- Literature, Modernity, and the Practice of Resistance: Japanese and Taiwanese Fiction, 1960–1990 by Margaret Hillenbrand
This is an ambitious project in which the author proposes to study recent and contemporary East Asian literature through an intraregional episteme that draws upon the commonalities shared by industrialized societies in East Asia. Any reader interested in a comparison of specific writers or texts from Japan and Taiwan will find this book worthwhile and take interest in Hillenbrand’s readings of the texts. In addition, she has performed an important service by assembling Japanese and Taiwanese works in one place and providing a useful and extensive bibliography of secondary materials. However, the reader who seeks a theoretical analysis of regionalism upon which to ground a comparison of writers or texts may be less satisfied with the author’s approach.
A project with radical ideas, the book begins with a lengthy introductory chapter (ninety pages), “The Scope of the Enquiry,” detailing the rationale for a new paradigm and introducing the main arguments and texts to be analyzed in the three chapters that follow. This chapter alone is a must-read for anyone interested in the state of scholarship in East Asian literary studies. Hillenbrand argues that area studies scholars of literature, whether philologically or theoretically inclined, typically confine themselves to the perspectives of single nation-states or remain subservient to Western and Euro-American epistemological regimes (p. 3). By doing so, they miss the overlapping histories, experiences, and solidarities that exist in East Asia today (p. 2). According to Hillenbrand, regionalism, in contrast, exploits these commonalities to seek “new and more self-referential ways of theorizing about non-Western experience” (p. 2) and to make visible distinctive [End Page 334] East Asian literary practices (p. 15). However, she argues that there is a surprising lack of (interest in) comparative studies of literary works from East Asia, particularly in light of the fact that the comparative approach seems more the norm than the exception in such disciplines as history, political science, and economics. Hence, she begins with a discussion of regionalism and the resistance to such a natural approach among literature scholars. Hillenbrand makes a persuasive case for the emergence of a sphere of regional interaction and even a nascent, consumer-oriented pan-Asian identity, but these do not necessarily exemplify the ideal of regionalism that she herself advocates. That ideal imagines a regional meta-text that is based on broad historical, political, and social commonalities, and is in dialogue with, but not beholden to, the West. She then offers an insightful critique of old school, Eurocentric comparative literature and the new school of theory-dominated readings of East Asian literature, virtually all of which are anchored in a single national context. To remedy the sparse production in such fertile land, she posits that a regional comparative study would be more fruitful, owing to affinities among East Asian cultures. As a way to demonstrate her approach, she compares the intellectual responses to modernity that have emerged in Japanese and Taiwanese fiction, circa 1960–1990, using a methodology that combines close readings of literature with an analysis of the intellectual and social contexts in which they were produced.
The author claims that Japan and Taiwan are the most obvious choices for an intraregional comparison, because they share membership within a Chinese cultural zone, a colonial history, and the experience of rapid postwar transformation into consumer societies. Throughout the text, Hillenbrand readily acknowledges their historical differences, as well as the heterogeneities that exist within each society. She, nonetheless, insists that “broader affinities” (p. 28), “wide areas of overlap” (p. 54), “cultural assimilation” (p. 75), and so on serve to define an East Asian region based on a commonality of experience. Thus, for her, the influence of Confucian ethics in Taiwan and Japan matters more to the postwar unraveling of kinship ties in...