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Narratives of Agency: Self-Making in China, India, and Japan

Wimal Dissanayake editor
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Narratives of Agency
    Book Description:

    This multidisciplinary collection underlines the importance of understanding the operations of human agency-defined here as the ability to exert power, specifically in resistance to ideological pressure. In particular, the contributors emphasize the historical and cultural conditions that facilitate the production of agency in an effort to gain a deeper understanding of the cultures of China, India, and Japan. In Narratives of Agency, scholars from a variety of disciplines argue that traditional Western approaches to the study of these cultures have unduly focused on the pervasive influence of family and clan (China), caste and fatalism (India), and groupism (Japan). This tendency has been exacerbated by modern critical approaches, such as postmodernism and poststructuralism, that not only are increasingly popular in studying these cultures but also de-emphasize the role of the individual. The resultant undermining of the notion of human agency tends to give short shrift to the very real individual differences between groups and ignores questions of personal desire and intentionality. These essays remind us that members of a community have to make personal choices, struggle and interact with others, argue about positions, and confront new challenges, all of which involve intentionality and human agency. A new look at a topic central to cross-cultural understanding, Narratives of Agency will be essential reading for those interested in China, India, Japan, and the world beyond._x000B_ _x000B_Contributors: Richard G. Fox, Washington U; Lydia H. Liu, U of California, Berkeley; Owen M. Lynch, New York U; Vijay Mishra, Murdoch U, Australia; Marie Thorsten Morimoto; Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, U of Wisconsin, Madison; Eugene Yuejin Wang, U of Chicago; Ming-Bao Yue, U of Hawaii, Manoa.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8672-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction / Agency and Cultural Understanding: Some Preliminary Remarks
    (pp. ix-xxii)
    Wimal Dissanayake

    The broad objective of the essays gathered in this volume is to focus on the concept of human agency and its importance in cultural understanding and cultural redescription. The word “agency,” like the words “selfhood,” “individuality,” “subjectivity,” and “personhood,” with which it is imbricated, does not admit of simple and clear definitions. All these words inhabit overlapping positions in a semantic field and conceptual cartography that are increasingly attracting the scholarly attention of both humanists and social scientists alike. In this introduction, and indeed in this book as a whole, no attempt will be made to affix immutable meanings to...

  5. 1 Translingual Practice: The Discourse of Individualism between China and the West
    (pp. 1-34)
    Lydia H. Liu

    The concept of the self, subject, or individual (as well as the slippage between them) has been a main target of criticism in the academic West since the emergence of poststructuralist scholarship. A good deal of that critique is bent on deconstructing the post-Enlightenment European notion of the subject. This move has been greeted with challenge by critics of deconstruction feminists and others who try to (re)introduce concepts such as political agency, strategic identity, and multiple subjectivities into the contemporary debate.1 As someone who specializes in a non-European language, I find this debate fascinating within the context of Euro-American academia...

  6. 2 Samsara: Self and the Crisis of Visual Narrative
    (pp. 35-55)
    Eugene Yuejin Wang

    In the darkness of the young couple’s bedroom, the woman starts to sob. The concerned husband—his name is Shiba—swears his love for her. The wife flares up and accuses the man of loving no one in the world except himself. “Stop cheating me and yourself,” the wife snaps. At this, Shiba slaps her on the face and shuffles into the living room—he is a cripple. Confronting a large mirror, he is suddenly seized by a fit of self-odium at seeing his own image reflected in the mirror. With one violent stroke, he smashes the mirror. The sulking...

  7. 3 Visual Agency and Ideological Fantasy in Three Films by Zhang Yimou
    (pp. 56-73)
    Ming-Bao Yue

    Among China’s diverse group of internationally acclaimed Fifth Generation directors, only Zhang Yimou has managed to make films that capture and maintain the West’s undivided and unprecedented attention.¹ Although it is also true that Zhang’s fellow director Chen Kaige has launched a potential Academy-award-winning epic with his latest film,Farewell to My Concubine, his work in general has not been greeted with quite the same degree of enthusiasm.² For viewers familiar with Zhang’s hallmark artistic obsession with eroticism, this obvious discrepancy in audience reception is indicative of the powerful lure of Orientalism long thought dispelled, but now causing Hollywood critics...

  8. 4 Contesting and Contested Identities: Mathura’s Chaubes
    (pp. 74-103)
    Owen M. Lynch

    Mathura City lies about one hundred miles south of New Delhi, India. It is famous for the ancient Buddhist and Jain cultures buried in its soil and displayed in its museum; it is even more renowned among Hindus as the birthplace of India’s beloved god, Lord Krishna, and as a sin-cleansing bathing spot, Vishram Ghat, on the banks of the holy river Jamuna. The city is one of thesaptamahātīrthas, Hinduism’s seven great pilgrimage centers. Pilgrims come to Mathura throughout the year for a day or so to bathe in Jamuna’s waters and visit temples, including that erected over the...

  9. 5 Self-Made
    (pp. 104-116)
    Richard G. Fox

    Clifford Geertz (1983:59) tells us that “the Western conception of the person as bounded, unique, more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe ... organized into a distinctive whole and set contrastively both against other such wholes and against its social and natural background is ... a rather peculiar idea.” Geertz is hardly alone in recognizing this supposedly singular Western conception. For example, the psychiatrist Alan Roland (1988), under heavy influence from South Asian anthropologists, contrasts the “prevailing psychological maps and norms” of “Western man” (we must assume he also means to include Western woman)—the Western universalizing mode of...

  10. 6 Defining the Self in Indian Literary and Filmic Texts
    (pp. 117-150)
    Vijay Mishra

    No comparable civilization has argued over definitions of selfhood as much as the Indian. Throughout its long and august history almost every branch of knowledge (including philosophy, literature, religion, and linguistics) has grappled with this extremely elusive concept. There is, however, one point on which all the commentators agree: the self is other than what our faculties persuade us it is. In other words, the construction of the self through social processes (which would require a social other to begin with) is overtaken by a principle in which the “real” or the “true” self comes into being only when it...

  11. 7 Selves and Others in Japanese Culture in Historical Perspective
    (pp. 151-177)
    Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney

    For this volume on the self of China, India and Japan, I have chosen the concept of self (selves) and other (others) of the Japanese¹ and its symbolic expressions through a twin metaphor of rice and rice paddies.² I try to show how the construction and the reconstruction of the self of the Japanese have always taken place through their discourse with different peoples, using the metaphors of rice and rice paddies as the vehicles of thought in these processes. I also argue that the collective self of the agrarian Japanese, as expressed in “Rice as Self,” has involved a...

  12. 8 Self, Agency, and Cultural Knowledge: Reflections on Three Japanese Films
    (pp. 178-201)
    Wimal Dissanayake

    According to the conventional wisdom, the Japanese are so inextricably tied to the concept and practices of group loyalty and social obligations that the idea of human agency finds no place in Japanese culture. Groupism, according to this line of thinking, is the defining and foundational trait of Japanese social life. This idea finds repeated and emphatic articulation in most books on Japanese culture written for popular consumption. For example, the following observation from a popular book on Japanese culture is fairly representative of this mode of perception: “Modern Japan, as anyone who has ever watched a Japanese tourist group...

  13. 9 The Nail That Came Out All the Way: Hayashi Takeshi’s Case against the Regulation of the Japanese Student Body
    (pp. 202-236)
    Marie Thorsten Morimoto

    In May 1985, a young high school student was on a school trip to the Tsukuba Expo, a world science exhibition. In violation of school regulations, he borrowed his friend’s hair dryer to style his hair. When his teacher caught him in the act, the boy apologized and began crying, but his remorse was in vain. The teacher forced him to kneel down while he beat and kicked the young student to his death.

    At that time, another student, Hayashi Takeshi, was beginning his third year of high school in Chiba prefecture. Impressed by the incident at Tsukuba as an...

  14. Contributors
    (pp. 237-240)
  15. Index
    (pp. 241-244)