Kirsten Cather’s “The Politics and Pleasures of Historiographic Porn” draws on a Nagai Kafū (1879–1959) short story and its film adaptation Underneath the Papering of the Four-and-a-Half Mat Room (Yojōhan fusuma no urabari) directed by Kumashiro Tatsumi (1927–95), in order to argue that a film popularization in this illustrative case legitimated a literary canon. It is a counter-intuitive position. To arrive here, Cather considers the historical global emergence of soft-core porn and its economic matrix; the international push to legitimate porn; and, singularly, an inventive auteur, Kumashiro, who created “historiographic or generic porn” that had the added remarkable capacity to transform prosaic historical narrative and generic exploitation films. Adding to the complexity of this case, Cather demonstrates how politically radical thought and images gave the auteur a weapon for inoculating porno and the allegedly obscene source text against [End Page 745] political censorship. Her point—“how could the film simultaneously be masturbatory and exculpatory?”—lays out the challenge her essay pursues.
In his intellectual history, “Interstitial Movements in the Works of Hanada Kiyoteru: A Preliminary Study,” Ken Yoshida elaborates another understudied twentieth-century Japanese theorist. Yoshida can show Hanada’s influence on critic Nakahara Yusuke, writer Abe Kobo, artist Katsuragawa Hiroshi, and filmmakers Teshigahara Hiroshi and Matsumoto Toshio, all intellectuals vastly better studied than Hanada. Like Cather, Yoshida’s careful reconstruction of an intellectual’s life world and innovative writing helps restore an important thinker’s place to intellectual history. Political shunning, coterie politics, and the author’s own implosive or poetic expression require that Yoshida reconstruct an intellectual history around Hanada. Late nineteenth- and twentieth-century Japanese intellectual history, as Douglas Howland’s careful work has also demonstrated, requires taking seriously the interpretive possibilities of the European Enlightenment. And Yoshida introduces the basic tropes for Hanada. These include multiplicities, irresolvable difference, disjunction, “sand logic,” preoccupation with the elusive numina, and the inorganic. As with Cather’s work, Yoshida’s case study gives access to an inventive intellect in a crisis mode of thinking. Nothing prevents its wider use.
Cheehyung Harrison Kim’s “North Korea’s Vinalon City: Industrialism as Socialist Everyday Life” introduces the case of a “purely Korean” synthetic fiber, developed on the basics laid out in the work of Japanese colonial chemist Noguchi Jun, and a factory town, Vinalon City, which produced it. Kim notes, “The history of vinalon is a confluence of the colonial industrial system, the postliberation nationalist ideology of state building, the dynamics of multinational postwar reconstruction, and the monopoly of production and politics by the regime of Kim Il Sung,” which means like Cather’s Japanese Kant and Yoshida’s Japanese Plato, vinalon was both a “transnational object par excellence” as well as a localized performance in a socialist, industrializing world. Usefully, the essay opens an apical moment in the history of industrial work in which the labor hero spontaneously super-achieves while generating complicity of self-subordination to inhuman work conditions: Michael Burawoy’s “complicity of workers in their own subordination” in a postcolonial, socialist industrial system. And Kim [End Page 746] usefully analyzes the history of vinalon’s mythology. Patriotically reascribed to Ri Sŭng-gi, a Korean chemist trained in Japan, vinalon, now mythically hypostatized as “Ri’s Korean nylon,” is full of heroism, sublime danger, and supra-individualism knit into everyday concrete reality, since those who made it wore it. But Kim’s universal point, the claim he makes out of all these tiny details, is that labor domination is “ambiguous, because it disguises the condition of domination while revealing the experience of the subject” and consequently that everyday life is, as Henri Lefebvre noted, “a kind of a screen” in the sense that “it both shows and hides.”
We follow out a similar problematic in Laikwan Pang’s “The Visual Representations of the Barefoot Doctor: Between Medical Policy and Political Struggles.” This essay takes on the complex fabrication of the visual image of the female and feminine barefoot doctor. As in Kim’s study of heroic labor heroes, Pang’s objective is to “investigate how the barefoot doctor was both a product of state...