academic death squad

Are you interested in joining a supportive academic community online? A place to share ideas, brainstorming, motivation and inspiration, and if you’re comfortable, your drafts and freewriting and blogging for critique? If so, Academic Death Squad may be for you.

This is a Google group that I believe can be accessed publicly (although I’ve had some issues with signing up with non-Gmail addresses) although you appear to have to be logged in to Google to view the group’s page. Just put in a request to join and I’ll approve you. Or, if that doesn’t work, email me at mdesjardin (at) gmail.com.

Link: [Academic Death Squad]

I’m trying to get as many disciplines and geographic/chronological areas involved as possible, so all are welcome. And I especially would love to have diversity in careers, mixing in tenure-track faculty, adjuncts, grad students, staff broadly interpreted, librarians, museum curators, and independent scholars – and any other career path you can think of. Many of us not in grad student or faculty land have very little institutional support for academic research, so let’s support each other virtually.

In fact, one member has already posted a publication-ready article draft for last-minute comments, so we even have a little activity already!

Best regards and best wishes for this group. Please email me or comment on this post if you have questions, concerns, or suggestions.

よろしくお願いいたします!

*footnote: The name came originally based on a group I ran called “Creative Death Squad” but the real origin is an amazing t-shirt I used to own in Pittsburgh that read “412 Vegan Death Squad” and had a picture of a skull with a carrot driven through it. I hope the name connotates badass-ness, serious commitment to our research, and some casual levity. Take it as you will.

arsenal of research: organizing citations, PDFs, notes, brainstorming, and drafts

Post title courtesy of the tyrannical Brian Vivier.

Although I post about the content of my research quite a bit (when I do post), I thought I’d take a step back and talk about the research process today. I’m going to write about a very specific aspect: the ways in which the computer helps me organize and engage in my research.

Obviously, there are things like databases and library catalogs, which are a topic for another day. Many people I talk to don’t know the first thing about WorldCat, so it needs to be addressed! But let’s pretend I already have my sources. Now what do I do?

When I read, I’m very traditional. I take notes with pen and paper when I have a book or a photocopied source. In fact, I used to print out PDFs too, and highlight and write in the margins. Well, that turned out to be a terrible idea. Your highlights and margin notes are not very accessible when you’re coming back to the document later to brainstorm, outline, or write.

My lesson learned – learned after many difficult situations – was to take notes like I’m never going to see the source again. My advisor recommended I do this with primary sources, but if you take long notes that involve mostly direct quotes from the sources, there’s no need to buy the book or really even check it out again. There’s no need to keep binders and binders of printed-out PDFs. So that’s the kind of note-taking I do with pen and paper, first.

The next step is to get them into the computer, because I want them to be 1) stored somewhere safe (I do daily external HD backups, plus sync, more later on that), and 2) searchable, and also 3) copy and paste-able. But where to keep them? How to organize?

I have gone through several pieces of software trying to figure this out, and I’ve settled on Mendeley. I first used Scrivener even for note-taking, which is a great program, but bad for citation management. I then tried Zotero, but that turned out to be bad for PDF management. What I really wanted was a good database that would save my citations, any PDFs I happened to have (I’m currently digitizing all of my sources from my dissertation so they don’t get lost or damaged, and so I can free up my filing cabinet for other things), and ideally let me take notes and even annotate or highlight the PDFs.

Well, despite Mendeley being owned by the devil (Elsevier), it’s free and it actually does everything I need with only a few minor nitpicks, and does it in a way that makes me supremely happy. (My nitpicks are no nested bulleted lists in the notes, and no shortcut keys for bold/italics in the notes.) If you have a PDF attached to your citation and it has OCR, Mendeley’s search function will search not only your citations, notes, and annotations, but also inside the PDFs. It can be overkill at times, but it’s pretty amazing.

So step two of my research organization process is the painstaking, mindless, thankless task of typing my pen-and-paper notes into Mendeley under the appropriate citation. It’s boring but worth it. As I mentioned above, it searches all my notes, and I can copy and paste them into Scrivener, which I will address next. As I type my notes, at the very least I copy and paste them into brainstorming documents as appropriate (usually full quotes), and if I’m up to it, I do some free-writing to brainstorm how the source informs my topic and what I could write about related to it. This usually brings up new ideas I didn’t know I had.

