Archive for the PMJS mailing list

  • the term "premodern" (question raised by Rein Raud)
  • the naming of the list
  • "Tsurugi no maki"
  • This archive covers the period 30 Sept. - 7 Oct. 1999 and contains contributions from: Rein Raud, Karen Brazell, David Pollack, Robert Borgen, Chris Drake, Janine Beichman, Elizabeth Oyler, Lewis Cook, David Lurie, Peter Kornicki, Joshua S. Mostow, Elliot Berlin, Michael Watson, Morgan Pitelka, Philip C. Brown, Gary Cadwallader.

    Copyright of each message belongs to its author. See general note on editing.

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    From: Rein Raud
    Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999

    I know I am fighting windmills, but "pre-modern" indicates that "modernity" is inevitable and that "pre-modern" is a kind of a preparatory stage for it. The word "classical" may have unpleasant connotations also, but these have, for most part, been taken over by the word "canonical". The pre- and truly-modern framework (which in the case of Japan is seemingly based on the year 1868, as if eras could change overnight) also poses some problems in a larger context. Would we normally refer to Goethe as a "premodern German author"? Thus to my ears, "pre-modern Asia" is an orientalist term.

    From: David Pollack
    Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999

    Ah, our first ideological spat! "Pre-modern" presumes modernity, "traditional" is orientalist, and let's face it, "pre-Meiji" is just crypto-orientalism since everyone knows what it's really a code-word for. It all reminds me of Masao Miyoshi's well-known attack on each word of the phrase "modern Japanese literature." Also, what does this mean for the current practice of tanka and haiku (ahem) poetry? For current experiments with noh drama, etc? Well-meaning and talented people have run aground on the shoals of "early" vs "original" vs "authentic" musical performance. What the heck, maybe it's all part of the fun, but it does make for ruptures and unpleasantness.

    How about we just accept the current appellation, opinions noted, and get on with it?

    From: Karen Brazell
    Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999

    I agree whole heartedly with Rein Raud's remark. The problem is the alternative. I once tried "Early Japan Studies", once pre-1600 etc., but nothing seems to fit the bill. Please someone come up with a good idea.

    From: Robert Borgen
    Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999

    I'm pleased to discover that already this list has addressed two topics that interest me, the term "premodern" and Heian ghosts.

    I never liked "premodern," too "modern-centric," but, like Karen Brazell, could never come up with a good alternative. Sometimes I've used "traditional Japan," which seems acceptable only if you don't think about it too much. The beauty of the "modern"/"premodern" dichotomy is that it conveniently divides all of history into two meaningful periods, recent events that normal people care about and old stuff, of interest only eccentrics. As one of those eccentrics, I believe we ought to retain that scheme's virtue, its simply, but correct is bias. The way I do this is to divide history into the period that I study, "ancient" and that which I don't, "post-ancient." The only problem with this arrangement is that it may offend the medievalists. Others may object that the terms "ancient" and "medieval" are too Eurocentric. So, we're back to David Pollack's sensible proposal that we drop the matter.

    As for ghosts in Genji, I was waiting for someone to come up with what might be termed the historian's approach to the problem. In the Heian period, ghosts appeared not only in writings that meant to be fictional but also those that were regarded was factual. I can think of at least one extremely murderous ghost whose lethal activities were recorded in works of historical rather than literary character. Before attempting to interpret the ghosts that wander in Genji, we might first consider the broader question of Heian ghosts, goblins, and spooks in general. At the very least, we must remember that the people of ancient (premodern?) Japan did not regard ghosts as phantoms of the mind but rather as very real and potentially dangerous beings. A more general study of the issue would be very interesting and probably already exists in Japanese, although I haven't checked. In English, one might also look at Jolanta Tubielewicz's Superstitions Magic and Mantic Practices in the Heian Period (Warsaw, 1980), if you can find a copy, in addition to Bargen's study.

    Robert Borgen

    [second paragraph incorporates changes later sent to list]

    From: David Pollack
    Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999
    Subject: Re: Pre-modern Ghosts


    "Post-Ancient" -- I love it! Only you.

    You're right, how odd of people to forget Michizane, the Fat Boy of all shiryo*

    Can we even begin to reconcile the way the nasty things are shown in the Gaki no so*shi and their apparently less ET-like manifestations in Genji and other works? Those are our only visual referents, no? I can't really picture poor
    Rokujo* hanging around people's rears waiting for a meal.... perhaps the spirits of the aristocracy looked and acted rather less vulgar, as we might expect, even if the entire class doesn't come off so well in the Gaki scrolls.

    David Pollack

    From: chris drake
    Date: Sat, 02 Oct 1999 05:49:57 +0900
    Subject: Re: Naming and premodern


    Thanks very much for your timely message. As you suggest, this is a question that can't just be bypassed. I also feel that the name of this list hasn't been discussed thoroughly enough yet. "Premodern" may be so close to us that we can't really get it into focus. Perhaps "premodern" is even one of the "master tropes" in our field that tends to work almost invisibly. That makes it all the more important in my opinion to look at "premodern" from various angles while considering alternatives as well. Sometimes words and concepts that seem natural and handy benefit from being bracketed or put into new perspectives, don't they? I'll try to say a little more on this later.

    From: chris drake
    Date: Sat, 02 Oct 1999 05:58:12 +0900
    Subject: Moderator's opinions important


    Thanks again for all your magnificent work with the list and related urls! I believe you remarked that you were refraining a bit on commenting on some issue(s?) because of your position as moderator. If that's the case, then I'd like to say that in my experience with other lists, the moderator often makes comments that are pertinent to ongoing discussions. I for one hope you'll feel free to join in discussions whenever you want.


    Chris Drake

    From: Karen Brazell
    Date: Fri, 01 Oct 1999 20:26:01 -0700
    Subject: Naming and premodern

    Back to the question of naming that no one really wants to deal with, though I thought the Pre-Meiji suggestion had possibilities. Anyway as we all well know, our "colleagues" in "early" Japan thought naming was important. This was brought home to me today in a student-led reading group in which we were reading the "Tsurugi ga Maki" chapter that occurs in some of the yomihon versions of the Heike. I certainly had never read it before. However it says (sorry if I get some unimportant facts wrong, but the text is at school and I am at home; the gist is okay) that an oracle declares that Yoshitomo lost the Heiji battle because his sword had been renamed (several times)--if he only returned to the original name, the sword would regain its spirit. The "newest" name of the sword was "tomokiri" (friend killer) which doesn't bode well when you wish to kill your enemies. He renamed the sword, and--as far as we have gotten in our reading--things improve. Haven't gotten to the end yet, so I don't know how it turns out. Not sure what the moral of the story is in terms of whether we should call ourselves "premodern", but it is certainly an interesting text. I am attuned to the importance of naming because of the constant use of proper names (and puns on them) in Noh.

    Karen Brazell

    [a slip in line 2 corrected from "Post-Meiji" to "Pre-Meiji"--ed.]

    From: Janine Beichman
    Date: Sun, 03 Oct 1999 00:20:37 +0900
    Subject: Re: Naming and premodern

    >if he only returned to the original name, the sword would regain its spirit.

    Trying to answer Karen's question about what the 'moral' of Yoshitomo's story might be, the sentence above attracted me. It seems to mean that if we returned to our "original name" we would regain our spirit. Not that we have lost it [it=either spirit or name or both], but some self-doubt, at least on the part of some, may have crept in. Perhaps it is just a universal phenomenon that changing names impairs the sense of self. But this list is too young to have a firm sense of self, it is still in its baby stage, when changing names is okay. If its members want to, that is. (I am actually neutral on all this.) Before I started meandering, I was just going to say that the whole idea of the 'original name' is kind of interesting. For example, what is the 'original name' of the time period that this list deals with? In both Japanese and European/English history? Or, to make a leap, why don't we just call it Japanese literature up to ..well, how far are we allowed to go up to and still be relevant here anyway? World War II? Surely that is too 'modern'. Perhaps we should call it Japanese literature through the Meiji period? [that does make for an unwieldy acronym though --JLTTMP or J-LIT-TTMP, to distinguish from the parent [okay to say that?] J-LIT. ] Or does it stop earlier than that? Reading over what I have just written, I feel that indulging in naming is a kind of invitation to chaos, it really does take you back to the beginning. Suddenly everything is undifferentiated, the thick primoridal soup, and you are trying to divvy it up into little cubbyholes. There is a certain unavoidable 'katte na' quality to it all, no? That being the case, we ought to have fun and think of some wonderful names. I apologize for this stream of consciousness but I have been writing messages about this for the past few days and not sending them and I think I better just let the message go out this time.

    Janine Beichman

    From: David Pollack
    Date: Sat, 2 Oct 1999 11:55:22 -0400 (EDT)
    Subject: Naming and Slashers

    Following the logic of Janine Beichman's posting, we have two new possibilities for names:

    1. Honmyou kenkyuukai (Original Name Association)

    2. Konton kenkyuukai (Primordial Chaos Association)

    or perhaps even

    3. Honmyou Konton Kenkyuukai

    It all gets to seem terribly esoteric and daoist, though a popular song of the Ars Nova period in the south of France in the 14th century was called "Fumeux Fume"....

    I promise no more silly postings on this serious subject.

    I always thought "tomokiri" was to be taken as "companion slasher," ie, the sword is one's companion in slashing, not that the sword slashes one's companion. Who the heck would name a sword that? He certainly wouldn't have many friends, one way or the other.

