I may have made the wrong book choice today, depressing read. But strangely ‘Precarious Japan’ reads true of elsewhere more than, or as much as, here. That these tales give ‘an eye-opening view into the darker aspects of modern Japanese society’, is something, but I don’t get so much that its about Japan in general as maybe also about the condition of all societies in prolonged and advanced stagnation, such as the economy of most of Europe after 8 years of austerity.
Anne Allison’s (Precarious Japan) stories of people going slowly crazy through the squeeze of expectation, order, hierarchy and poverty. Not exactly street or park sleepers, but the next rung up who sleep in net cafes or capsule hotels, scrape by day to day, cannot rely on family, have to care for infirm others (or who try to suicide with them and it backfires, killing themselves but only further injuring the crippled mother, for example in a case of a former singer cared for by her daughter), single mums walking out of the house leaving their two kids to starve, more suicides, teenage son kills his mother who has sold everything to keep him in computer games – the classic hikikimori stay-at-home type, [that I am in danger of becoming], the salary man who had to drop his teenage son off at a shelter because he had to work 19 hours a day because of a mad boss and the company structure. I expect these sort of stories exist in only slightly different form in the UK too, but I’ve not read someone who has gathered them together, even if here the author has lightly coated them with a veneer of theory derived from Butler, affect, platitudes about the 99% etc. The theoretical may be a prophylactic against horrors, but its not quite effective. Reading this is harrowing because it is so close to normal and everyday – the not quite invisible but easily overlooked slow motion apocalypse of stagnation. Mutate nomine de te fabula narratur.
OK, maybe more notes when I can stomach it. Credit due to the writing that it has such affect. Even if she thinks the term precarious comes from the 1970s and not from Marx in Capital, and of course all work for an employer is precarious, but this is nevertheless a very welcome, harsh, read.
Got to rush now to put out my recycling. Its plastic wrapper day.
[update] on recycling – I missed the pick up = great stress. But then looking about to see what else is about I found this, which seems like it will have much to teach me: “Visions of Precarity in Japanese Popular Culture and Literature”… [update extra} – ahhhhggg, it costs Y15000, for the kindle edition. How can people do research in this sort of privatised world of pay-walls and blockages].
[updated update] – have got to chapter four. am nearly wiped out. but then a bit of Bachelard and Bloch comes to save the day before we are back to daughters stabbing their fathers, a guy driving a truck onto the crossing at Akihabara, sarin attacks and maid cafes – ok, not in the same sentence – thankfully, but you never know what is coming with anthropology. But generally, thinking about this, it seems like a colourful stagnation has to be better than the bland grey stagnation we have in the UK – fanboy and fangirl culture here may be the equivalent pulp culture of say Simon Cowell’s twisted world, but he really does not really make it anywhere near close to being a viable contestant in this comparative game.
[and finally…] so, having finished it. I am struck that this presents as an anthropology of a whole country. Strange, till I remembered that doing that has been a default practice of anthro since Ruth Benedict’s Chrysanthemum and Sword. So we have fieldwork in the summer months, with the great east earthquake playing havoc with the drafts, cracks in the temporal narrative, and a few disjunctive repetitions (we are told over and over of the school lunch story, the lorry guy in Akihabara, and that Akihabara is the place for otaku and electrics, as if it was ever in doubt). At the end the author becomes a volunteer, which threw me back to my own ethnographic work in Calcutta 25 years ago. In some ways I am envious, in others disappointed because this could have easily been an even better book. Not that I want to edit, but well, good writing, and a flummoxing structure – perhaps a bit precarious then. If that was on purpose, its not quite come off. At least – spoiler alert – the ending did not leave me wanting to kill someone.