Initially, I created this blog as a way to both dump inchoate thoughts about my field exam reading list items and keep myself to a schedule for reading those items. My exams have since concluded, but you can still find my reading lists below. These days, I’m in the process of researching and writing my dissertation project, so my posts will generally cover Japanese SF titles, or scholarship surrounding SF studies, posthuman embodiment, and 20th century Japanese media history. My lists covered three broad fields, and each post in which I review an exam book is categorized according to its list.
Media Studies and Japan is a list that looks to summarize the major streams of thought in recent media studies scholarship concerning Japan, as well as that produced in Japan. I’m asking: how can media studies help us understand trends in Japanese popular culture, and how can the case of Japan inflect the foundational assertions of media studies?
Genre Fiction in Japan’s 20th Century, meanwhile, investigates bodies of literature not usually deemed “literature” as such by scholars. Mystery, horror, sci-fi, and fantasy — often dismissed as “merely mass” culture — carry out a sustained engagement with questions of justice, the Other, the limits of the human, and basic human values. This engagement, moreover, is done outside the codified zones of “high literature” and exposes the assumptions on which that distinction is asserted in the first place.
Posthuman Embodiment and Affect looks at issues surrounding the lived, bodily experience of postmodernism (that is, our contemporary world) from a perspective that de-centers humans as the privileged center of subjectivity. Politically, I think of this as a way of destabilizing the bourgeois individual subject as the privileged agent of history, though much of the material on the list comes out of the postcolonial and feminist traditions of seeking out female, queer, and/or geographically and racially marginal experiences that don’t fit within the white, cis-male heteronormative paradigm. In short, I’m trying to look at scholarship that deals with the messy diversity of bodily experience, rather than elevating an idealized “body” to archetypal status.
Viewed schematically like this, we might say that my lists move from very broad questions of media’s function in society, to a somewhat more narrow slice of genre media and the ways they move in the media ecology, and finally into a granular investigation of specific issues within that slice of texts. We could easily flip that, though, and say that one list deals with the very conditions of subjectivity in highly mediated, late-capitalist society, while another deals with the media milieux in which we move, and the last deals with the stories we tell. And so on.
Through all of this, I worked to find a few stars by which to guide my pursuit of sci-fi in Japan and its place in wider academic discussions of what it means to be human. I’ve narrowed down that question a fair bit for the dissertation, yes, but putting it that way makes the stakes clearer, I think. So let’s dive in, Neuromancer-style. Androids abound! Let’s see what they have to say.