    David Pollack

    From: Elizabeth Oyler
    Date: Sat, 2 Oct 1999 08:57:26 -0700
    Subject: Re: Naming and premodern

    On the issue of the "Tsurugi no maki" (a fascinating text I am looking at on my own at the moment), the name "Tomokiri" (which I believe Prof. Cogan translates as "Companion Slasher" in his Soga monogatari translation) was given to that sword (in the variants of this narrative with which I am familiar) because it cut off the end of a companion sword that was just a little longer (before the first sword was named "Tomokiri," it was "Sun'nashi," which I've been translating as "A little short"). This part of the "Swords" narrative is a lot of fun, and lends itself well to Freudian analysis, although that's not my interest in it. There is another variant of this part of the "Tsurugi no maki" narrative in the koowaka "Tsurugi sandan," a Soga-mono that is an expanded version of Soga monogatari's rendition of the brothers' visit with the Hakone Intendant immediately before they enact their revenge. From my point of view (the narration of the Minamoto rise to power), the issues of naming and lineage implicit in these texts/this narrative are what is most compelling; while I will refrain from putting in my two cents worth regarding "premodern," I will put a plug in for "Tsurugi no maki" as a great text both as a teaching text for intermediate bungo readers and as a resource for any scholar of post-Gempei history/literature/culture. As I'm working on the text right now, I welcome any of you who are similarly interested and would like to discuss it further to contact me.

    Elizabeth Oyler

    From: chris drake
    Date: Sun, 03 Oct 1999 03:02:22 +0900
    Subject: Re: Naming and premodern

    I'd like to ask Karen Brazell a small question about her recent stimulating posting. Karen, you mentioned that "the Post-Meiji suggestion" had possibilities. Was that in relation to someone's suggestion regarding the use of "modern," or did you mean "Pre-Meiji suggestion"? Sorry to bother you over trivia, but if you meant "Pre-Meiji," then there's something I'd like to add.

    I'd also like to ask whether someone on the list has come up with something she or he thinks is better than "Pre-Meiji" as a possibility for the list name. "Pre-1868" is chopping the soba pretty thin, and I myself can't think of anything better yet.

    Chris Drake

    From: Lewis Cook
    Date: Sat, 2 Oct 1999 16:08:41 -0400
    Subject: Re: Naming and Slashers

    David Pollack wrote:

    I always thought "tomokiri" was to be taken as "companion slasher," ie, the sword is one's companion in slashing, not that the sword slashes one's companion.

    My sense is that the grammar of this kind of nominalization (cf. "kusakari," "higesori," "nappagiri," etc.) rules out the possibility of reading this as "companion in slashing." Any real grammarians care to comment?

    On the rectification of names issue, we could always follow the example of (the artist formerly known as) Prince, devise an ineffable siglum (thus freeing ourselves from logo-, historico-, ethno- and most other centrisms) and just call it "[...], the list formerly known as pmjs."

    Lewis Cook

    From: Elizabeth Oyler
    Date: Sat, 2 Oct 1999 15:21:19 -0700
    Subject: Re: Naming and Slashers

    Tomokiri, which Professor Cogan identifies as "Companion Slasher" in his Soga monogatari translation, refers to slashing one's companion in this context.

    From: David Lurie
    Date: Sat, 2 Oct 1999 17:05:48 -0700 (PDT)
    Subject: self introduction

    I am a PhD. candidate in Classical Japanese Literature (see the brief explanatory note below) at Columbia University, currently studying at the University of Tokyo. My dissertation is a history of Japanese writing systems through the 8th century, with a particular focus on the emergence of kanbun kundoku and its connection to the inscription of Japanese texts in works like the Kojiki and the Man'yoshu.

    I am also perturbed by the vexing problem of naming what I study; until now I've usually opted for "classical literature" because it positively affirms the importance of the subject rather than ceding the high ground to the modernists, and because, with the many commentaries and long history of reception attached to so many of the texts involved, it has seemed to be the most accurate description. However, using that term risks implying that I believe classics are born rather than made (actually, I think I may believe both, but that's a topic I'd rather not get into), and as my dissertation has drifted towards cultural history, it has become less accurate as well... I once half-jokingly suggested that we call ourselves "people who use texts that have the copula 'nari'" (my classmate Herschel Miller then proposed the name "nari-tology") . . .

    David Lurie

    From: Dr Peter Kornicki
    Date: Sun, 3 Oct 1999 15:16:17 +0100 (BST)
    Subject: Re: Naming and premodern

    Am I the only one reading the messages to be slightly surprised at the apparently widely felt need to find some term to distinguish pre-Meiji from 'modern' Japan? I have long been so distressed by the tyranny exercised by 1868 and the false dichotomies it has engendered in so many areas of study that I run a course on 19th-century Japan and if teaching an advanced course for students with a knowledge of _bungo_ generally choose texts from both sides of the deadly divide. Granted, the nineteenth-century is a purely arbitrary span of time, but it does not, it seems to me, bring with it so much baggage as 'kinsei' and 'kindai' do. If Italianists can speak of the ottocento, covering both pre- and post-unification Italy, why do we have to give so much weight still to the so-called Restoration? And Rein Raud is of course right to object to 'pre-modern', and not only because of its teleological implications, but also because it conveys the notion that before the 'encounter with the West' in the late nineteenth century Japan was not 'modern': this is at least questionable in a society that had already produced the first general anaesthetics used for surgical operations in the world, in a society that was already one of the most literate and information-rich, etc., etc.

