response to shifting world conditions. Yet in many ways the argument was untenable to begin with. Not only are both the shosetsu and the novel heterogeneous categories that resist such strict differentiation, the very positing of the question in this way raises certain problems. The concept of the shosetsu was developed by Japanese theorists as part of an engagement with the 19th century European novel, leading to subsequent attempts to discover a unique Japanese form, expressed most prominently in the concept of the confessional I-novel (watakushi shosetsu). Yet, as a number of scholars have argued, the articulations of both identity and difference serve equally to validate the authority of the universal model against which the particularism of the shosetsu is measured.
Another issue is that the claim for the shosetsu's distinctiveness, which is meant to align Japan with other non-Western cultures, risks echoing the discourses of nativism that were historically deployed in defense of the uniqueness of Japanese culture. Indeed, the time that Miyoshi was writing about Japan was in some sense the high-water mark of theories of Japanese uniqueness.
Miyoshi himself was aware of this problem: In "Turn To the Planet," he notes the limitations involved in any attempt to posit Japanese culture as oppositional or resistant to Western hegemony: "Oppositionism in my literary revisionism, however, had to be considerably curtailed in considering the shosetsu form because of Japan's peculiar place in the history of colonialism," namely Japan's status as "the first non-Western country that developed modern imperialism." He notes that Japan's imperial "swagger" was "unmistakable in the shosetsu of the time, not only thematically, but also in the narrative forms with which the writers of the time were beginning to experiment" (p. 248). For this reason, his critique had to continually shift positionality, focusing on "both the West and Japan, that is, the forces of oppression wherever they may have originated" (p. 249).
The problematic that Miyoshi identifies here with the topos of Japan--its simultaneous existence both inside and outside of the West--would become a pervasive, world-wide phenomenon within the accelerated global spread of capital. Thus, Miyoshi's memorably-titled lecture "Japan is Not Interesting" (2000) implicitly acknowledges that the type of doubleness associated with the concept of "Japan" had become all too common throughout the world. At the same time, the essay reflects the sense that the nation-state had lost its rationale for serving as the central, organizing principle for the production of cultural knowledge. In this way, there is a certain internal logic to the transition in Miyoshi's focus from Japan studies to theories of globalization, which can be seen as both repudiation and extension of his prior concerns.
Along with the shift in Miyoshi's frame of reference from the national to the global, there was also a concomitant change in the object of his analysis from literature to the institution of the university. In part, this reflects his disappointment with what he calls "the retreat of the humanities from the line of intellectual and political resistance" (p. 230). At the same time, it also expresses an awareness that the "corporatization" (p. 227) of the university had not only changed the type of knowledge produced in the academy, but also transformed it into a key support system for the global economy.
Underlying Miyoshi's work on globalization is a desire to rehabilitate the concept of an "inclusive totality" (p. 257), which, he notes, has been discredited by contemporary theoretical discourses. While acknowledging the political impact of the critique of totalization and its asymmetrical power relations, he argues that the emphasis on the particular has now become problematic, with culture substituting for political economy and internecine struggles within disciplines displacing the sense of common struggle. In the book's later essays, Miyoshi searches for an integrative discursive framework that would avoid the pitfalls of universalism while providing an alternative to the destructive forces of global capital. It is, finally, in the engagement with environmental crisis that Miyoshi discovers such a conceptual ideal.
For Miyoshi, the focus on environmental justice offers a potential overcoming of the current fragmentation and compartmentalization of academic endeavor. It promises what he sees as an authentic mode of transnationalism, "a new interventional project" (p. 240) retaining oppositional pressure on forces of global capital. Meanwhile, despite his cutting criticisms of the humanities and the university, Miyoshi sees both as playing indispensable roles in mobilizing the resources and will needed to address the looming environmental catastrophe.
At times, Miyoshi's statements on the humanities read like sweeping judgments that demand further elaboration. In addition, the precise contours of the reorganization of the academy that Miyoshi calls for in "Literary Elaborations" remain less than fully developed (as Miyoshi himself acknowledges). Yet, what this volume makes clear, in bringing together a broad range of writings spanning three decades, is Miyoshi's consistent record of articulating challenging and provocative positions whose prescience and insight have been borne out time and again. It is safe to say that the impact of Miyoshi's thoughts on the university and his call for rethinking the conception of an inclusive totality will resonate for years to come.
SEIJI M. LIPPIT
University of California at Los Angeles
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|Author:||Lippit, Seiji M.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2013|
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