Reading against Culture: Ideology and Narrative in the Japanese Novel

Reading against Culture: Ideology and Narrative in the Japanese Novel

Reading against Culture: Ideology and Narrative in the Japanese Novel

Reading against Culture: Ideology and Narrative in the Japanese Novel

Excerpt

I was curious to see whether this man, who had come out equipped with moral ideas of some sort, would climb to the top after all and how he would set about his work when there.

—Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

This book is about "reading against culture" in at least two senses of that ambiguous phrase. In the first and more ordinary sense, it means that we read (or write) not in a vacuum but rather against the background of what we already know and believe, both as lived and as learned experience, about our own and other cultures. Our every Africa, before it learned to shout back loudly enough to make us hear its own voices, first had its Rider Haggard, our every Orient its Gérard de Nerval, our every India its Rudyard Kipling, and later their Hemingways, Durrells, and Scotts. Eventually we learned to balance the exoticizing claims of the Westerner, claims already inherent in that suggestive word "novel," against a prosaic indigenous demand to be ordinary. Such a balancing, which began to happen only within the last century, is now the subject of various so-called postcolonial and subaltern studies. But the indigenous voice has had and will continue to have to contend for a long time against the enthusiastic Western chorus that persists in trying to transmogrify all of Egypt into Verdi's Aïda, all of India into Bizet's Pearl Fishers. Our picture of Japan too is in large part a pastiche of (among many other things) colorful and exotic dramas, bloody revenges, delicate emotions, inscrutable suicides: a whole confusing realm of the senses that has little coherence at all until caught against the backdrop of, say, Madama Butterfly or The Mikado. It is there, against these exotic backdrops, for better or for worse, that we have ended up making sense of it. The many vectors of interpretation this study will have to account for, then, include those polarities of culture which Homi Bhabha summarizes as "the heimlich pleasures of the hearth, the unheimlich terror of the space or race of the Other; the . . .

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