    Peter Kornicki

    From: Rein Raud
    Date: Sun, 3 Oct 1999 18:59:15 +0200
    Subject: Re: Naming and premodern

    Thanks to everybody who have reacted to the naming issue. I don't have problems with pre-Meiji, if we consider this as referring to a definite period, and not to some kind of a socio-cultural formation. But speaking about finding alternatives to "pre-modern" is already a compromise: "pre-modern" is itself an alternative (to "classical"), and an unsuccessful one. The word also does not translate very well into a number of languages - in Estonian it looks absolutely ridiculous. If we think of "classical" as pertaining to the culture based on the classical language (and not of texts we study in the class, or classics), then we can also include all modern and postmodern nari-stuff, also the ongoing traditions of No and kabuki etc. The studies of ancient Greek and Roman literature are called "classical philology" in quite many places, and that does not mean that only classics of these literatures are studied. On the other hand, I have myself usually reserved the word "classical" to the earlier parts of the pre-Meiji span, and since it seems to be unacceptable to many, let's stick to pre-Meiji. I don't think it is an euphemism. On the contrary, it would allow us to discuss pre-Meiji modernity - a very interesting subject - as well.

    Rein Raud

    From: Joshua Mostow
    Date: Sun, 3 Oct 1999 12:33:37 -0700
    Subject: Re: Naming and premodern

    God help me for wading into this debate. . . .

    Since the very definition of "literature," "Japanese," etc., are largely constructs of the Meiji period, it seems to me wishful thinking to call ourselves "pre-Meiji."

    "Classical" is also obviously a value-laden term, and would, I would think, almost automatically bring "medieval" along with it. But there is even more telos in this tripartite structure. . .

    Masao Miyoshi and Stanley Fish have a series out of Duke UP called "Post-Contemporary Interventions." I must admit to not understanding what "post-comtemporary" would mean (I THOUGHT I had it once, in blinding flash of insight, but alas wasn't able to hold on to it), but what about "Pre-Contemporary Japanese Studies"--or will I be accused of simply wanting to be "PC"?

    We could, of course, go in the completely opposite direction and call ourselves the "Imamekashiki Kenkyuu-kai."

    Frankly, I think we should take refuge in the acronym, we ARE, in effect, "PMJS"--let those who think the "PM" stands for "pre-modern" do so, while others can parse it as "pre-Meiji."

    Perhaps it's time for a new topic??

    Joshua S. Mostow

    From: E Berlin
    Date: Sun, 3 Oct 1999 15:50:51 -0400

    Not being a scholar...and not speaking Japanese...perhaps disqualifies me from commentary on the naming question. I feel cautious about jumping into this thread. I am not invested in any of the so-far available names, and certainly don't have a preference. What strikes me is that everyone apparently understands where the current name comes from and its political and conceptual limitations.

    Given that everyone sees through the name, and would presumably see through the bias inherent in any other name, why is the name important? Does everyone implicitly understand the importance of the naming question? Isn't a name applied to a practical device like this forum inherently just a convention? If so, how can it take on it's apparent level of importance?

    Elliot Berlin

    From: chris drake
    Date: Mon, 04 Oct 1999 04:55:38 +0900

    I guess this topic is about as appetizing to some people on the list as a heaping tray of fresh bracken, but for the people who are interested I'd like to continue a little -- all to crudely, I admit -- the dialog that's begun. I took the point of Karen Brazell's allegory to be not that we should start believing in Kurikara dragon gods and mystical sword blades but that naming, however conventional or arbitrary, has important results in the real world and that trying to choose the best name (from among many imperfect ones) for something, such as the "field" covered by this list, is an important activity and collective thought-process. From the discussion so far, I think it's clear some people think we have a real problem of self-reference at hand. What are we referring to when we discuss the "studies" in the title of the list or, more broadly, in any focused context? Without trying to deny the value of pragmatism or humor in approaching this problem, I'd like to sketch out why I think "premodern" is inappropriate as a general term and in some contexts downright misleading. Some of this has been touched on by earlier contributors, and I have learned much from you and want to thank you and continue to learn from you. I hope that the discussion will not only concern the name of the list but the consequences of using "premodern" in publications and discussions at large.

