Cornell East Asia Series (CEAS)

Arthur Mitchell on Japanese Literary Modernism

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We asked author Arthur Mitchell three questions about his new book, Disruptions of Daily Life, and his research on Japanese literature against global realities.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

One day, in the periodicals annex of the Waseda Library in Tokyo, Japan, I was scrolling through newspaper microfilm to research coverage of an earthquake that struck that city in 1923, when suddenly the library itself began to shake, setting my large monitor atremble. Reading those articles, I had transported back in time to relive the meanings of that disaster, how incommensurable it was, how sudden, how for many Tokyoites it signified the loss of thirty years of progress. It was funny and bizarre to be brought back from this trance into the present by the jostles of another earthquake.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

I wish I had known how to write a book. At least for this academic, writing a first book was the slow, laborious, uphill struggle of figuring out what a book was, groping in the dark to discover my idea, determine my values, and find my voice. In retrospect, writing this book seems to have been a tremendous act of blind faith. Those that aided along the way—friends, mentors, advisors, then readers and editors— helped to make a dream come true.

3. How do you wish you could change your field of study?

Japan studies has grown into a big tent of creative scholarship and expansive critical scope. But I would like to see the further growth of critical race studies in this field. This is not just a call to interrogate the racial underpinnings of US academia’s study of Japan (which has been done to some extent), but to reverse the disassociation from race within Japan that helps to maintain its status as a nation “worth studying.” Japan is fascinating precisely because of the complexity it exhibits regarding dynamics of race ideology. And studying Japan on these terms promises a more comprehensive view.

*Featured Image: Japanese Newspaper. Credit: FLY 😀.


Arthur Mitchell is Assistant Professor at Macalester College.

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