What happens after I get all the notes typed in, PDFs organized and annotated if I have them? I next move over to Scrivener. I’ve been using it for over five years, for both research and creative writing, and can’t sing its praises enough. It’s a word processor that creates a database for your project, where you can store your reference materials, brainstorming ideas, notes, and draft. And more, if you can think of other areas you need to record notes in. Unlike old Scrivener (when I first started using it), you can now add footnotes and comments that port straight to MS Word when you compile your document for it, making the transition to final draft in Word very easy. (Sadly, publishers seem to prefer things that are not Scrivener databases when reviewing.) The typical things I store are the draft itself (of course), a research diary of brainstorming that I update periodically, brainstorming specifically about sources and particular concepts or points, and also under the “Notes” section the comments and suggestions and draft corrections I receive from others. So I keep my full writing process, except for mind mapping/concept mapping (another post), all in one place. It’s amazing.

I’m extremely happy with these two pieces of software; my only complaint is that neither of them does all of what I want, and I have to use two different things complementarily. Well, the situation is still significantly better than several years ago, when I used Mendeley Alpha and it deleted my entire library of citations multiple times. Yikes. Now its syncing works perfectly and I haven’t had a library failure yet. (Fingers crossed).

Next posts will include mind mapping software, how I take notes, how to effectively find and import source citations, and how I deal with multiple languages in my citations.

Pre-processing Japanese literature for text analysis

I recently wrote a small script to perform a couple of functions for pre-processing Aozora Bunko texts (text files of public domain, modern Japanese literature and non-fiction) to be used with Western-oriented text analysis tools, such as Voyant, other TAPoR tools, and MALLET. Whereas Japanese text analysis software focuses largely on linguistics (tagging parts of speech, lemmatizing, etc.), Western tools open up possibilities for visualization, concordances, topic modeling, and other various modes of analysis.

Why do these Aozora texts need to be processed? Well, a couple of issues.

  1. They contain ruby, which are basically glosses of Chinese characters that give their pronunciation. These can be straightforward pronunciation help, or actually different words that give added meaning and context. While I have my issues with removing ruby, it’s impossible to do straightforward tool-based analysis without removing it, and many people who want to do this kind of analysis want it to be removed.
  2. The Aozora files are not exactly plain text: they’re HTML. The HTML tags and Aozora metadata (telling where the text came from, for example) need to be removed before analysis can be performed.
  3. There are no spaces between words in Japanese, but Western text analysis tools identify words by looking at where there are spaces. Without inserting spaces, it looks like each line is one big word. So I needed to insert spaces between the Japanese words.

How did I do it? My approach, because of my background and expertise, was to create a Python script that used a couple of helpful libraries, including BeautifulSoup for ruby removal based on HTML tags, and TinySegmenter for inserting spaces between words. My script requires you to have these packages installed, but it’s not a big deal to do so. You then run the script in a command line prompt. The way it works is to look for all .html files in a directory, load them and run the pre-processing, then output each processed file with the same filename, .txt ending, a plain text UTF-8 encoded file.

The first step in the script is to remove the ruby. Helpfully, the ruby is contained in several HTML tags. I had BeautifulSoup traverse the file and remove all elements contained within these tags; it removes both the tags and content.

Next, I used a very simple regular expression to remove everything in brackets – i.e. the HTML tags. This is kind of quick and dirty, and won’t work on every file in the universe, but in Aozora texts everything inside a bracket is an HTML tag, so it’s not a problem here.

Finally, I used TinySegmenter on the resulting HTML-free text to split the text into words. Luckily for me, it returns an array of words – basically, each word is a separate element in a list like [‘word1’, ‘word2’, … ‘wordn’] for n words. This makes my life easy for two reasons. First, I simply joined the array with a space between each word, creating one long string (the outputted text) with spaces between each element in the array (words). Second, it made it easy to just remove the part of the array that contains Aozora metadata before creating that string. Again, this is quick and dirty, but from examining the files I noted that the metadata always comes at the end of the file and begins with the word 底本 (‘source text’). Remove that word and everything after it, and then you have a metadata-free file.