    I sympathize with Janine Beichman's dizziness at approaching chaos, and the comedy felt by David Pollack in response, since one of the problems with "premodern" is that it is so vague, almost gaseous, like the indefinable toxic cloud that is defined so many different ways by different people in DeLillo's 'White Noise.' I wonder if one of the reasons for this vagueness is that it is inexplicably tied to 'modern,' which is structurally tied to 'premodern,' as Robert Borgen pointed out. Moreover, 'premodern' is the 'marked' member of the pair, i.e. it refers to everything (!) that is not referred to by the 'standard' or 'unmarked' member, 'modern.' Talk about "primordial soup"! The distinction is certainly elegant, and, I suppose, even beautiful in some contexts. But it means that 'premodern' is inevitably drawn into the virtual vortex of different senses of 'modern.' 'Modern' of course refers to the 'present age' or 'recent times,' but it also has other senses that are difficult to keep separate completely. For example, the Random House dictionary gives post-medieval as a main meaning of 'modern,' and many different thinkers and scholars have suggested different time schemes for the appearance of the modern age in western Europe. 'Modern' also, of course, has the teleological sense of more advanced or more developed' in a number of senses. Thus 'modern' doesn't refer to a clearly demarcated period in history; if anything, it seems to include the sense of 'this incomparable time in recent years which surpasses any time which came before and is yet impossible to demarcate." The modern is devilishly hard to define because we are always by definition in it already, and in the last resort all we can do is rely on ostensive means: open your eyes, look at all that history going on out there! That the modern is not a simple referent can be seen by comparing the difference in specificity between 'premodern' and, say, 'pre-Raphaelite' or 'pre-Christian.' There is something indefinable and soupy about trying to talk even about modern as 'recent times,' made all the more complex by the fact that it always plays a defining role in the speaker's own self-conception and life history. Perhaps that's why the temporally-oriented 'premodern' is more common than the abstract 'non-modern.' Moreover, 'post-' doesn't seem to me, at least, to be symmetrically opposite to 'pre-.' This might be because 'post-' implies that a process has been undergone and can be looked back on from a different or even 'higher' or 'more objective' standpoint. Modern times have to be undergone for anyone to speak of them, and 'pre-' seems to imply that a time period, such as modern times, hasn't been undergone yet and that whatever is modified by 'pre-' has thus far evaded being subordinated to that necessary temporal process.

    I'm not suggesting, by the way, that we should try to take a permanent modernity leave, as some pomoists apparently believe we can. It goes without saying that much has happened to the world on a global scale in the last five or six centuries and that modernity remains an important heuristic concept for trying to understand the age we're in. I think immediately of Weber's emphasis on rationalization of action and belief, Luhmann's theorizations of the historical spread of differentiated, autotelic systems, or Habermas' discussions of the rise of the public sphere and the spread of post-conventional ethics, just to mention a few. I'm sure everyone on this list has their own list of defining characteristics of modernity, and perhaps these will eventually come out in a discussion of institutions and discourses in the Edo period (or earlier?), as was suggested. The main point I'm trying poorly to make now is that while modernity is a valuable -- inescapable? -- though hotly contested concept, 'modern' is even harder to define and use analytically.

    Given the problems with 'modern,' 'premodern' sometimes seems to be a contradiction in terms: nothing can be really premodern, finally, because it must always be mediated by the structures of of the life-world, understanding, and interpretation (etc. -- you name it) at work in the recent time of the modern age, in terms of which the pre-modern first takes on sense, as being temporally prior. I wonder if this was what Joshua Mostow was also getting at from a slightly different angle. At the same time, if we didn't also try to pragmatically reconstruct discourses on the "prior-" side of the present age on their own terms, at least as far as possible, then there wouldn't be much reason for this list or the wonderful scholarship everyone's been doing. Still, the "noise" or chaotic soup or whatever one wants to call it nevertheless doesn't just disappear.

    Continuing on this pragmatic "level," I for one think it would be very helpful to know more about the history of the usage of the term 'premodern' in Japanese studies. This might help us focus our discussion more sharply. Rein Raud mentioned that the term is not widely used in some European languages. This is very interesting and may help us give a bit more specificity to 'premodern' in Japanese studies in English. Would anyone else care to discuss the use of a term similar to 'premodern' in other languages? My OED, 2nd ed., doesn't even list 'premodern' or 'pre-modern' as a separate lexical item but simply gives it as a rarer item in a list under the prefix 'pre-.' I wonder if list members from England, Australia, Canada and elsewhere could speak to the history of the term in their experience. Is it a fairly recent usage or not? And what about the U.S.? Was it widely used before W.W.II, or did it begin to flourish in Japanese studies in the U.S. along with the growth of area studies after the war, when the U.S. was trying to learn a lot fast about a lot of "non-western" societies. If this was the case, did the term 'premodern' flourish mainly as a euphemism for 'pre-western/pre-westernizing,' which, besides being unwieldy, might have been considered ethnocentric if used directly? And is 'premodern' is still sometimes a convenient euphemism today? I don't want to generalize from such questions, but I think contributions about the term's specific history would be very valuable. Certainly in some contexts even today 'premodern' can imply 'preliminary,' 'underdeveloped,' or even 'irrational.' Are the historical currents holding all these meanings unsteadily together?

    For example, how many courses are there in the U.S. on "Premodern French Literature" or "Premodern German Literature" or "Premodern English Literature"? In Britain are there courses on "Premodern American Culture" and so on? How about in Germany and Estonia and elsewhere? I'm partly wondering whether "premodern" is generally an unacknowledged stand-in for "pre-western."

    Also, might I ask those who like the phrase 'premodern' Japanese studies -- if there are any still reading at this point... -- how exactly you conceive the difference between 'premodern' and, say, 'pre-Meiji' in a neutral sense, Masao Miyoshi's works aside? If for some of you 'premodern' and 'pre-Meiji' mean virtually the same thing, then what is the surplus of glamor or attraction that you sense in 'premodern'? I would be very interested in hearing how you conceptualize the difference if you feel it to be pertinent, since I just don't "get it" and would like to understand this semantic mess a little better. I have one other question here. Of course, as members of this group have done, we can declare that our uses don't imply derogatory senses of 'premodern' and even oppose these senses, but is it possible to simply decree that one's words will have only limited meanings? The question isn't rhetorical. I'd like to know how interested members feel about this.

    And, as several people have pointed out, 'premodern' is highly ambiguous if not positively misleading when used for the 'Edo period.' Surely there is something approaching a consensus that some if not many aspects of modernity were present in the Edo period. I suppose that to some historians and scholars in the social sciences, the Edo period is best called 'early modern,' since in terms of certain institutions and economic relationships, development and advanced articulation can be traced and theorized, but in terms of literature, art, and other intellectual endeavors it would be preposterous to talk of preliminary and more advanced. In Edo-period literature, art, thought, etc., 'modern' is arguably more accurate than 'early modern,' with its possible overtones of inevitable development. For example, as you all know, Japanese linguists often refer to the colloquial languages of the Edo period and just before as 'kindai-go.' And Edo-period writers themselves frequently use expressions like 'kindai,' 'kinsei,' 'toosei,' 'toosei-fuu,' 'chikaki yo,' and 'imayoo,' to name a few. (All right, let's hear from 'Heian' and 'Muromachi' period people about this kind of expression!) The extent to which the Edo period should be referred to as modern is, granted, contested, but it seems to be a clear misnomer to refer to it as 'premodern.'

    Janine raised the further question of whether this list is for discussion of Meiji topics and works. Nobody has responded so far. I came to the list imagining from its name that it would be mainly about pre-Meiji topics in the sense that Rein mentioned, but since there are probably more continuities than discontinuities between the late Edo period and the Meiji period, discussion of Meiji topics would also be fine in my opinion. I think Peter Kornicki's refusal to dichotomize 19th-century Japan is a very important one. And Janine caused me to smell thick soup again with her question. I for one certainly hope to see discussions that cross back and forth over the artificial divide. I don't think the term "Pre-Meiji" would necessarily preclude such discussions.

    I agree with Joshua Mostow that developments in Meiji and after inevitably affect the way we now read what came before Meiji, but I don't believe that that realization and caution necessarily take away from the heuristic value of discussing 'pre-Meiji' topics, as long as the rough dividing line is recognized as heuristic. Then again, we have only X more days until Y2K, and "Pre-20th Century Japanese Studies" might well be a productive way to divide the cards. It might also be a better response to Janine's and Peter's points.

    Last, I like to ask Michael and others about their thinking on a Japanese name for the list -- or, even more broadly, for the field we all consider ourselves to be engaged in. As I understand it, the situation is a bit contradictory. I haven't checked every dictionary around, but in every one I cracked, 'zenkindaiteki' has definitely derogatory senses, while I couldn't find 'zenkindai X' in any compounds listed. I'm sure there must be some good definitions somewhere, because I've encountered terms like 'zenkindai nihon shakai' or 'zenkindai nihon bunka' in the writings of historians and social scientists and in the essays of some so-called 'hyooron-ka.' I doubt, though, that I've ever heard a scholar of Japanese literature from a Kokubungakka or Nihon- bungakka use the term 'zenkindai nihon bungaku.' Does anyone on the list use it, or have you heard it in such a context?

    It would also be interesting to hear more about the history of 'zenkindai' and 'zenkindai X' in Japanese. I haven't investigated, but the famous debates between Hirosue Tamotsu and Kuwabara Takeo and others in the fifties about the value of 'premodern' Japanese literary works utilized the term. Did their use of 'zenkindai' have prewar roots, or was it drawing on U.S. modernization theory? In the prewar period, of course, the Edo period was often referred to as 'kindai,' which makes sense from that temporal perspective.

    I'm sorry to have gone on for so long, but I really hope we can learn more about this all.

    Chris Drake

    From: Michael Watson
    Date: Mon, 04 Oct 1999 17:39:56 +0900
    Subject: naming

    I am reluctant to put a stop to the stream of serious and not-so-serious suggestions for a new name of this list. It has made me aware of issues to which I was perhaps not sufficiently sensitive. I have both learned from and enjoyed the academic cut and thrust. However enough is enough, and I am now feeling a bit cut up. That's the risk one takes, but as the list-owner/editor/moderator/what you will, I would like to declare a truce/moratorium on the whole question.

    As you may have noticed already from the heading of this message and all messages since Sunday Oct 4, I anticipated some of your suggestions by changing the official name to "PMJS". Those who were not unhappy with "premodern (pre-modern) may continue to understand it in this sense. Those of you who want to read this as standing for "pre-Meiji" may do so if they like. Those who prefer more daring _yomi_ may read it as post-Yayoi, pre-contemporary or anything else. Ateji are such fun.

    Yes, names are important, but all I wanted was something that would get us started, convey the intentions of the proposed list. I half regret I did not suggest Ajiro, Ajisai, Ajari, Ami... or "xyz" but I see no sign that there are serious misunderstandings about the list's main focus. 104 of you were interested in signing up for a list that would deal with issues like those which have already been addressed. I couldn't have hoped for a better discussion to start us off than the thread on "mono-no-ke"--and good new topics have already been taken up.

