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.
I have just finished reading the best book I have yet seen on the historical debates that come out of India for the 18th and 19th centuries. Of course there are more focussed ones, like Ranajit Guha’s ‘Elementary Structures of Peasant Insurgency’, and maybe the historico-ficto ‘Queen of Jhansi’ by Mahasweta Devi, but this so-called ‘textbook’ prepared by Lakshmi Subramanian on the basis of her teaching Indian history is the whirlwind tour. It is both a revision and a primer as well as a major contribution to the debates. If you have read some of the background stuff, like the late C.A.Bayly or some of the Subaltern Studies material, you will get gaps filled in where you did not even know there were gaps, you will get contextualisation that makes you look at things anew, you have recommendations of where to go next, and will be able to situate revisionists and Marxists and orientalists and more. There are further readings, but its never the case that you are left wondering how or where to proceed. You will want to proceed. This is contagious writing. There are many exciting hints you will want to chase up – whether your interest be in merchants and the transformation inflicted upon Mughal India by economic adjustments, of which the arrival of Europeans was merely a (huge) factor, or if you want to seek out and follow coins, opium, trade routes, or resistance. The debates are never closed down. What did the arrival of maritime power mean for trade? What were the consequences of changes to taxation and travel? How should we approach Haider Ali, Tipu Sultan, the Dal Khalsa Sikh resistance or the Santhals? Your thing might be education and institutions of colonial knowledge, or Macauley’s minute and the Serampore printing and translation machine that was Carey and co mission. Fine. If it has been a part of the debate in Indian historiography, it appears here in a narration that is both conversation and deep contemplative scholarship. The tone is balanced and engaged. In a densely packed volume there is so much but it is never overwhelming, it is so very well told, and the drive of good teaching comes through (I will follow up even some of the things which I had already read, but clearly not understood, or rather not understood in context). The book is not huge, it does not look like a textbook (my only complaint would be that my copy was bound so the text was sometimes squeezed towards the book’s spine) but it is absolutely essential and refreshing – a refresher – for historians, wanna-be historians, politicos, sociologists, anthros, visitors and citizens. I picked it up at the Foreign Book depot as a stocking filler in December, but there is no season better than now to grab this one and get a little perspective. Lal Salaam
you can track back through this blog to see I was keen on Russell Brand back in the days when he did his doco on the young BNPs. which was all fair and even handed, like. Ha. Then his Big Bro stuff was good – the movies were like some contagion had stolen (not even taken over) his brain, before the JemPaxman Damascus Highway conversion, and much good that has followed despite the millionaire ‘ordinary’ people conversation with Millicent/Malevolent. OK, NOW, I see its a trinkets thing, I am amused indeed. Since ‘all profit goes back into social enterprise’ can I nominate trinketization as such? Do we need to register as a collective agency (its always been a front). Russ, Russ? Ha ha – I propose CPI M-L TND group as worthy social enterprisers (address n applications). (CPI ML TND = towards new democracy section of Bengal MLs).
from The Japan Times, 24.4.2015, these two drone pics, the first the radioactive visitor to Abe’s roof, the second a battle ready stealth killer. Then two different drones, the cartoon one involving, well, subtle cultural appropriation I guess, very subtle, both really. Varieties of droning on, and this without even mentioning the Wagner prelude (Das Rheingold). The constant C major of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ is less ominous than the Eb of Wagner, but any sound of drones should have you running for cover. In the JT, the cute little one gets front page (it is radioactive apparently, so not that cute), and the big super deadly looking one was buried on page eight. There was also a story about drones being used to smuggle contraband into prisons, which was a nice touch – on page 12.
and additionally, this little film on drones and surveillance society starts with quotes from kwark: