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  • Imitation and Creativity in Japanese Arts: From Kishida Ryūsei to Miyazaki Hayao by Michael Lucken
  • Miryam Sas
Imitation and Creativity in Japanese Arts: From Kishida Ryūsei to Miyazaki Hayao by Michael Lucken, translated by Francesca Simkin. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016. Pp. vi + 248. $60.00 cloth, $59.99 e-book.

During the early 1990s, when I used to attend “the seminar,” as it was fondly called, run by Professor Edwin McClellan at Yale on the topic of modern Japanese literature, every once in a while Professor McClellan would sum up at the end of a complex three-hour conversation by saying something along these lines: “So you see, Author X [say, Mori Ōgai] was a genius.” This way of seeing the works never particularly bothered me: mired in deconstruction as I was, I effected an internal translation that made perfect sense to me, framing exactly what I thought he meant in my own critical terminology of the day: “This text by Mori Ōgai is an amazing work.”

Lucken, in Imitation and Creativity, is concerned with the myth of genius and original creativity, as well as their history and vicissitudes in Japanese arts. He is equally concerned with creativity’s contrast—imitation—and the denigration of imitation, which is summed up in the original French title of one of the book’s chapters: “Japon singe” (lit. Japan the monkey, translated into English as “copycat Japan”). Lucken ultimately traces a “double dialectic,” or a “two-stage dialectic” (p. 199), process of creativity along various axes, leading to a “third and final phase” (p. 200), a sort of synthesis as it were, that does not stay stably on one or the other pole of this creativity-imitation binary. The [End Page 268] term “plastic” and the related quality of “plasticity”—whose uses and history, from Eisenstein writing about Disney to early anime theory, interest me deeply—come to represent Lucken’s reluctance to polarize the two terms.

One of the key contributions of Lucken’s book and of some of his recent scholarly activity consists in his efforts to open a conversation between francophone and nonfrancophone scholars of Japanese studies in America, Europe, and Asia. Based at Inalco (Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales) in Paris, Lucken co-edited the volume Japan’s Postwar.1 Imitation and Creativity, translated smoothly by Francesca Simkin, continues his labor of bringing works of Japanese studies from French to English and thus providing the potential for a broader series of international dialogues. Since one would like to visit Paris as often as possible, even if only in imagination, these volumes offer the gift of a virtual tour around one corner of Inalco.

Reading Imitation and Creativity raised for me questions about methodological differences between American and French studies of Japan—the implicit expectations we hold, without perhaps realizing it, and the subtle differences in emphasis, style, and approach these fields practice on different sides of the Atlantic. The French-language, Inalco publication of Imitation and Creativity is available from within an institutional library for PDF download under a different title, with some additional illustrations and hypertext footnotes: Les fleurs artificielles: Création, imitation et logique de domination (Artificial flowers: Creation, imitation and the logic of domination).2 The French title resonates somewhere between Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal (Flowers of evil) and Les paradis artificiels (Artificial paradises), hence implying a more complex relation to problems of artifice and origin than the English title. Not to criticize the change, but just to ask: Are we in Japanese studies in America expected to be more direct, less elliptical or literary? The title of part 1 is similarly transformed from “Le Paradigme Mimetique” (The mimetic paradigm), in my French version, to “A Historical Construction.”3 The history of the valuation and [End Page 269] devaluation of the varying definitions of the mimetic—from the concept of Schein (appearance) through Brecht to recent feminist performance studies—makes the topic truly complex and multivalent and well worthy of inquiry. Are American readers of Japan studies expected to require an emphasis on the historical rather than the theoretical vicissitudes of mimesis? It seems so, and...


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