    There are considerable technical and logistical problems involved with "re-naming" the list as some have so casually suggested. I don't intend to spend every free moment for another two weeks re-registering members under another list name, losing half of you in the process and irritating a sizable minority (majority?) of you.

    Michael Watson

    From: Morgan Pitelka
    Date: Mon, 4 Oct 1999 20:01:45 +1000
    Subject: Re: naming

    Hey Michael,

    I agree 100 percent, but also want to encourage you to let discussions that are 1) not offensive, or 2) not completely irrelevant run their own course. This is, I believe, standard policy on most academic listserves, where members decide what message they will read or not read with their own delete keys. Again, I agree with you whole heartedly! But it shouldn't be the moderator's role (as it seemed from your message) to pronounce that a topic has run its course when members are still discussing important issues (particularly when a member has just raised a number of questions on the topic). The definition of terms is as important to our branch of study as the discussion of primary sources, and I think a lot of people will be interested in engaging in both kinds of discourse.

    Morgan Pitelka

    From: Michael Watson
    Date: Mon, 04 Oct 1999 21:05:00 +0900

    Persuasively argued, Morgan. I am pleased that you and Joshua Mostow support using the name "PMJS" for now.

    Yes, there is a world of difference between discussing what the listserver name should be and the question of what we mean by terms like "modern"/"premodern"/"classical".

    I should not have tried to wear a moderator's hat at the same time as a list-owner's hat. As a harrassed list-owner I'd rather not change the name unless there is a strong will on the part of members to do so--and to go through all the bother and confusion. If we are to do so, we need a consensus on a new name. Every descriptive name proposed so far has had its detractors. I suggest (again) that we leave this question for now. Separate this issue from the more substantive one.

    By all means, let us continue the serious discussion about what we mean by terms. I'm benefiting from it too.

    Michael Watson

    From: Morgan Pitelka
    Date: Mon, 4 Oct 1999 20:01:48 +1000

    I would like to support Michael's suggestion that we stick with the name "PMJS" for the list for now, but also think it is important that those members who see the definition of terms as a vital issue continue the discussion via the list. An email list community will always produce discussions that some members hope will die a fast death while other members want to see more discussion. It is the prerogative of each member to exercise the delete key when dealing with an unwanted message.

    I regularly use the phrase premodern when trying to describe what it is that I study, particularly to people in other fields or disciplines (where broad, general, comparative language can be useful rather than confusing), though not in my writing (where I try to be specific and refer to periods and dates). The term is also helpful at the professional level simply because there is so much emphasis on Meiji, Taisho, Showa, and Heisei history and culture (particularly in North American Universities) today. Studying these periods and the various problems of modernity is a key element in the education of any student of Japan's past or present, but there are clearly numerous issues, particularly when it comes to primary sources, that do divide someplace in the nineteenth century.

    I don't mean to venture into terribly obvious territory, but perhaps it makes sense to mention a few topics that I personally would love to see this list discuss that wouldn't be as fruitful on a larger list such as H-Japan, where the majority of members seem to be concerned with contemporary (political/economic) or pedagogical issues. As a student of 16th to 19th century cultural history, I look forward to discussions of Heian period literature, because the works of this period inform later narrative and pictorial traditions with which I am concerned; discussions of texts in kanbun, sorobun, or various forms of verse, because I regularly struggle with such texts in my own research; discussions of Nara, Heian, Kamakura, Muromachi, Momoyama, and Tokugawa period primary and secondary sources in general, because these are the broad subjects I study and teach.

    There is also the question of what is required by the academy. It is of course ridiculous to lump all of pre-1868 Japan into one analytical container, but many academic positions do just that. Yale University, for example, is currently advertising a position in "pre-modern Japanese history," and anyone who applies is going to have to convince a tough comittee of largely American and European historians that they can teach ancient to early modern Japanese history. Because academic departments are still structured along premodern/modern lines, and because panels at conferences and titles of books regularly use "modern" and "modernity," it seems to me not only permissible but _vital_ that we use the term "premodern," and in the process critically define what it does and does not mean. The premodern-modern distinction is fictitious, ahistorical, and ultimately misleading; but so are many if not most of the modern English terms we use to describe Japan's past, from period names to common terms like emperor or class. That is why it is essential that we interrogate such terms when we need to use them; it does not mean they need be eliminated from our vocabulary all together.

    Why use the term "premodern" for this list? Because it roughly and generally outlines a discursive space for a group of students and scholars to discuss the nitty-gritty details of their esoteric work. How to define premodern here? For this list, I would suggest that "premodern" simply means that members have common interests in texts, language, and objects that were originally produced and used significantly in the past; to some members, this will mean the poetic texts of Heiankyo, to others the Chinese-style documents written in warriors' tents, and to others it will mean the woodblock prints and ceramics of Edo. I would think that anyone interested in these topics would also, as a matter of course, be interested in the way such ideas were repackaged as "premodern," "traditional," "canonical," or "classical" in the late ninenteenth and early twentieth century, and that all these kinds of discussions could be included in a critical understanding of the premodern.