Write this resulting text into a plain text file, and you have a non-ruby, non-HTML, metadata-free, whitespace-delimited Aozora text! Although you have to still download all the Aozora files individually and then do what you will with the resulting individual text files, it’s an easy way to pre-process this text and get it ready for tool-based (and also your-own-program-based) text analysis.

I plan to put the script on GitHub for your perusal and use (and of course modification) but for now, check it out on my Japanese Text Analysis research guide at Penn.

#dayofDH Japanese digital resource research guides

Another “digital” thing I’ve been doing that relates to the “humanities” (but is it even remotely DH? I don’t know), is the creation of research guides for digital resources in Japanese studies of all kinds, with a focus on Japanese-language free websites and databases, and open-access publications.

So far, I’ve been working hard on creating guides for electronic Japanese studies resources, and mobile apps easily accessible in the US for both Android and iOS that relate to Japanese research or language study. The digital resources guide covers everything from general digital archives and citation indexes to literature, art, history, pop culture, and kuzushiji resources (for reading handwritten pre- and early modern documents). They range from text and image databases to dictionaries and even YouTube videos and online courseware for learning classical Japanese and how to read manuscripts.

This has been a real challenge, as you can imagine. Creating lists of stuff is one thing (and is one thing I’ve done for Japanese text analysis resources), but actually curating them and creating the equivalent of annotated bibliographies is quite another. It’s been a huge amount of research and writing – both in discovery of sources, and also in investigating and evaluating them, then describing them in plain terms to my community. I spent hours on end surfing the App and Play Stores and downloading/trying countless awful free apps – so you don’t have to!

It’s especially hard to find digital resources in ways other than word of mouth. I find that I end up linking to other librarians’ LibGuides (i.e. research guides) often because they’ve done such a fantastic job curating their own lists already. I wonder sometimes if we’re all just duplicating each other’s efforts! The NCC has a database of research guides, yes, but would it be better if we all collaboratively edited just one? Would it get overwhelming? Would there be serious disagreements about how to organize, whether to include paid resources (and which ones), and where to file things?

The answer to all these questions is probably yes, which creates problems. Logistically, we can’t have every Japanese librarian in the English-speaking world editing the same guide anyway. So it’s hard to say what the solution is – keep working in our silos? Specialize and tell our students and faculty to Google “LibGuide Japanese” + topic? (Which is what I’ve done in the past with art and art history.) Search the master NCC database? Some combination is probably the right path.

Until then, I will keep working on accumulating as many kuzushiji resources as I can for Penn’s reading group, and updating my mobile app guide if I ever find a decent まとめ!

#dayofDH Meiroku zasshi 明六雑誌 project

It’s come to my attention that Fukuzawa Yukichi’s (and others’) early Meiji (1868-1912) journal, Meiroku zasshi 明六雑誌, is available online not just as PDF (which I knew about) but also as a fully tagged XML corpus from NINJAL (and oh my god, it has lemmas). All right!

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 11.09.55 AM

I recently met up with Mark Ravina at Association for Asian Studies, who brought this to my attention, and we are doing a lot of brainstorming about what we can do with this as a proof-of-concept project, and then move on to other early Meiji documents. We have big ideas like training OCR to recognize the difference between the katakana and kanji 二, for example; Meiji documents generally break OCR for various reasons like this, because they’re so different from contemporary Japanese. It’s like asking Acrobat to handle a medieval manuscript, in some ways.

But to start, we want to run the contents of Meiroku zasshi through tools like MALLET and Voyant, just to see how they do with non-Western languages (don’t expect any problems, but we’ll see) and what we get out of it. I’d also be interested in going back to the Stanford Core NLP API and seeing what kind of linguistic analysis we can do there. (First, I have to think of a methodology.  :O)

In order to do this, we need whitespace-delimited text with words separated by spaces. I’ve written about this elsewhere, but to sum up, Japanese is not separated by spaces, so tools intended for Western languages think it’s all one big word. There are currently no easy ways I can find to do this splitting; I’m currently working on an application that both strips ruby from Aozora bunko texts AND splits words with a space, but it’s coming slowly. How to get this with Meiroku zasshi in a quick and dirty way that lets us just play with the data?

