The Aesthetics of Japanese Fascism

The Aesthetics of Japanese Fascism

The Aesthetics of Japanese Fascism

The Aesthetics of Japanese Fascism

Synopsis

In this wide-ranging study of Japanese cultural expression, Alan Tansman reveals how a particular, often seemingly innocent aesthetic sensibility--present in novels, essays, popular songs, film, and political writings--helped create an "aesthetic of fascism" in the years leading up to World War II. Evoking beautiful moments of violence, both real and imagined, these works did not lead to fascism in any instrumental sense. Yet, Tansman suggests, they expressed and inspired spiritual longings quenchable only through acts in the real world. Tansman traces this lineage of aesthetic fascism from its beginnings in the 1920s through its flowering in the 1930s to its afterlife in postwar Japan.

Excerpt

The great cultural and political critic George Orwell once insisted that “a writer’s political and religious beliefs are not excrescences to be laughed away, but something that will leave their mark even on the smallest detail of his work.” To read these marks requires being mindful of aesthetic acts in their real-world contexts and to see signs of power in even the most apolitical aesthetic triumphs. In Richard Poirier’s words, “to read in accordance with these verbal actions is to be truly and most rigorously historical.” Heeding Orwell’s insight and Poirier’s methodology, I hope in this book to speak to readers of both literature and history interested in the power of aesthetics to shape, and be shaped by, the lived political world.

In my attempt to read aesthetics within history, I have been guided by some inspired readers who have lavished their time and attention on the book. Harry Harootunian was generous enough to read a very early and unwieldy manuscript that I sent him out of the blue. His willingness to revisit my work time and again with sharp and invigorating criticisms, knowing (I suspect) that I might come to conclusions different from his own, bespeaks a model of intellectual passion, openness, and generosity. Paula Varsano and Alejandro Yarza patiently read and valiantly reread the manuscript at various stages, constantly challenging me with the intensity of their intellectual and editorial engagement. One could not hope for better sparring partners. Christine Hong and Greg Pflugfelder provided excellent conceptual and editorial help. Lalitha Gopalan, through her delightful passion for cultural analysis, taught me how to think about film. Others have helped me with their careful readings of sections of the manuscript: Kim Brandt, Kirsten Cather, Kevin Doak, Jordan Sand, and the anonymous reviewers at the University of California and University of Chicago Presses.

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