    Morgan Pitelka

    From: Janine Beichman
    Date: Mon, 04 Oct 1999 21:24:09 +0900
    Subject: Re: naming

    I was beginning to get a little worried about how you might feel to see your baby's very name being challenged when it had just been born, so to speak; so I'm glad that you let us know, although I am sorry you feel a bit cut up. But the clincher for me as to changing or not changing the list name is that it would mean such an investment of time and effort for you. I had not thought of that, did not even realize it. This is just to say thanks for all your hard work and time and to let you know that it is appreciated.
    Best wishes,

    From: Philip C. Brown
    Date: Mon, 04 Oct 1999 08:48:23 -0400

    I have been following this discussion with considerable interest. As an editor of H-Japan and manager of EMJNet, I have had an opportunity to see this issue from a somewhat different perspective than has yet appeared here. Based on that experience, I would like to get the following random thoughts off before we drop this subject altogether.

    Categorization by period, however done, is a matter of convenience, and generally one we take for granted. Recognizing that, trans-period studies of various sorts have imense interest as a means to test the validity and scope of the "periods" we create. Ideally, such work will lead to new ways of thinking about the categories, and perhaps new ideas for categorizing the past in periods. Such changes in periodization require thoughtful reflection, and, in my opinion, require at least some effort to defend why we should treat a particular era, reign, or century as a unit. What gives a period a sense of unity? The answer, of course, may vary by discipline or sub-discipline. There is nothing deterministic about periodization.

    What I sense, however, from my experience as editor/manager is that many people are losing any sense of the import of periodization. As is true of this list, we request that peopel provide information about themselves before we place their names on our distribution list. I have been struck by the fact that a number of people will describe themselves as "early modern" specialists, and then go on to describe a research project (dissertation, first book) that is entirely focused on Meiji-Taisho. My impression is that "early modern" has come to mean pre-WWI and late 19th century. The idea of "early modern" = "kinsei" is being eroded, I think, and I sense that it is being lost due to a failure to be reflective about periodization rather than as the result of a logically developed and intellectually defensible set of arguments.

    This might simply be a minor matter of intellectual curiosity, but I also sense that there are sharp implications in the job market and graduate education as well. I can think of several prominent instances in the past few years where an ad was placed for an "early modern" specialist; the person who was hired was, in both instances, primarily interested in Meiji and post-Meiji research issues. Do departments which employ this loose periodization in hiring practice run a risk (at least in the US) of lawsuits for violating equal employment opportunity guidelines because the person hired did not fit the description of the position advertised? Are people thus hired really prepared to train graduate students in a field that their department is still likely to view as encompassing "kinsei"?

    At least in the field of history (my own field), the interest in Tokugawa subjects is heavily weighted toward work that provides intellectual links between Tokugawa and Meiji (some recent posts to the list suggest that this may also be the case for literature). I have just completed a review of primarily English-language monographs on kinsei Japanese history published over the past ten years. About two-thirds of the monographs focus on the degree to which Tokugawa laid the groundwork for Meiji developments. A more limited review of articles in major area studies journals reinforces this impression.

    Perhaps deparmental hiring reflects this emphasis in our scholarship, but I am more inclined to believe that the lack of knowledge about Japan among non-specialists creates market-driven considerations that shape which topics people research: creating an atmosphere in which the only justification for a "Tokugawa line" in a department can be found if the position is presumed to deal with the foundations of Meiji economic growth and political reform; creating an atmosphere in which those choosing candidates will respond best to those folks who present work on themes that are familiar to them as European and Western hemisphere specialists.

    Answering the question of what the alternative might be is a big challenge, one I will not take up here except to note that Tokugawa historians I talk with in Japan now sense a similar problem in creating themes in kinsei history now that the Marxist paradigm has collapsed.

    I simply wish to stop here by raising the question of what the implications might be of a confounding periods because we have not created strong intellectual justifications for them and clearly communicated those perspectives to students. They shape not only what we study, but whether or not we find work.

    Philip C. Brown

    From: Gary Cadwallader
    Date: Thu, 7 Oct 1999 06:43:19 +0900
    Subject: Re: Poisons and name

    [Began with contribution to "poisons" thread: archive]

    And as my contribution to the rectification of names issue, is the word/concept "traditional" so out of favor now? Instead of running from use of "modern," could there not be a more positive word, our word for what we are all interested in?

    And I hope literature is not the only concern of these studies. Culture in larger terms- historical, social, life-styles, cuisine, everything that created the people whose literature we read and use in our daily life ; the experiences which made them and informed their works, the calendars and festivals which punctuated their daily round, are these of no interest ? So how about something along the lines of Traditional Japanese Culture Studies? Nothing much more lovely in that though. Or a totally aesthetic name- like "Matsukaze", or "Setsugekka which has resonance in every field. Or Kyoshin kai- " association of the ancient heart..."Something less scientific, more poetic or even literary would seem more fitting But we have all built up an armor against the ugliness of such acronyms to the point that they no longer offend.

    Gary Cadwallader

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