Mutate nomine de te fabula narratur!

Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 15.28.10I 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.

“History of India 1707-1857″ (2010) Lakshmi Subramanian (Orient Black Swan)

LakshmiI 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

Notes to self – South Asian film and TV from here, where, now.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 13.25.49Writing far from the UK, thinking about South Asian film and diaspora from another corner of Asia, and given trends and movements, the angular influences of culture are thrown into sharp relief. How we figure patters of production and consumption of popular culture is never simple. Even influences are not readily tracked when they are apparent: the old reception models, and the dissemination models that proffered a uni-directional distributive formula from an advanced centre, are faulty. The ‘americanization of popular culture in Asia’, as critiqued by Allen Chun when he stresses the importance of how we ‘perceive the concatenated entity called pop music culture in a local context’ (Chun 2012:503), should remind us that received models are hardly adequate for mapping patterns of practice and use. Hollywood does not shape Bollywood, and French New Wave did not shape Bengali new wave – Mrinal Sen et al – despite it being the case that the connectivity here is obvious to media historians, if not always to all viewers. What does it matter if so-called scholarship makes connections that publics – there are always more than one – might not? We are in a plural universe and there are plural Asias, travelling in several directions at once. At least.

For example, cosmopolitan and transnationalising nomad that I am (ahem, I wish) I am at present absent-mindedly watching what I assume to be the show ‘Japan Idol’ on an overhead TV in a Korean bbq joint. I may be wrong, I am in Japan, but given the restaurant, this could also be ‘Korean Idol’; how to tell without tuning in more carefully? I dismiss the effort, and let this just be, this time, background, even though the sound is awful, cranked out through not very state of the art loudspeakers, although it is not overbearing. I am simultaneously concerned with my meal, typing up notes from reading, and avoiding looking at Facebook. What concerns me most is the preparation I should really be doing, but I am also only attending to it with part of my admittedly lazy brain. I’ve a language lesson and should be better prepared for a test coming up in an hour. Japan/Korean Idol as revision session perhaps? It might be ‘Supergirl’, from China (see Jian and Liu 2009), so I already know that is not really going to help, even though I seem to be able to process popular culture and its moves more than I can the declensions of nouns or the – nightmare – pictographs of Kanji.

My students walk into class with iPhone buds in their ears. They also listen to ‘Japan Idol’, and more or less tolerate my insistence on subjecting them to music from old Indian cinema, or diasporic British South Asian sounds, and commentaries. The point of reference at first, to get them interested, was The Beatles, but they also show me the influence of other traditions and ideas that lead them to an interest in India and this course, and I realise that the direction and question of influence is never straightforward. Despite being able to point to ‘the discursive construction of an “East Asian Popular Culture” as an object of analysis (Chua 2006:200) the criss-crossing of national borders extends and extends. Of course this is true for film, music, television drama, comic books, magazines, websites and fashion magazines. In Japan the visibility of Bollywood, and more, of Bengali Art film, is less than some, but this term rather more than nothing. What they will make of it as they collect points and units for their degree awards is really not clear – the hope that the famous obsessive fandom of Japanese youth can be accessed to promote learning is of course not far away. I have something of that tendency for sure.

Also for the films of Ichikawa Kon, even though my students expected me only to know Kurusawa and maybe Ozu. I am able to introduce them to a great – lost? – figure from their own film culture. But it is Akira Kurusawa who was the better known in Bengal, and who is famously paired with Satyajit Ray as the twin stars of World Cinema from tis part of the world. Ichikawa Kon and Mrinal Sen are perhaps the two antithetical alternatives to that mainstream crown. Kon’s films are sometimes profound, sometimes comic, sometimes political, and while I will not belabour this analogy, and the depth of attachment of the Bengali public to Sen is possibly greater than the Japanese appreciation of their own Kon, I certainly class them together. That other book awaits another time however, even as I note also the potential to write such a comparison through the crucial importance of their wives as partner-actresses and muse-like support. No, that book must wait, my language class first. And in Bengal, Mrinal Sen himself is hopefully still to make another film, even though he is pushing towards his mid-90s as I write.

