memoirs of a polar bear – yoko tawada

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Scrolling through my posts, you might wonder whether or not I actually read novels – I wouldn’t blame you for such a thought because, for the most part, I tend to read non-fiction, theoretical texts or novels that are assigned for seminars. However, whenever possible, I decided to try to pick away at a novel “for fun”. After class one day, I ended up chatting with one of my classmates and we both commented on how we feel more sane when we read outside of coursework or research, even if it is just a few pages.

With that mantra in mind, I tried to insert a little bit of leisure reading into my February and managed to get through two novels, one of these being Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada. Obviously, it is no longer February, so some time has lapsed since I finished this book – but I enjoyed it, so I felt it deserved some love on this blog.

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chae man-sik: peace under heaven

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Originally, my research focused more on Japanese imperialism in Manchuria, because this was the only context within which I ever even heard about Japanese imperialism spoken of. I thought that if I did end up focusing on post-colonialism in the East-Asian context, it would have to be Manchuria. My lack of context comes from two places: for one thing, Japan* is good at forgetting the past and occluding certain elements from history. Secondly, the status of Japan as an ally to the United States, I think, has something to do with the continued hush around Japanese imperialism.

*I say this in a very general sense, because I can provide a list of many thinkers and writers, for instance, who were contemporaneously opposed to Japanese imperialism and I can also show you thinkers and writers who address this issue now in a very open, critical matter.  Another important thing I want to address here is that when I make this claim, I am not saying that Japan is the only country to do this at all. All countries are guilty of this to varying degrees, from outright genocide to denials of prejudice. Clearly, Western countries have a long, sordid history of terrorizing and conveniently forgetting; those who hold hegemonic power are just lucky in that they get to set the standard for historical fact. 

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a return to arendt

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A while ago I devoted a post to my love of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, so you can imagine how pleased I was when I found out another Arendt piece was assigned for one of my seminars. However, rather than being one of her other famous texts, we were assigned a piece that was essentially Arendt’s “dissertation” or post-doc project of sorts, which was on a German Jewish woman named Rahel Varnhagen (1771-1833), who became quite a well-known salonierre in Germany. Arendt’s archive was originally made up of pages upon pages of letter that Varnhagen had written to various family members, friends, and love interests over the years in which she candidly philosophizes on her outlook on life, her situation as a female Jew in Germany, and many other topics. Interestingly, Arendt’s research doesn’t simply focus on the way Varnhagen describes herself; instead, Arendt uses Varnhagen’s letters as a point of departure for her own meditation on ideas of representation, self-identity, history, and an incredibly wide array of topics.

Arendt actually had to put this project on hold as she had to flee Germany due to the events leading up to WWII; most of the book (minus the last two chapters) were completed in 1933. The final two chapters were written a little thereafter, but the book was not published until 1957, so there are a lot of interesting gaps in the writing of this. Since Arendt had to flee Germany, she also lost access to her archive of Varnhagen’s letters. She thus had to reconstruct the text from her notes on the thousands of letters that were lost to her.

As I’ve done in the past, I think the best way to get a sense of the writing here is to get a glimpse of the text itself. Here are a few of the passages that caught my eyes as I was reading along, but keep in mind that I had to pick out a handful out of tons of flagged-pages! I think this will give you a sense of the style of writing Arendt goes through in this text.

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learning places: the afterlives of area studies

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It has been a while since I actually wrote about a specific book that caught my eye and is applicable to my field. So when this text was assigned for one of my graduate seminars and we worked our way through the text, I knew I had to dedicate a bit of time to it. The text is called Learning Places: The Afterlives of Area Studies and is a collection of articles/essays by various scholars who would place themselves in various area study disciplines. Most of these essays are from Asian Area studies (i.e. Japan, China, Korea, Southeast Asian studies, etc.) but I think that they highlight the issues in area studies as a discipline, which are not necessarily specific to a specific region.

The tone of this book, overall, is quite cutting of Area Studies and these criticisms are made by those who are an active part of the field. I’ll admit right now that I really enjoyed this text because many of these people articulated issues that I had sensed over the past few years, but did not know how to articulate my qualms.

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mark’s diary: a reading journal

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Three of my oldest friends and I decided to do a little secret gift exchange this year and my gift-giver gave me one of the most unique presents I have received: a reading journal. Since this was a gift, I can’t tell you where to buy one in person, but the company is Mark’s Diary and they do have an online store that is full of so many cute stationary goodies. I am definitely going to keep this shop in mind for stationary purchases in the future. You might be asking yourself whether this is actually worth it, so now that I have been using the journal for a while, I thought I would share a few thoughts on this reading journal.

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my love for hannah arendt

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Those of you who follow me on Instagram are probably tired of seeing me post about Hannah Arendt’s book The Origins of Totalitarianism – and yet here I am writing about it in ever MORE depth. I thought I would take a moment to not only update this poor neglected blog, but also to explain in a little more detail why I have been absolutely enthralled by this book. In other words, I wanted to explain my love for Hannah Arendt.

I have come across Arendt’s work in the past through my interest in critical theory, as well as my interest in her time period, which was during and around WWII. I have read some of her writing in a few of my classes, but I have never sat down and worked through an entire text. Since I was delving more deeply into postcolonialism, I kept seeing her name come up in conversations about imperialism and the negative impact that imperialism had on the colonies, as well as Europe itself. This is an argument that is quite common in postcolonial studies, but I wanted to see how Arendt constructed her argument, so I picked up this book and started reading. Not only has this been a phenomenal way to reconsider imperialism from the position of the Occident, what has struck me the most about Arendt’s writing is how applicable her ideas are to what is happening in the United States today.

I will include a few quotes below to help illustrate what I mean:

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Margaret Atwood!

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Last night, Margaret Atwood came into town to discuss her new book Hag-seed and to also, of course, just generally grace us with her presence. If I had to designate favorite contemporary authors, Atwood is very near the top of my list (though behind China Miéville – whose even I missed a few weeks ago and NO I’m not bitter about it, why would you ask!?). My first experience with Atwood was through her book The Blind Assassin, because there was a time when I was very into narratology and enjoyed looking at books that “did something weird” with narrative structures. The Blind Assassin often came up in conversations, so I decided to pick it up and I ended up really enjoying it. I then proceeded to work my way through her novels and have, by now, read quite a few – though she is so incredibly prolific that I am very far behind on her work. Out of her novels, I would say The Blind Assassin and the MaddAddam trilogy (which is going to be made into an HBO series!) are my favorites.

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