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Comparative Literature Studies 42.1 (2005) 120-123

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Learning Places: The Afterlives of Area Studies. Edited by Masao Miyoshi and Harry D. Harootunian. Durham and London: Duke U, 2002. ix + 408 pp. $22.95.

"The Work of Translation Still to Come"

The provocative essays collected in Learning Places: The Afterlives of Area Studies illuminate the complicated history of area studies, more specifically Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese Studies, and the frustrating interrelations among the U.S. governmental institutions (the CIA in particular), policy makers, universities, and foundations that sustain the life of college programs. "Area Studies" in U.S. college programs have been the study of enemies (there is an eerie resonance with a recent growing interest in Arab and Muslim Studies), and this disconcerting origin returns to haunt anyone who teaches or learns about former and present foes. The same ghost haunts even those who deal with "friends," which can be, in some contexts, those who yearn to control or even colonize foes. The main question of this intriguing anthology is how to reinvent the existence of area studies after enemies appear to be dissolved. What has happened to our enemies? Who are really "our" friends anyway? Who authorizes the "we" that mobilizes political consciousness? Examining various aftereffects of political crises in the past, the contributors call for a renewal of area studies without resorting to the identity politics of authenticity and protecting the "beleaguered fortresses" of these fields. Harry Harootunian's statement—"Only history is capable of showing the vast range differences that help us to avoid the essentialism and exceptionalisms postcolonial theory produces in lifeless stereotypes" (172)—seems to represent the other contributors' guiding principle.

Exposing the political and economical history of North American academic programs, the contributors to Learning Places propose effective means to challenge poorly constructed historicization, which have affected the afterlives of area studies. Ironically, they still have to work in the same arena to struggle for recognition; that is, each different historical narrative fights with others to win its voice and authority. This is at once political and pragmatic because institutional restraints, such as the means of obtaining [End Page 120] funds and that of establishing academic programs, continue to trouble the future of area studies. The survival of an area study largely depends on larger authoritative organizations' financial as well as political support. Losing "enemies" can be fatal to many area studies, for governmental organizations may stop funding those departments. This may indicate that we have to sustain the idea of the other as an "enemy" or "nemesis" in area studies, or at least their potentiality to become a future enemy. The sixteen extremely informative essays compiled in this anthology grapple with this problem. I hope that not only the insiders, but also those who presume themselves outside "Area Studies" will get acquainted with these essays and recognize that more practical efforts have to be done for so-called "Interdisciplinary Studies," a buzzword for the humanities nowadays.

Learning Places may give the reader an impression that all the essays could collapse into one polemical voice (except Tetsuo Najita's "Andô Shôeki—"'The Forgotten Thinker' in Japanese History," whose purpose seems slightly incongruous in this collection). One would like to cheer their calls for radical change, for example, those by Bruce Cumings, to "[r]aise funds for academic work on the basis of the corporate identity of the university as that place where, for once, adults do not have to sell their souls to earn their bread but can learn, write, produce knowledge, and teach the young as their essential contribution to the larger society," in addition to his call to "[a]bolish the CIA, and get the intelligence and military agencies out of free academic inquiry" ("Boundary Displacement: The State, the Foundations, and Area Studies during and after the Cold War," 293) but one may also wonder what we can do, meanwhile, until such a radical transformation is actualized. I personally wish for a more "fictional" imagination here because it could offer a shape of thought that can be as radical...


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