Thursday, November 10, 2005

Visual Culture; Fans; National Cinema

Scavenging for things to work on in my spring semester classes.

Next semester I'll be teaching two classes. One is a freshman seminar on East Asian studies, more or less a general introduction to some of the "great books" or "classics" of East Asia. The other is on the interactions between literature and visual culture in Japan. Links to what I've done in these classes in the past are available on my homepage: C A Crowley's homepage.

In today's post I have some fairly random items; a miscellaneous collection of things as they've come up.

1. Visual culture

This article here strikes me as pretty reactionary and atavistic: Rescuing Art from "Visual Culture Studies". It gives me some ideas about the anatomy of resistance to recent ideas about the visuality and its relationship to "art." It's a very tidy summation. I haven't read it carefully enough to have any specific words of insight; at the moment I'm just thinking, what a scary world this must be for someone like the author of this article.

2. This leads me to thinking about sacredness in general, and the possessive attitude that comes with familiar territory.

Here's something I was reading yesterday, from a book called Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins. The book is about fan culture, specifically, about the communities that spring up around television shows, what makes them "cult," and so on. Doesn't have anything directly to do with classical Japanese literature, but it struck me that haikai and haiku are both extremely participatory, collaborative, and self-policing, and I wanted to think a bit about how this works.

The book does a nice job of tracing the progression people go through from being a casual consumer of a text or group of texts to a "fan." It was interesting because the thing that appeared to hook people in most was the promise of community. These communities develop their own culture; they regulate the behavior of their members and create specific acceptable ways to read and interpret the texts they revere. A quotation from Chapter 2, "How Texts Become Real," interested me. It's by Umberto Eco:

What are the requirements for transforming a book or movie into a cult object? The work must be loved, obviously, but this is not enough. It must provide a completely furnished world so that its fans can quote characters and episodes as if they were aspects of the fan's private sectarian world...I think that in order to transform a work into a cult object one must be able to break, dislocate, unhinge it so that one can remember only parts of it, irrespective of their original relationship with the whole.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with that, or whether it has a place in either of my classes. Now that I look at it it makes me want to review the chapter. Basically something happens and the audience takes charge of the text, so much so that they get all hysterical when the producers of the text do something that contradicts the set of rules they've developed for it. The fan-audience and the producers have a dramatically different relationship with the text.

Incomplete thoughts here: sanctity of the text. "Cult" implies sacredness: it's an object of reverence. Competition over who controls the text. Breaking it apart into its constituents as a kind of devotion. What are its parts? Nah, not coming up with anything that interesting to write about it right now but it's something to return to, to keep working on.

3. National Cinema

Thinking about the visual culture class as "Japanese visual culture." Something else I'm reading is called Philosophy of Film and Motion Pictures: An Anthology, edited by Noel Carroll and Jinhee Choi.

Jinhee Choi's "National Cinema: The Very Idea" is good for a number of reasons. It's a clear and well-expressed explanation of a lot of things that will be very helpful for discussing texts in general (not just film). Also, it would be a good model for students in thinking about writing their papers.

Books it refers to:

Stuart Hall, David Held, Tony McGrew. Modernity and its Futures. (Cambridge: Open University Press, 1992).

Noel Burch. To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).