En la faena de alimentar este "depósito" (como yo lo llamo) con una cierta frecuencia, durante mis etapas iniciales de familiarización y aprendizaje de este nuevo medio (a la vez que darme un poco de tiempo para organizar mi cerebro para esta nueva función), he decidido ir subiendo poco a poco algunos apuntes y textos varios que se han ido acumulando a lo largo del tiempo, y que cumplieron su cometido en su momento.
Ahora, incluyo aquí mis comentarios a la conferencia pública Cosplaying Urban Environment, que el profesor Mikio Wakabayashi, de la Universidad de Waseda, Tokio (por un semestre profesor visitante en el CEAA durante el año pasado), ofreció el día 14 de mayo del 2008 en las instalaciones de El Colegio de México. Quisiera añadir que mi buen colega y amigo Emilio García Montiel, fue el otro comentarista a esta presentación de Wakabayashi (a ver si así lo animo a que suba la suya en su reciente blog Parió Katana...).
El texto de la conferencia del profesor Wakabayashi será publicado próximamente en español en la revista Estudios de Asia y África, de El Colegio de México.
Although I am not specialist in Japanese Sociology, neither in Urban Studies, not even in Architectural History, I am very happy of being here today, invited as a kind of “representative” of the Center for Asian and African Studies, to make some comments to Dr. Wakabayashi Mikio’s (若林幹夫) paper.
Having in common even an office, that we share since two months ago, as a result of our own responsibilities, courses, scarce free time, and of course, our frequent conversations about living in Mexico and about our students next travel to Japan, we barely had time for talking about our respective researches.
This opportunity then is one of a kind, and I deeply appreciate Dr. Wakabayashi for letting me read the paper and to link, in these brief comments, some of his insightful ideas about Japanese culture with my own Art History disciplinary inquiries, and most recent study on Japanese shunga 春画 (that is, Japanese sexually explicit prints).
One of the key methodological aspects which took my attention of Dr. Wakabayashi’s paper is his analysis on the questionable and uncritical use of a monolithic idea of “Japanese culture”. This notion of a homogeneous and ahistorical “culture”, that it is presented most of the times as a kind of genetic precondition for all-born “Japanese”, unfortunately is very frequent to find. And not only applied to contemporary Japan, but also, following Dr. Wakabayashi’s paper, when analyzing the ambiguous and variable situation of “Japanese” and “Japanese culture” prior to Meiji Restoration (明治維新) in 1867.
Prof. Katō Shūichi’s (加藤周一) opinion regarding that issue(1) it is only a small grain of sand within a current, from my point of view, “reappraisal” of what I would call the theory on Japanessnes-reloaded (a phrase that unwillingly brought into my mind the atrocious Matrix reloaded film…), but I will return to this point later.
Maybe the discipline of Japanese Art History is one of the most prolific arenas for this way of using concepts like “Japanese culture”, or even “Japanese traditional culture”. But, what do they mean by that? Of what kind of “Japanese culture”, or of “Japanese traditional culture”, they are talking about? Are they referring to “Culture” with capital C, as Dr. Wakabayashi says? Or to an idea of a “National Culture” (also with full capitals), erected as part of the Meiji State project for a Japanese Nation-State. Both “Culture with capital C” and “National Culture”, I think, share common grounds and strategies.
That is why it could be appealing to think of a net of cultural circuits paralleled and interconnected within a certain historical context, but also to consider them structured in various hierarchical orders, also dependent from a specific time and place, avoiding this way all kinds of generalization and false cohesiveness. This idea, could also subvert some other frequent bipolar views of “high” or “low” culture, “classic” or “popular” culture, as well as “arts” or “crafts”. In any case, the “high” culture (or Culture with capital C, bunka 文化) – as well as Art (bijutsu 美術) - were proper foundations for the construction of a “Japanese National Culture”.
An interesting example of that is the establishment of Japanese Art, and the discipline for its study (the Japanese Art History), during the first years of Meiji period. Of course, the need of a privileged and HIGH pedigree at the genesis of the new field was a very important concern for the people involved on it. Thus, the first items to be catalogued as “Art” were Buddhist images. This “rescued” production – considered then mainly as cult objects – was transformed into “artistic creations”, and finally incorporated into the canon and the studies of the “artistic past of the Nation”, and even designated some of them as kokuhō 国宝 (National Treasures).
The question here inevitably reminds me of my own research subject, the Japanese sexually explicit prints (shunga 春画) of Edo 江戸 period (XVII-XIX centuries), and the recent cataloguing of some of them as meihin 名品 (masterpieces), by some collections and institutional projects in Japan. Explaining it in a few words, this 1990’s strategy was aimed at transforming shunga into “Art” and integrating them into the “artistic canon of the Nation”, again.
Of special interest here are the new substitutes for the “theory on Japaneseness” (nihonjin-ron 日本人論) – mentioned before – which could be traced at some recent publications in Japanese, where there is a pretension to build a new kind of nihonjin-ron exclusivist discourse based on shunga. This new figure not only removes from shunga production many of its contexts, but it refuses the intent for applying the kind of analysis which could contribute to shake the artificial stability of a huge imaginary built around Edo period popular-urban culture (adding to it now shunga too).
Another consequence from this contextual prophylaxis of shunga, this time in the interest of its metamorphosis into “Art”, is the exclusion of the well-known commercial nature of the shunga production, and its reality as a commodity. Even though presenting itself as essentially “native” and with its “own” and “objective” arguments, this imaginary inevitably twists around without escaping from the many traps configured throughout 20th century by the very ambiguities of the imposition processes and discursive frameworks established from Meiji modern state project on.
Some of those, let’s us call them “new nihonjin-ron” kind of discourses, end with a considerable simplification of a series of historical, social, and cultural processes characterized by a multiplicity of constant changes. Furthermore, the sometimes criticized implementation of “Western” categories has the same questionable nature than the attempt to distinguishing Japanese practices by establishing an opposing contrast with European examples; finally this functions as an “upside-down orientalism”.
The fact that today shunga belongs to the respected “artistic heritage of Japan”, has also raised questions on an academic level, revealing certain circles and institutions, which try to erase at all cost any kind of allusion regarding shunga’s “obscene” modern past, and constructing a grand vindication of the intrinsically artistic condition of it.
That’s why, returning to our previous questioning of the application of concepts like “Japanese culture” and “Japanese art”, it is important to consider a reevaluation of the imported notion of bijutsu (Art with capital A), and of its application into Japan. A concept that legitimated only a sector of the material culture, where most of the Japanese symbolic production did not fitted for a long time.
Once more, I would like to thank Professor Wakabayashi, for sharing with me his paper, and this way enhancing our prospective chatting at our office.
1. Wakabayashi en su conferencia hizo una referencia a algunas ideas que Katō Shūichi presenta en su libro Nihon bunka ni okeru jikan to kūkan 日本文化における時間と空間 (El tiempo y el espacio en la cultura japonesa). Iwanami Shoten, Tokio, 2007, y cuya portada se ha incluido aquí.