So today after work, I’m going to use Python’s eTree library for XML to take the contents of the word tags from the corpus and just spit them into a text file delimited by spaces. Quick and dirty! I’ve been meaning to do this for weeks, but since it’s a “day of DH,” I thought I’d use the opportunity to motivate myself. Then, we can play.

Exciting stuff, this corpus. Unfortunately most of NINJAL’s other amazing corpora are available only on CD-ROMs that work on old versions of Windows. Sigh. But I’ll work with what I’ve got.

So that’s your update from the world of Japanese text analysis.

#dayofDH Japanese apps workshop for new Penn students

Today, we’re having a day in the library for prospective and new Penn students who will (hopefully) join our community in the fall. As part of the library presentations, I’ve been asked to talk about Japanese mobile apps, especially for language learning.

While I don’t consider this a necessarily DH thing, some people do, and it’s a way that I integrate technology into my job – through workshops and research guides on various digital resources. (More on that later.)

I did this workshop for librarians at the National Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources (NCC)’s workshop before the Council on East Asian Libraries conference a few weeks ago in March 2014. My focus was perhaps too basic for a savvy crowd that uses foreign languages frequently in their work: I covered the procedure for setting up international keyboards on Android and iOS devices, dictionaries, news apps, language learning assistance, and Aozora bunko readers. However, I did manage to impart some lesser known information: how to set up Japanese and other language dictionaries that are built into iOS devices for free. I got some thanks on that one. Also noted was the Aozora 2 Kindle PDF-maker.

Today, I’ll focus more on language learning and the basics of setting up international keyboards. I’ve been surprised at the number of people who don’t know how to do this, but not everyone uses foreign languages on their devices regularly, and on top of that, not everyone loves to poke around deep in the settings of their computer or device. And keyboard switching on Android can be especially tricky, with apps like Simeji. So perhaps covering the basics is a good idea after all.

I don’t have a huge amount of contact with undergrads compared to the reference librarians here, and my workshops tend to be focused on graduate students and faculty with Japanese language skills. So I look forward to working with a new community of pre-undergrads and seeing what their needs and desires are from the library.

#DayofDH Good morning and self introduction

Cross-posted from Day of DH Wasting Gold Paper

I’m up early on this Day of DH 2014. So much to do!

I thought I’d introduce myself to you all, so you have an idea of my background. I’m not your typical DH practitioner – I’m not in the academy (in a traditional way) and I’m also not working with Western-language materials. My concerns don’t always apply to English-language text or European medieval manuscripts. So, if you looked in Asia I’d be less remarkable, but here in the English-language DH world I don’t run across many people like myself.

Anyway, good morning; I’m Molly, the Japanese Studies Librarian at University of Pennsylvania, also managing Korean collection. That means that I take care of everything – from collection development to reference and instruction – that has to do with Japan/Korea, or is in Japanese/Korean at the library and beyond.

Penn_1

Let’s start off with my background. I went to college at University of Pittsburgh for Computer Science and History (Asian history of course) and studied Japanese there for 4 years. I fully intended at the outset to become a software developer, but somewhere along the line, I decided to apply my skills somewhere outside that traditional path: librarianship. And so off I went (with a two-year hiatus in between) to graduate school for a PhD in Asian studies (Japanese literature and book history) and an MSI in Library Science at University of Michigan. Along the way, I interned at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (CDRH), redesigning the website for, and rewriting part of the code of, a text analysis app using XSLT for the Cather archive.

After Michigan, I spent a year as a postdoc at Harvard’s Resichauer Institute, working half-time on my humanities research and half-time on a digital archive (The Digital Archive of Japan’s 2011 Disasters, or JDArchive.) Then, in July 2013, I made my first big step into librarianship here at Penn, and have been happily practicing in my chosen profession since then. I’m still new, and there is a lot to learn, but I’m loving every minute.