A consideration of unpublished – no, even unwritten – comparative tracts within Asia must immediately take into account the framing that such conversations might have in the wake of the emergence of two new economic ‘superpowers’ in the twenty-first century, China and India – which would have perhaps more significance in terms of encounter than that between east an west (Chakraborty 2012:138). I realise the word encounter has a particular history in at least one context here, but I don’t doubt the possibility of separating the brutality of one kind of encounter, with the police, and that more cosmopolitan and engagingly transnational encounter that might add to our cultural repertoire and sensitivities in the coming era. Here the importance of popular culture forms to adopt and borrow a myriad of styles – and even to ‘tame the exotic’ (Monty 2010:123) – offers a powerful allegory for cosmopolitanism even as it must always be remembered that borrowing and exchange has its hierarchies and power brokers all the way down. Remembering the argument made with Virinder Kalra that the visibility of cultural borrowing is just a first step of recognition, and that it matters what happens next (Kalra and Huntyk 2002), the simplistic celebration of hybridity as political vocation is also to be used with caution (see Kalra, Kaur and Hutnyk 2006).

Sometimes cultural representation goes off on its own and makes more mileage and covers more territory through technology than the efforts of contestation for space could ever achieve. Zee TV for example caters across Europe for South Asian diasporic expressive culture in ways that could not find, or have not yet found, mainstream visibility (Dudrah 2010:164). Perhaps the visibility is achieved through exactly the horizontal broadcast that Zee provides, unable to compete for space with national broadcasters forces a transnational and becoming dominant pan-European Asian television. China TV and NHK are somewhat far behind in this respect, and NDTV and web-based services do not yet viably compete. How would we start to valuate the implications of Zee-sharing on a greater South Asia, or, very plausible if we consider the reach of K-pop into Japan and other places, the softening of particular cultural traits for a kind of regional or trans-continental palatability. Contrast Amitabh Bachchan or Nargis with Shahrukh Khan or Ashwariya Rai, and you can begin to see how maybe some of the desi dust as been airbrushed away with today’s global stars.

[The picture is a still from Mela (1948) starring Dilip Kumar and Nargis, with music by Naushaud – and yes, I am aware its not diasporic film, but, its a pretty good film, with great songs, and I am writing about this also, for real]

Population Malthus (‘The hour of vulgar economy had struck’)

Haileybury-College-Terrace1Interested in the beginnings of the East India College at Haileybury and the first Prof of History and Politics… the dodgy Reverend himself Thomas Robert ‘Pop’ Malthus.

I need to check again, but from the family tree it looks to me like he married his cousin. And his father had married his cousin. Which maybe makes you wonder why he was so in favour of population control.

yep – a little scrabbling around the library and the internet and we find, that Grandfather Sydenham Malthus, was born at Northolt in Middlesex about 1678. He married Anne Dalton and had a son and three daughters:

1. Daniel (see below)

2. Anne, wife of Humphrey Hackshaw. No issue

3. Katherine, married George Eckersall in 1745. They had a son, John Eckersall who married his cousin Katherine Wathen (see below), and their daughter, Harriet Eckersall, born in 1777, was to marry her cousin once removed, the Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus.

4. Elizabeth, who married at St.Mary at Hill, London on 19th March 1750 Samuel Wathen. They had a daughter, Katherine Wathen, baptized at St.Botolphs, Bishopsgate, London on 8th February 1753. She married her cousin John Eckersall as noted, had a daughter, Harriet.

*

So, the first son, Daniel, married his second cousin Henrietta Catherine in 1753. She was the elder daughter of Daniel Graham

The elder son of Daniel and Henrietta, also called Sydenham Malthus, was born c 1754. He married his cousin Mariana Georgina, widow of William Leigh Symes of Esher in Surrey in 1798, she was the daughter of the THOMAS RYVES, by his 2nd wife Anna Maria, younger daughter of Daniel Graham.

The younger son was Thomas Robert. He marries Harriet.

Roots web sums this up with what I can’t but hear as a certain, erm, tone:

Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus is said to have had a hare-lip and speech impediment. He was a celebrated economist and author of the controversial work ‘Political Economy’ which warns of the dangers of population growth. He married (at Claverton Church in Somerset on 12th April 1804) his cousin once removed Harriet daughter of John Eckersall by Katherine daughter of Samuel Wathen

Just refresh yourself by looking back above for Eckersall and Wathem in the entries for the daughters 3 & 4 of grandfather Sydenham Malthus and Anne Dalton.

Keeping it in the family. How to draw the tree?

And to trace out all Marx’s references to this purveyor of ‘vulgar economy’ Capital Ch.24