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Posts Tagged ‘nationalism’

“Love, Peace, Dreams, and Bombs,” an event my friends and I had been planning since last year, finally came to fruition this past February, and I flew back to Santa Barbara very briefly (from Okinawa, where I had been pursuing my dissertation research for a six month stay) to take part. Not quite a symposium or conference, but also not simply an art exhibition, “Love, Peace, Dreams, and Bombs” combined an exhibit of new works by MFA student Yumiko Glover with a series of talks by Yumiko, EALCS PhD student Carl Gabrielson, EALCS Professor Sabine Frühstück, Art History PhD student A. Colin Raymond, and myself, plus video interviews of all of us, conducted and edited by YouTuber / LGBT-activist Naoya Matsushima.

Now that the website is complete, I thought it about time to finally post on the blog about this.

The event was originally conceived as something of an “experiment” in graduate-student-initiated and cross-department / interdisciplinary events, which might stand as an example in incremental moves towards (1) greater interdisciplinary collaboration within the academy, (2) greater variety in the style and character of academic events, and (3) more student-initiated events on campus. Of course, few events I’ve ever participated in have ever been nearly as radical, or impactful, as we might imagine or expect or hope for them to be, and all of them, once they are over, are simply over, but I’m still rather proud of, and happy with, what we accomplished.

Yumiko Glover, “Tomoko vs. Mr. A” (2016). Acrylic on canvas, 77″ sq. Photo my own. (Sadly, I can’t seem to find any of my photos from that week, so I’m using photos from another art show.)

Yumiko’s artwork continues to get my gears turning – not only beautiful, and masterfully executed, but also wonderfully thought-provoking, containing or suggesting references in numerous different directions, to themes of contemporary Japanese social and political issues, but also anime/manga and youth fashion aesthetics, bubble-gum-bright pop colors, hyperreality and technofuturism – they are highly contemporary works, in modern media and techniques, featuring contemporary or even futuristic subjects (schoolgirls, metropolitan skylines, subways, cellphones, the digital world) but also while subtly referencing or even re-imagining / re-creating (mitate-e) classic images from Japanese art history, such as woodblock prints by Harunobu and Utamaro.

The exhibit opened on Sunday Feb 26, and on the Tuesday, three of us (Yumiko, Colin, and myself) gave brief presentations in Prof. Helen Taschian’s ART 1A: Intro to Visual Literacy class, in addition to all five of us giving talks in a more formal panel event the following day at UCSB’s MultiCultural Center (MCC) theatre. I could certainly appreciate how these talks at Prof. Taschian’s class might be seen as tangential, or incidental, to the overall project – and there have certainly been plenty of times that I, as a mere attendee to a “main event” panel discussion have not felt that the classroom visits and other activities I didn’t see constituted part of the main event – but, this time around, as a direct participant in this classroom visit, I really did feel it to be a part of the overall event, the overall experience. This has really given me a new appreciation for how it feels to be a visiting speaker, not just for one “main event” but for other things done in conjunction, and a new appreciation for appreciating the fullness of such events. Even with the talks being just tweaked slightly different versions from what we presented the following day at the formal panel discussion, the classroom visit felt quite different. A different audience, with different background and interests and perspectives. The Visual Literacy class itself provided a different context within which – building on their basic foundational knowledge of art & aesthetics acquired over just the past seven weeks of the academic quarter – we were introducing them to Yumiko’s work, to a brief sampling of Okinawan art today (my presentation), and to some issues and problems in thinking about contemporary art, through examples from contemporary Japanese art (Colin’s presentation). It felt really cool to be including a bit of Japanese, Okinawan, and Japanese/American art (or however Yumiko may identify/categorize her own art practice) into their Visual Literacy class. I don’t know how global (how US/Eurocentric or not) Prof. Taschian’s course is to begin with, but I definitely get a kick out of exposing students to non-Western examples as major examples of how we think about art, etc. American or European art – or particular standard canonical examples of non-Western art – need not be the default go-to examples. We are global citizens of a global world. Let us act like it. And talking about some of the biggest artists in Tokyo, and in Okinawa (or we might just as well have said Tahiti, Hawaii, or countless other marginalized, peripheralized places), plus works by someone like Yumiko Glover, using these and not more standard examples from a canon of Western (or non-Western) modern art, is a key element of doing that. Prof. Taschian’s class also did a walkthrough of the exhibit on the Thursday, along with a formal “critique” of Yumiko’s work by professors and grad students from the Studio Art program, and while I wasn’t able to be there for this part, this too is to my mind very much a part of the overall event, making “Love, Peace, Dreams, and Bombs” overall a fairly complex, extensive, event, and one I’m all the more satisfied with and proud of having been a part of.

Still, the exhibit itself (and gallery opening reception), and the panel discussion at the MCC, were the real centerpieces of the week. I am so glad to have gotten to do this in the MCC theatre. If we had gotten a classroom, that would have been fine, but doing it in the MCC made the whole thing just feel one level “higher” – classier, nicer, more properly put-together, in a sense. Yumiko talked about her artworks, how they were inspired in large part by her own identity and experiences, growing up in Fukuyama, Hiroshima prefecture (about 63 miles from Hiroshima City), and being Japanese, seeing how Japanese popular culture, media, everyday life, and national-level politics have developed over the last several decades. Yumiko’s works are not only about hyperreality and a colorful, pop-aesthetic Tokyo-urban landscape of everyday life infused with youthful energy, referencing or built upon a backdrop history of Japanese art tradition, but the most recent batches are also increasingly engaged in political commentary, against the renewed militarism and nationalism of the Abe administration and its supporters.

Sabine Frühstück and Carl Gabrielson then talked about that recent trend of rising militarism, particularly in terms of the imag(in)ed role or place of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces within Japanese life or Japanese society, the step-by-step shift of the JSDF from total non-involvement in warzones in the 1990s to increased engagement first in postwar minesweeping efforts in the Persian Gulf overseas construction efforts in Cambodia, and then later in an active warzone (although still not with combat troops – only medics, engineers, etc. etc.) in Iraq in the early 2000s, to now, since 2015, a formal reinterpretation of the Constitution newly adopted into law, which would allow Japan to deploy full-on combat troops not only in defense of Japan (or reaction to attacks against Japanese people or property) but also in response to attacks on allies.

Carl talked in particular about the way the JSDF is marketed to the Japanese public, as protectors of an idealized clean, honest, peaceful, prosperous Japanese everyday life – a very common trope throughout Japanese media – and as protectors who do so without any explicit or overt discussion or display of violence. JSDF ads include very little, if any, depiction of weaponry or action, at all, focusing very much instead on a more quiet, soft perhaps, dignified image of people – largely unseen, unheard, in everyday Japanese life, operating somewhere at a physical remove, a distance – who work to protect Japanese life from turmoil and threats. Even the threats themselves are not only not named, they are left entirely undefined: these ads don’t so much stir up “fear” (e.g. fear of Islamic extremist terrorism) as they do, arguably, perhaps, merely emphasize the goodness of what needs to be protected.

I next shared a glimpse, a sampling, of what I’d seen of Okinawan art in the preceding six months or so. I would say my main intention was twofold: (1) to just simply share something of my experience; even those who’ve spent more time in Tokyo, who know the Tokyo and national art scene better than I do haven’t been feet-on-the-ground seeing all this stuff in Okinawa right now, in 2016-17 as it happens. And (2) to try to contribute just a bit to combatting the continued US/Eurocentrism of our understanding and vision of the art world. This is the 21st century. We are global citizens, Let’s fucking act like it. Okinawa is a part of the world, no less so than California or New York or Texas, no less so than England or France or Japan or China. No matter how small, no matter how seemingly peripheral in one way or another, it is a part of our world, a jigsaw puzzle piece that is essential to a more complete vision of the whole.

Finally, Colin talked about how we understand art and aesthetic categories. In the aftermath of minimalism and modernism reaching (arguably) their limits, the movements having been played out to their fullest possible extent, now what? In our frenetic postmodern moment, when absolutely anything can be art, what now is (and is not) “Art”? Also, as we become increasingly interconnected into the global, just because we have access to seeing more art from around the world doesn’t mean we actually understand it in cultural and political context. It may actually be easier than ever before to think we do – seeing artworks from all around the world on the internet, and at a first glance thinking we “get” it, based on preconceptions about Japan. But, in truth, as Colin explained, there is historical, cultural, and political knowledge that is essential to understanding more validly, more deeply, more truly, what an artwork is referencing or pointing to.