I admit, finding ways to integrate my CS and humanities background has been a huge challenge. I was most of the way through graduate school when someone recommended going into DH (which didn’t exactly happen – there aren’t a lot of non-postdoc or non-teaching jobs out there now). My dissertation project, a very close-reading-based analysis of five case studies of single books as objects and in terms of their publishing and reception, did not lend itself at all to a digital methodology other than using digital archives to get ahold of their prefaces and keyworded newspaper databases to find their advertisements and reviews. I used a citation index that goes back to the Meiji (1868-1912) period to find sources. Well, most of my research in fact involved browsing physical issues of early 20th-century magazines in the basement of a library in Japan, and looking at the books themselves in addition to the discourse surrounding them. I simply couldn’t think of anything to do that would be “digital.”

So my research in that area – plus what I’m working on now – have continued to be non-DH, although if you’re the kind of person who involves anything “new media” in the DH definition, it may be a little. (I am not that person.) Why do I still call myself a DH practitioner, and why do I bother participating in the community even now?

Well, despite working full time, I’m still committed to figuring out how to apply my skills to new, more DH-style projects, even as I don’t want my other traditional humanities research to die out either. It’s a balancing act. How to find the time and energy to learn new skills and just plain old carve out space to practice ones I already have?

I have a couple of opportunities. One is my copious non-work free time. (Ha. Ha.) Second is my involvement in the open and focused lab sessions of Vitale II, the digital lab (okay, it’s a room with a whiteboard and a camera) at the Kislak Center for special collections in Van Pelt Library. I have a top-secret brainstorming session with a buddy today about how we can make even more social, mental, and temporal space for DH work in the library on a topically focused basis. I’m jealous of the Literary Lab; that should speak for itself. In any case, I also ran into a fellow Japanese studies DH aspirant at the Association for Asian Studies Conference a few weeks ago too, and he and I are plotting with each other as well.

So there are time and social connections to be made, and collaboration that can take place despite all odds. But it’s still a huge challenge. I can do my DH work at 5:30 am, in the evening (when I have no brainpower left), or early on the weekends. I have many other things competing for my time, not least two other research articles I’m working on. I could also be doing my real work at any of those times without the need to explain.

Yet I do it. It’s because I love making things, because I love bringing my interests together and working on something that involves a different part of my brain from reading and writing. I’m excited about the strange and wonderful things that can come from experimental analysis that, even if they aren’t usable, can make me think more broadly and weirdly.

More to follow. よろしくお願いします!

the first-world internet

I heard an interesting presentation today, but it concluded with a very developed-world, class-based interpretation of the Internet that I simply can’t agree with.

Although it’s true that more students are coming from abroad to study in the US (attributed in the presentation partially to budgetary issues in public schools in the US, another issue entirely), the idea of ‘globalization’, I’d argue, is really a concept based in the developed world. Yes, we have more students studying ‘cross-border’ topics, and interested in the world outside of the US. American students are coming into more contact with international students thanks to their presence in American universities, and perhaps gaining more cultural competency through this interaction. ‘Global studies’ are now a thing.

But this presentation talked at the end about the global power of the Internet, and globalization generally, about being able to reach across borders and communicate unimpeded. It doesn’t just have the potential to break down barriers, but already actively does so, this presenter posited. It doesn’t just encourage dissent but is already a channel for dissent, and an opportunity available to all.

International students in the US may be experiencing this power of the Internet, yes. But at home? Students from nations such as China and Saudi Arabia may not have experienced the Internet in this way, and may not be able to experience it back home in the same way as they can in the West, in Korea, in Japan, in other developed countries. (And I realize that’s a problematic term in itself.) Moreover, not all American students have experienced this Internet either. The students we find in universities generally already have opportunities not available to everyone, including their access to technology and the Internet.

There’s also the inherent assumption that this global access – and ‘global studies’ in general – takes place in English. While many students abroad are studying English, not all have this opportunity; moreover, their access to the educational opportunities of the developed world are limited to those opportunities they can access in English. Many undergraduates and even graduate students in the US limit themselves to the kind of global studies that can take place without foreign language competency. I realize that many do attempt foreign language studies and while the vast majority of undergraduates I encounter who are interested in Japan and Korea cannot read materials in their focus countries’ languages, they are often enrolled in language classes and doing their best. However, there are many more who are not. They do not come to the world – they expect the world to come to them.

