Some of you who know me well (academically) will probably not be surprised by this post, but here I go anyway. I just need to vent a little.
I am typing up handwritten notes right now, getting organized. I am typing some words over and over (used by the authors of the things I took notes on, not me): “western,” “european” and their “influence”.
Okay, I am officially calling you out on this, scholars. This, as far as I am concerned, is about as INTELLECTUALLY LAZY as you can get.
I am inspired by a particularly headache-inducing piece I’m reading right now by my new academic hero, Hara Hideshige (原秀成), who spends 40 pages going into extreme detail, with lots of quotes, on WHO and WHAT influenced Japanese publishing and newspaper ordinances, HOW (via who read them or were they actually involved with specific people in the government), and then also goes on to tackle the active involvement of German and French scholars in the writing of the Japanese constitution of 1889. This guy does not stop with “there was continental European influence but ultimately Japan went with the UK/US system because it was closer to the pre-existing emphasis on ‘copy’ rather than ‘right'”, he provides actual quotes and then compares them meticulously to the actual constitution. THEN, he quotes from the ordinances that got passed afterward (or beforehand) and how they functioned constitutionally.
Okay, actually I should back up. Here’s the things he’s doing that are in fact NOT intellectually lazy:
– differentiates between historical copyright systems in continental Europe (differentiating German, French, and Italian laws and their variations depending on date), AND that of US/UK , again citing specific laws that were translated and used when developing publishing ordinances and the constitutional “protection” (or limitation, really) of free speech, press, and association. (ie. the 1842 UK copyright act).
(Given how different these systems and traditions were at the time (to oversimplify, continent = authors’ rights emphasized; UK/US = time-limited monopoly over making copies, similar to patent law), any attempt to simply brush it off as “Japan was influenced by Western ideas of copyright and authorship, and the Berne convention (which the US didn’t even sign onto until the 1970s)” is TOTALLY INSANE and historically inaccurate and simplified to the point of absurdity. In my opinion it’s unbelievably lazy scholarship and it really gets to me because I am running into it SO MUCH in my research right now – from American scholars (who have no clue about copyright/authors’ rights history but insist on writing articles about its influence on Japan) as well as Japanese.)
– does not use the word “western” (西洋) except when it’s being used by one of the people he’s quoting – ie., he’s sensitive to the historical distinctions in the meaning of the word.
– does not use the word “Europe and the US” (欧米) which I am discovering everyone in my field loves to use. Given the above distinction I’m making you can see how this is beginning to drive me out of my mind. When the word is used, it’s used in historical context and/or in quotes from people in the 1800s talking about what they’re doing.
– devotes a few pages to various terms used in publishing and copyright law, including the idea of civil law, and points out that often we are not sure what people were really talking about then because the terms weren’t consistently used or defined and there was no legal system in place to back them up anyway. reminder that we have to recognize that the terms overlap and we may not be able to distinguish whether someone is talking about authors’ rights or publishers’ rights.
– does not suddenly drop a nice complex argument by using a quoted ahistorical English word – my favorite (read: i hate it the most) is “authorship” or “author” – to reduce the conclusion to a meaningless sentence because of the lack of nuance or specificity in the quoted word.
– does not use historically-specific words and concepts in an ahistorical way.
…. sigh. Of course, I am being forced to type up in my notes arguments and word usage that are the opposite of what Hara’s articles are like. Maybe it will motivate me to type more quickly so I can get on to typing up my notes from the ones I read by him (most recent).
Okay, thanks for letting me get that out. For the record, my hatred is not just for “Western” – it extends to “modernity” as well. Don’t even get me started. Let’s just say I consider them ideological, ahistorical, and completely non-reality-based ideas that make me see red. 😛