2007

Theory and Practice of Cultural Criticism: Waseda University  School of International Liberal Studies 

 

This seminar will explore the theory and practice of criticism of cultural forms. The critic is a central yet shadowy figure in the circuits of cultural capital. Often feared and reviled in equal measure, the critic is nonetheless an indispensable figure to the interpretation, mediation, and development of cultural forms and practices, and the absence of critical discourse is a telltale sign of a moribund culture. This seminar examines questions such as: What is the significance and role of the critic, in relation to artform, artist, society, history? By what methods and on what grounds does the critic make judgements? What are the various approaches to critical writing? Is criticism itself an “art”? How can we decide if a text is “critical” or not? How can we write critically? The readings for the seminar are drawn from the full sweep of the Western critical imagination, including writings by Aristotle, Kant, Goethe, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Krauss, Sartre, Benjamin, Adorno, Said, Greenberg, and Barthes. These are selected to cover critical perspectives relating to aesthetics, literary criticism, criticism of painting and sculpture, architecture, music, photography and cinema, and material culture, aiming to in the practice of criticism.

Experience, Memory, History in the Work of Walter Benjamin: Waseda University  School of International Liberal Studies 

 

The writings of German critic Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) ranged widely over the broad uplands of European culture during the turbulent interwar period. An “historian of the present,” he took upon himself the task of reading the palm of his age – seeking to uncover the trajectory and meanings of modernity hidden within its surfaces. Methodologically, his work was highly original and multivalent, and might typically juxtapose literary criticism, history of technology, descriptions of urban experience, and discussion of the nature of memory, distilled into potent essays for a non-specialist educated public. Although tragically overlooked during his lifetime, Benjamin’s writings have been progressively recuperated since the 1960s, and the interpretation of his work now occupies key sites within diverse fields such as art theory, architectural history, cultural and visual studies, literary criticism, urban studies, and social theory. The interdisciplinary nature of Benjamin’s thought renders it particularly suitable for study within a Liberal Arts context such as exists at SILS. In this seminar, we explore the thought of Walter Benjamin through close study of a selection of his writings. In particular, we focus on Benjamin’s understanding of the links between experience, memory, and history, and the various reflections and translations that are effected between them via art-forms such as photography, cinema, and architecture. Through a sustained consideration these themes, we will aim to turn a Benjaminian eye on our own time and place -Tokyo at the start of the 21st century.

House and Home in Modern Japan: Waseda University  School of International Liberal Studies 

 

The experience of modernity has frequently been characterized as one of dislocation, transience, and alienation; the idea of home generally connotes meanings antithetical to these. This seminar explores the development of the ideas of home and its material manifestations in domestic housing in a modernizing Japan. The text is Jordan Sand’s House and Home in Modern Japan: Architecture, Domestic Space, and Bourgeois Culture, 1880-1930 (2004). This book takes the Japanese house as site and as artifact, and explores the spaces, commodities, and conceptions of community associated with it in the modern era. It examines manifold dimensions of the creation and dissemination of modern “dwelling culture”, including the creation of “home” as a concept, the defining of housewife as an occupation, the emergence of ideas of taste and style, and the emerging phenomenon of suburban homeownership. Over time, the act of dwelling was re-conceived in terms of consumption and as a form of expression, with competing images of home jostling for primacy among a mass-market public. The class will engage with the text both as a window into a period of Japan’s recent past, and as an exemplary model of historical method in its reconstruction of the interrelations between the ideological, social, and material dimensions of life. 

Cosmpolitanism Seminar: Waseda University  School of International Liberal Studies 

 

Ulrich Beck is an influential German sociologist who has been widely read outside Germany for his analyses of social transformations under conditions of modernity and globalization. In this book, he develops his earlier concepts of second modernity, risk society and reflexive sociology into a broad sociological analysis of the cosmopolitan implications of globalization. The book draws a contrast between a ‘cosmopolitan outlook’ that grasps the transformative potential of globalization, with a ‘national outlook’ that is defined by borders, sovereignty and exclusive identities. Although the analysis is directed towards European questions, this seminar will attempt to consider its applicability to the situation and experience of contemporary Japan. 

Tokyo Study Tour + Workshop: University of New South Wales, Faculty of the Built Environmen

 

The object of our research is contemporary Tokyo, specifically the urban qualities of its spaces of public interaction. Our approach to this object is experiential and interpretive – we seek to construct our readings and representations of Tokyo by exploring and observing the city and its interaction with its inhabitants. Through this approach, we pursue the following questions: How do the urban spaces of Tokyo engage its subjects – the people who use them? What are the links between social groups and behaviours, sub-cultural identities, and concrete urban environments? What responses can we propose that embody or represent these particular conditions? The physical elements of the city – objects, buildings, interiors, urban landscapes, as well as their interaction with people, in both direct and mediated ways, constitute the raw material of our attention. The development of methodologies for analysis, strategies of representation, and possibilities for intervention to engage this material are the concrete aims of this elective