And there are many, many students around the world who do not have access to the English Internet, or cross-border collaboration in English through the opportunities the Internet potentially affords (or doesn’t, depending on the country). They may not even have reliable access to electricity, let alone a data connection. This is changing, but not at the speed that the kind of thinking I encountered today assumes.

Related to this, another presentation talked about the power of MOOCs and online learning experiences in general. And yes, while I generally agree that there is much potential here, the vast majority of MOOCs currently available require English, a reliable connection, reliable electricity. They are by and large taken by educated adult males, who speak English. There is potential, but that is not the same as actual opportunity.

Overall, I think we need to question what we are saying when we talk about the power of the global Internet, and distinguish between potential and reality. Moreover, we need to distinguish exactly the groups we are talking about when we talk about globalization, global studies, and cross-border/cross-cultural communication. Even without the assumption of a developed-world, upper-class Internet, we need to recognize that by and large, our work is still conducted in silos, especially in the humanities. Science researchers in Japan may be doing English-language collaboration with international colleagues, but humanities researchers largely cannot communicate in English and cross-language research in those fields is rare. I can’t speak for countries other than Japan and the US, really, but despite the close mutual interest in areas such as Japanese literature and history, there is little collaboration between the two countries – despite the potential, as with digitizing rare materials and pooling resources to create common-interest digital archives, for example.

Even those international students often conduct their American educations in language and culture silos. Even the ones with reliable Internet access use country-based chat and social media, although resources such as Facebook are gaining in popularity. We go with what is most comfortable for us, what comes to us; that doesn’t apply only to Americans. Our channels of communication are those that allow us the path of least resistance. Even if Twitter and Facebook weren’t blocked in China, would they prove as popular as Sina Weibo and other Chinese technologies? Do Americans know what Line is or are they going to continue using WhatsApp?

If we find that English, money, and understanding of American cultural norms are major barriers to our communication, we might find other ways. Yes, that developed-world Internet may hold a lot of potential, but its global promise may not go in a direction that points toward us in America anyway.

ruins – the past, the real, the monumental, the personal

Did I ever tell you about one of my favorite buildings in the world? It’s a public housing project named Kaigan-dori Danchi 海岸通り団地 (not to be confused with the type of projects one finds in the US, it was perfectly desirable housing in its time). This particular danchi (“community housing” or – generally public – housing project) was located smack in the middle of the richest section of Yokohama, between Kannai and Minato Mirai, perhaps one of the richest areas of the Tokyo region. Here it is in all its dirty, dirty glory, with Landmark Tower in the background.

Yes. This is Kaigan-dori Danchi, one of the grossest “ruins” (haikyo 廃墟) I had ever seen. Or, I thought it was a ruin. You know, an abandoned building. Because it looked too much like a shell to be anything else.

Then I got a message on Flickr.

In it, the messager wrote that he grew up in Kaigan-dori Danchi and now lives in New York City. He advised me that yes, it’s still inhabited, and thanked me for putting so many photos of it on Flickr. (Yes, I went for a photo shoot of this complex, more than once – hey, it was on my walk home from school!) He felt nostalgic at seeing his boyhood home and was interested to see what it looked like now.

In other words, what I’d felt vaguely strange about as some kind of ruins voyeurism – the same kind of ruins porn that takes hold of nearly everyone who wants to take photos of Detroit, for example – turned out to be a two-way street. It wasn’t pure voyeurism; it was a way to connect with someone who had a direct experience of the past of this place, a place that was still alive and had a memory and a history, rather than being some monstrosity out of time – as I’d been thinking of it. I saw it as a monument, not an artifact.

So this was in 2008, a half year after I’d become obsessed with Japanese urban exploration photography, which was enjoying a boom in the form of guidebooks, a glossy monthly magazine, calendars, DVDs, tours, photo books, and more, in Japan at the time. (Shortly thereafter, and I CALLED IT, came the public housing complex boom. I do have some of the photo books related to this boom too, because there’s nothing I love more than a good danchi.)

