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Panel 8 | 3:00-5:00 | ROOM B

3:00-5:00  ~ PANEL 8 ~ ROOM B

8 - Framing the Act of Seeing in Cultural and Social Transitions

"Problems of the Present: Seeing with Kinugasa's A Page of Madness,” André Keiji Kunigami, Cornell University

  • Kinugasa Teinosuke's A Page of Madness (Kurutta Ichipēji, 1926) is part of the canon of silent film history. Created through Kinugasa’s collaboration with the modernist “New Perception School” of literature, (Shinkankakuha), which argued for an emphasis on bodily sensations and perceptual immediacy, it counted novelist Kawabata Yasunari as contributor to its screenplay.

    Kinugasa's film exists now as a repository of different historical layers—it was lost, found several decades later, maybe altered—and has been widely studied and historicized. This paper will consider the film’s aesthetic organization in relation to the modernizing, historicist desire to control time, by focusing on the unstable status of seeing and the problem posed by the film's drive towards a pure visual immediacy. How does “seeing” inhabit the temporal duration of the present? Does the film demonstrate some political potential of the technology of cinema itself? Drawing on the notion of a  “migrating modernity” fuelled by the image of the “other,” I will juxtapose images from Kinugasa’s films with images from other media and spaces (such as Charcot's photographs of the female hysterics) in an effort to present a critical strategy of seeing with Kinugasa's images.

    Most importantly, I will inquire how the status of vision as an epistemological tool for capturing and archiving, is problematized  by the film's own performance of the act of seeing at the temporal borders. These are borders in which written and spoken word, still photography, and moving film all relate in difference, tension, and exposure. Seen in terms of these instances, Kinugasa's work establishes its own impossibility: as a temporal conundrum, vision is harbored in an impossible sovereign spectator, which technology and archivability  modulate. In a dialectics of openness and restriction, acceleration and retention, A Page of Madness suggests a relation between spectator and world that functions on a regime of sensorial mimesis rather than identification.

"An Issue of Ambivalent Peace in Ishikawa Jun’s ‘Taka' (The Raptor),"
Yoshihiro Yasuhara, Carnegie Mellon University

  • Written in 1953, the surrealistic novella Taka (The Raptor) by Ishikawa Jun (1899-1987) attempts to reify an ambivalent social reality right after the Occupation (1945-1952), as illustrated in the novella by the motif of a cigarette brand named “peace” (piisu), an actual brand that appeared during the Occupation (and still exists). In the story, the tobacco brand, which features an iconic image of dove with an olive branch designed by the French-American designer Raymond Loewy, appears as two different kinds of cigarette under the same brand name—one widely circulated in the market and the other secretly manufactured, reflecting the double-sided political debate on subjectivity (shutaisei). In this dichotomy, it may well be that the protagonist Kunisuke (the nation’s helper) emerges as an in-between subjectivity, and thereby Ishikawa stages the surrealistic setting to envision Kunisuke’s individual, sentient experiences of the social reality. This cigarette motif, is further underlined by other layers of connotation, such as the symbolism of dove as an inverted signifier from its role of sidekick for Hachiman (八 幡神)—the “syncretic divinity of archery and war” that helped promote a patriotic sentiment till the end of WWII, to a symbol of pacifism in a Judeo-Christian sense that was introduced to postwar Japan. In this context, a climactic scene of the novella where “[t]he raptor let its shadow play upon the waters as it circled one more time and wove a final, intricate dance in the air,” comes to the fore as a social criticism, implying a deceptive efforts of peace-making in postwar Japan.

"Shirakaba and the 'Conventions of Painting' Debate," Erin Schoneveld, Haverford College

  • Founded in April of 1910, Shirakaba (1910-1923) redefined modern art for a new generation of Japanese artists and writers. One of the first art and literary journals to reproduce the works of Rodin, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Matisse, Shirakaba provided a critical framework for discussing European modernism. Subverting established hierarchies of artistic production and exhibition, Shirakaba served as an avant-garde platform to advocate individuality and subjective expression. This paper will examine a key moment in modern Japanese art history known as the “Conventions of Painting” debate in which Kinoshita Mokutarō’s criticism of yōga painter Yamawaki Shintoku’s work Rainy Evening, 1908 sparked an argument regarding the use of oil painting as a medium for self-expression. At stake in this debate were the merits of naturalism (objectivity) versus personalism (subjectivity) with Shirakaba editor Mushanokōji Saneatsu invoking the aesthetic language of Post-Impressionism to argue against academic styles in painting that emphasized realistic techniques of verisimilitude. From 1911-1912 the “Conventions of Painting” debate played out among the pages of Shirakaba as Mushanokōji (along with Yamawaki) actively sought to challenge state- sponsored modernism by reframing the interpretation and meaning of yōga painting. I argue that the “Conventions of Painting” debate provides a window into Shirakaba’s pursuit of artistic and literary idealism during a time when many young artists and writers struggled to define the “self” within a modern context. Ultimately, it was Shirkaba’s ability to strike a balance between modernism and avant-gardism – supporting the autonomy of the art as well as attempting to alter its social role – that transformed the entrenched institutional practices of Japan’s artistic and literary establishment. In the process, these activities opened a critical space that allowed artists and writers to explore and complicate the established narratives of the emerging avant-garde resulting in the creation of new audiences, artworks, and artistic communities.