Matthew Limb did an excellent job as moderator, guiding us through some important themes and questions at the end of the panel.

These were accompanied by the brilliant inclusion of a series of video interviews organized by Naoya Matsushima, projected onto the wall of the gallery. While five of us gave talks in UCSB’s MultiCultural Center (MCC) theatre in a formal panel event on the Wednesday, that’s ephemeral – even more ephemeral than a one-week gallery show – and these videos, summarizing the main themes of our talks in a (hopefully) even more accessible manner than the talks themselves, brought those talks, those topics, more directly into conversation with the artworks.

It was a real pleasure to collaborate with these folks, and to have such an event under my belt, keeping me connected into fields of Art and Art History, and to get to contribute to having just a bit more Japan-related events on campus, introducing our audiences to these various aspects of Japanese & Okinawan art and politics. I look forward to hopefully many more fruitful collaborations in future.

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Richard Martinez, whose son Chris Martinez was killed in the Isla Vista shootings in May 2014. Photo from a memorial exhibit on campus at UC Santa Barbara, June 2015.

In the wake of yet another mass shooting here in the United States, yet another new multitude of blog posts, op-ed pieces, and the like have come out commenting on the issues of gun control, gun rights, mental health, and so on. I found one by David Roberts, published on VOX, particularly thought-provoking.

I’ll admit, I skimmed over a considerable portion of the article dealing with how liberals’ and conservatives’ brains are (apparently, according to research) observably different. I’m no neuroscientist, but from what I’ve read on that subject, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like there may be a correlation / causation issue here. Do people become liberals or conservatives because they’re born with (genetically, physically, chemically) different brains, and thus see the world differently, and think differently? Or, are their brains different because of how they’ve developed, due to exposure to experiences, lessons learned from parents & teachers & media, etc.? Are our brains different because of how we think, or do we think differently because of how our brains are?

But, Roberts then goes on to talk about the psychology, ideology, philosophy, whatever we want to call it, of “Why mass shootings don’t convince gun owners to support gun control,” that is,

To our gun owner, another mass shooting is not an argument for getting rid of guns. It’s a confirmation of his every instinct, another sign of moral and societal decay, another reason to arm himself and defend what he’s got left.

With that in mind, and then reading about the latest textbook controversy in South Korea, I got to thinking… Maybe this is PoliSci 101, super basic. I wouldn’t know, since I’ve never taken an actual Political Science class. But, I wonder if there’s something to be said of the political left & right in many countries – or, perhaps, in all, by definition? – that the left might take the positive aspects of one’s history as given, thus seeking the negative in order to persuade improvement, while the right takes the positive as being in constant need of re-affirmation, or reassurance.

It really is no wonder that our politics today (in the US at least) is so polarized – not because of beliefs about gay marriage, or abortion, or Islam, per se, but because of the deeper *emotional* or existential roots of why people feel, or believe, the way they do. If you believe that whatever good in your society is under constant threat of crumbling, then of course you’re going to want to “conserve” it, and not only will you be conservative in your views, but you might take it as a deep existential and emotional crisis… How are we, as liberals, progressives, whatever the word is, to combat that? We can try to combat that by pointing out the faults, the negatives, in what the conservatives are trying to conserve – point out to them that the good things they’re trying to restore or conserve aren’t so good after all, or that the ‘good old days’ never really were real – but any such arguments only reinforce their notion that things are falling apart, and that it’s our fault, that the liberals /want/ to tear it apart… When such things come down to so many people’s very core fibers of their being, when it has to do with feelings of existential threat, I don’t know that rational argument or critical thinking can win the day. And that goes for both sides, in their own senses…

What resolution can there be when people come from such fundamentally different views of the world? As an American raised on particular notions of democracy and civics and so forth, I want to believe that the solution is that we need to re-learn how to once again come together to discuss our differing opinions together, rationally and compassionately considering the merits of all sides of an issue, in order to come to some kind of agreement, or compromise. Such are the ideals upon which our country is based. But, I’m not sure I see such removed, thoughtful, respectful discussion even in our university classrooms and quads. Are such ideals attainable? Were they ever?