As part of the research for a presentation I gave on the topic for my Japanese class at IUC that year, I’d done some research into websites about ruins in Japan (all in Japanese of course). These were fascinating: some of them were just about the photography, but others were about reconnecting with the past, posting pictures of old schools and letting former classmates write on the guestbooks of the sites. There was a mixi (like myspace) group for the Shime Coal Mine (the only landmark of the first town I’d lived in in Japan). The photo books, on the other hand, profoundly decontextualized their objects and presented them as aesthetic monuments, much the way I’d first viewed Kaidan-dori Danchi.

So I wonder, with ruins porn a genre in the United States and Europe as well, do we have the same yearning for a concrete, real past that some of these sites and photographers exhibit, and not just vague nostalgia for the ruins of something that never existed? How much of ruins photography and guidebooks are about the site in context – the end point of a history – and how much is just about “hey I found this thing”? How much of this past is invented, never existed, purely fantasy, and how much of it is real, at least in the minds of those who remember it?

These are answers I don’t yet have, but I’ve just begun on this project. In the meantime, I’m happy to share Kaigan-dori Danchi with you.

politics and anthologizing

In this past year, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how the form of the anthologies I study (literary individual author anthologies in Japan at the turn of the 20th century) impacts possibilities of reading and interpretation. I’ve also commented at a couple of conferences that the narratives of who these authors “belong” to have been shaped and guided in these anthologies, and have written that taking works out of their original contexts fundamentally erases a part of their meaning (in terms of the ways readers encounter them) and simultaneously alters the work in terms of its received meaning.

After doing some reading this morning, I realized that one thing links these various threads in anthologies, and it’s a word I wasn’t using: politics.

I want to talk specifically about the example of Higuchi Ichiyō. For much of her career, she wrote for the magazine Bungakukai (among others) which was a driver of the first Romantic movement in Japan. In her anthologies, of course her serial works from that magazine are included as whole pieces, as though they were wholes from the outset, which has its own implications for reading. But the other piece of this is that just as the editors were writing the Bungakukai coterie social and ideological connections out of her career in their prefaces, they simultaneously erased this connection – this fundamental supplier of meaning – from her works by taking them out of their original Romantic context.

The first readers of Ichiyō’s works would have seen them embedded in theory and poetry heavily influenced by western Romanticism, including translations of English works and illustrations of faded ruins and statuary. The readers of her individual anthology, as well as reprints in wider circulation magazines such as Bungei kurabu before her death, would have encountered a very different context: in the magazines, other “modern” mainstream Japanese literature (presented as unaffiliated with any coterie or group other than the influential publishers of the magazines), and in the anthology, Ichiyō’s own works as a cohesive and self-contained whole. No longer would her work be infused, by virtue of proximity, with the politics of literature at the time she wrote in the early-to-mid 1890s. She becomes depoliticized, ironically despite the heavily social and what I would call political themes of her work: that is, the plight of the lower class and the inequity of Japanese society at the turn of the 20th century.

Especially in her second anthology, published in 1912, Ichiyō becomes a timeless woman writer, an elegant author of prose and poetry whose works are infused with tragedy – just as her poverty-stricken life was, to paraphrase the editors of the two volumes. Yet it is not a structural tragedy that pervades society, as it is in her work, but a personal, elegant, and heart-wrenching individual tragedy, one that makes her work even more poignant without necessarily having political implications. I can’t speak to the Romantic movement’s attitude toward this kind of theme found in Bungakukai, not being as familiar with its politics as I should be, but I can say that Kitamura Tōkoku – the founder of Bungakukai – basically started his career with the publication of Soshū no shi, a piece of “new-form” poetry about a prisoner, written at the height of his political involvement in the late 1880s.

So there is an association, simply by virtue of publishing in the same venues, between Ichiyō’s politics and those of Tōkoku, and the literary politics of the Romantic movement vis-à-vis the multitude of other ideologies of writing that existed at the time. Yet in her anthologies, this politics disappears and her context is lost entirely, in favor of a new context of Ichiyō alone, her works as something that stand alone without interference from the outside world. It is a profound depoliticization and something to think about in considering other anthologies as well, both early ones in Japan, current ones, and those found elsewhere in the world.

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