presentation accepted: MCAA

A quick tidbit.

I’ve gotten a paper proposal accepted for the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs in early October, in Columbus, OH. I’m excited about this conference in particular because of its focus on media and communication throughout history, and thinking hard about how we approach our various fields through this lens (or vice versa).

My own topic is something I will elaborate on later, but for now, let me tell you it’s about the impossibility of separating physicality from social network from archive from publication in the context of a certain book in the late 1800s. To be less vague, I’m going to talk about how one man’s “rediscovery” (via many allusions by a fiction author he liked) of Ihara Saikaku (then mostly forgotten, now Mr. Edo-Period Canonical Author) in the 1880s. Those who got excited about reading Saikaku talk quite a bit about buying, handling, and borrowing/lending old copies of Saikaku’s work, and in their anthology that they published, they go so far as to credit each work with whose archive/collection it came from. The sense of physical ownership – and being able to touch the thing itself – is overwhelming compared to everything else I’ve looked at from this period. It’s fascinating and exciting and I’m looking forward to sharing this finding as well as getting feedback on my methodological approach and conclusions. (Surely weak at best, given that this is news to me and I haven’t had a lot of time to develop my thinking over the past year, buried in a mountain of magazines in the library basement.)

By the way, this probably can’t fit into the paper, but the social ripples of Saikaku popularity vibrate constantly through the Meiji literature and general literary discourse that I read throughout my research. Saikaku love versus hate, going so far as to adopt a pseudonym that translates to “I love Saikaku” while attempting to imitate his style in one’s own writing, republishing his works in random magazines, the changing ideas about whether or not his works qualify as modern works of fiction (小説, now translated as “novel” but then quite contested), and reactions to him – they not only feed into and inform and make clear literary cliques and their interactions, but also literary trends and experimentation in an era where nearly anything goes.

A forgotten author as a window into an historical moment: nothing could make me happier about choosing the path that I have.

3 thoughts on “presentation accepted: MCAA”

  1. Congrats on getting accepted to the conference!

    I love this sort of approach/topic. Texts themselves (like artworks themselves) can be quite interesting in themselves, and can yield all kinds of fascinating insights and interpretations… But the historical social context of how these things were circulated, consumed, etc. really helps bring the world of the Edo period alive.

    I just finished reading “Tour of Duty” by Constantine Vaporis, a wonderfully thorough study on sankin kôtai. Within it, he touches upon life in the daimyo compounds, the kinds of social activities retainers engaged in when they left the compounds, the kinds of things they bought, etc. These kinds of insights that you’re talking about – circulation and consumption of books, the idea that readers placed importance on noting which archive a given book came from – add to that picture, helping us better understand and imagine urban cultural/social life at that time.

  2. Thanks! (Sorry about the delay in response). That book sounds fascinating to me – I will have to check it out.

    What I like so much about Saikaku is that he is always put in the “Edo” category but here he is, shedding so much light on how the “literary” (I use that broadly) world and personal relationships were operating in Meiji as well. I’ve noticed Kitamura Tokoku doing the same thing, in some ways, for late Meiji, Taisho, and the first half of Showa as well – even though he died in the first half of Meiji.

  3. Oh, I forgot to mention in my comment – I can’t tell you the number of times I come across references to how the end of sankin kotai led to a serious impact on kashihon’ya (commercial book lenders). I didn’t realize so many daimyo (and staff/family) were their customers…!

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