The Stars and Stripes, flying over Pearl Harbor. Which America are we trying to conserve, or to achieve?

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This has been much in the news lately, so I suppose it’s about time I post something about it. Incidentally, after not checking on my own site for just a few days, I came back today to find I had 46 spam messages. Wow. I’ve never seen so many at once before.

For those living under a rock the last few weeks, anti-Japanese riots have erupted in China, nominally connected to the territorial dispute over a set of tiny uninhabited islands known as Diaouyu in Chinese, and Senkaku in Japanese. Here is a recent Wall Street Journal article on the events, just one of a countless number published in the last few weeks.

I refuse to get into it here, because then I’m just inviting more debate, more wasteful flamewars (though, at the very least, it would get me to actually have some non-spam comments on this blog..). But, suffice it to say that despite the assertions of a recent NY Times editorial column by Han-Yi Shaw, and numerous rebuttals in which he is gloriously torn apart, this is not really about who truly, legally, rightfully, is in the right regarding claims to these stupid islands. The Chinese rioters, supported by their government, have seen to that. The dispute over the islands, much as they might like to pretend otherwise, was never really their primary attention. Once again, the Chinese have found an excuse to launch anti-Japanese riots, reviving a myriad of issues decades old and conflating them all with what should be a much more limited, specific, political debate, fanning the flames of hate and re-igniting the crucible of Chinese ultra-nationalist fervor & outrage against wrongs committed generations ago.

A friend suggested that we must take Chinese conceptions of nation and national territory into account, understanding Chinese attitudes about how any and all territory that was historically part of China is seen as integral to the wholeness of the Chinese nation-state, and how even the tiniest incursion is thus seen as an attack on the whole. A very interesting thought, and one I kind of enjoy, as I much prefer cultural lines of inquisition to the utterly boring realm of political theory and power politics; the Orientalist idea of China having a markedly different, separate, cultural conception of itself is a wonderfully romantic and intriguing one. I like it, and I’d be curious to know more about this. If anyone has any academic articles to recommend on Chinese conceptions of the essential nature of possession of all Chinese people & land, I’d be curious to read them.

Master wordsmith Murakami Haruki summarizes contemporary Japanese attitudes on nationalistic fervor best, I believe, saying:

“Anger-fuelled disputes of this kind are not unlike cheap liquor: Cheap liquor gets you drunk after only a few shots and makes you hysterical. It makes you speak loudly and act rudely. . . But after your drunken rampage you are left with nothing but an awful headache the next morning. We must be careful about politicians and polemicists who lavish us with this cheap liquor and fan this kind of rampage.”

With any luck, the Chinese and Koreans can learn this lesson too, and won’t have to learn it the hard way, as Japan and Germany did. (Hopefully we Americans can soon learn that lesson as well.)

You can read the entirety of Murakami’s essay, in translation into English, here.

This bullshit of Chinese & Koreans refusing to let go of age-old issues, and refusal to allow relations to become more fully friendly and peaceful has got to stop. It has got to end. What we need, in the words of Genki Sudo, is a “permanent revolution.”

Sigh. If only it were so simple. What magic words can they exchange in negotiations that will make a permanent revolution a reality?

People act as though the world they know, the world of the present, is the only way things could possibly be. Either that, or they believe that the 1890s-1940s are all there is to history. But the relationship between China, Korea, and Japan is more than a thousand years old, and it has taken many dramatically different forms over the centuries. It was different before, and it can be different again. All it takes is a willingness to put the recent past aside, and look to the future.

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China (and often South Korea) sees everything through imperialism-colored glasses. Everything, that is, except for their own expansions into Tibet, Mongolia, Manchuria, Xinjiang, and other regions not historically controlled by the Chinese, which are then gradually filled with Han Chinese settlers who homogenize the culture and drive native cultures into the ground. But I’m not here to talk about China’s imperialism. Today’s entry is about China’s imaginative view of foreign imperialism, and is inspired by a great opinion piece entitled “Why the Games bring out ugly side of the Chinese.” I must thank Keane Shum, the eloquent and insightful Georgetown student who shared his thoughts with us, and the WordPress blog Ampotan where I discovered said article.

Mr Shum cuts to the core of Chinese nationalism in writing:

What scares me — in addition to a mob mentality in a country of 1.3 billion people — is that I think at least part of this mentality comes from refusing to be the white man’s lackey, from wanting to emerge triumphantly from oppression, from a need to say, “I told you so” to former imperial powers.

This isn’t about Japan. This isn’t about World War II, and this isn’t about the Korean or Vietnam Wars which followed. This has its roots in something considerably older, which the engineers behind Chinese nationalism have chosen to latch onto, to twist and craft, and to refuse to let go of. It has to do with the Opium Wars, with the failure of the Middle Kingdom, center of all civilization, ruled by the Son of Heaven and possessed of the oldest, deepest, most powerful and proud culture in the world, not to mention the largest army in the world, to defend itself, to repel the European and American invaders, and to establish itself as a superpower.

It has to do with ignoring all the ways China fucked itself over over the course of the last two centuries, and blaming it all on the West (and Japan). First, China failed to be organized enough, technologically advanced enough, militarily strong enough, to repel the Europeans (Brits in particular I suppose, if we’re talking about the 1840s) and force them to deal on China’s terms. Next, China failed to modernize, to advance well enough to catch up with the West, and, skipping ahead a few decades, lost to Japan in the Sino-Japanese War. China continued its road to failure by overthrowing its monarchy and descending into roughly four decades of civil war, leaving it far from prepared to fight off the Japanese a second time. Emerging from the ashes in 1949 with the civil war ended and a new government, mainland China threw tradition to the wind, turned its own conception of its own history on its head, invented a new culture, a new national identity, whole cloth, and proceeded to march forward into an imaginary world ruled not by fact, but by a false perception of the world fashioned by the Communist government, a false perception that we now see reaching a climax as one billion Chinese throw a massive tantrum in unison, screaming like upset toddlers about how the Western media is scheming to deceive, and refusing to acknowledge that the view of the world taught them by their government, and by their lack of free access to media, Internet, and books which would reveal to them the truth, is all a lie. I’m not even going to talk about the Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution and all that. Let’s save space and not even go into the details.

Shum gets it completely right when he says that the Chinese are hung up on a refusal to be the white man’s lackey, a need to say “I told you so” to former imperial powers, to rise up from oppression. Anything and everything the West (or Japan) does that might be perceived in any way as imperialistic is labeled as such, and is called “imperialist” with all the negative connotations one’s mind can muster. Note that whenever Japan’s government or official representatives so much as mention the word Takeshima, South Korea flies into an uproar, accusing Japan of desiring, of having always desired, to conquer the continent, starting with Dokdo, and then Korea. But who’s the imperialists? No major Western power has had an Empire since the end of WWII, and most of them (starting with Britain) are extremely sore and excessively self-critical about it. Out of the US, Europe, and Japan, no one, and I mean no one, is seeking to act imperialistically today, or any time in the near future.

And China is no one’s lackey today, and has not been anyone’s lackey ever, really, with a few exceptions. The Manchus and Mongols led quite lengthy dynasties, conquering, overtaking, suppressing and oppressing the Han Chinese. But we’re not going to talk about that. China was the Soviet Union’s lackey for pretty much the entire period of the Cold War – the lesser Red Threat, the smaller Communist power. And yet, here too, I don’t sense much antagonism on the part of Beijing’s mood makers.

I suppose I have lost my train of thought, as I always do, and my argument has grown dilute, maybe almost nonsensical. But the point is this – we are no longer living in the Age of Imperialism. It is over, done, past, kaput. China and South Korea need to realize this, need to stop seeing imperialism everywhere they turn, and need to focus their nationalistic energies elsewhere.

It is evident in the immense environmental problems that China is facing today, and the rapid destruction of traditional neighborhoods and homes (see also increasing lack of traditional architecture or historic sites in Hong Kong and Shanghai), that they hate the West (or the US or Japan or foreign people/powers in general) more than they love themselves. Stop looking at us and start looking at yourselves – what does it mean to be Chinese? What are you proud of? Are you proud of the natural beauty of your country? Are you proud of its long and rich history? Its deep traditions and beautiful culture? If so, then stop destroying it out of some misguided attempt to get back at a world which hasn’t been your oppressor for many many years, if ever.

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