Materials for Cognition and Cogitation

In lieu of long missives from Chengdu, where one’s ear is pressed so firmly to the Sichuan earth (and also to cellos hewn of spruce and maple from the Russian Far East, resonating with Soviet realist harmonies) that great leaps forward in prose production seem awfully distant, I’ll simply offer up the work of my colleagues:

Feng Chongyi’s immense essay on the roots and structure of the internal movement for Chinese liberalization since 1989, with an emphasis on Liu Xiaobo;

Rudiger Frank’s dependable view of the recent North Korean Party Congress and succession politics;

One Free Korea’s steady critiques of those predicting a renaissance of reformism in North Korea (including Selig Harrison’s recent Boston Globe piece), as well as some tickling coverage of anti-Kim Jong Un demonstrations in Seoul;

and three book recommendations for texts upon which I’ll undoubtedly be gorging myself at year’s end:

Tessa Morris-Suzuki’s forthcoming Manchuria/South Korea travel memoir, and MIT Professor John Dower’s long-awaited Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq.  But perhaps most mind-bending is Marc Driscoll’s new book on Japanese imperialism, published by Duke University Press:

In this major reassessment of Japanese imperialism in Asia, [Marc Driscoll] draws on subaltern postcolonial studies and Marxism, direct[ing] critical attention to the peripheries, where figures including Chinese coolies, Japanese pimps, trafficked Japanese women, and Korean tenant farmers supplied the vital energy that drove Japan’s empire. He identifies three phases of Japan’s capitalist expansion, each powered by distinct modes of capturing and expropriating life and labor: biopolitics (1895–1914), neuropolitics (1920–32), and necropolitics (1935–45). During the first phase, Japanese elites harnessed the labor of marginalized subjects as Japan colonized Taiwan, Korea, and south Manchuria, and sent hustlers and sex workers into China to expand its market hegemony. Linking the deformed bodies laboring in the peripheries with the “erotic-grotesque” media in the metropole, Driscoll centers the second phase on commercial sexology, pornography, and detective stories in Tokyo to argue that by 1930, capitalism had colonized all aspects of human life: not just labor practices but also consumers’ attention and leisure time. Focusing on Japan’s Manchukuo colony in the third phase, he shows what happens to the central figures of biopolitics as they are subsumed under necropolitical capitalism: coolies become forced laborers, pimps turn into state officials and authorized narcotraffickers, and sex workers become “comfort women.” Driscoll concludes by discussing Chinese fiction written inside Manchukuo, describing the everyday violence unleashed by necropolitics.

Breathless stuff.  I’m far, far too slow with my own publication pipeline on studies on Manchukuo, but hope to be spilling more ink in the next three to five years on three related topics: the aftermath of Manchukuo among ethnic Koreans in Yanbian, shadows of Manchukuo and anti-Japanese propaganda in Manchuria during the Chinese civil war, and German wartime perceptions of Manchukuo (based on my work in German archives)…

Finally, if the rap gods are willing, I’ll be submitting a paper to this March conference on Asian pop at Princeton, as the theme follows nicely from my article “North Korean Hip-Hop? Reflections on Musical Diplomacy with the DPRK” and subsequent research.  When your keynote speaker is DJ Krush and the venue is Princeton University, excitement, but not nervousness, is in order.  After all, as Easy-E stated on his debut album, describing his emotional topos before robbing a bank, “my knees ain’t shaking, because I’m used to it.”



  1. I certainly look forward to John Dower’s latest as his earlier Embrassing Defeat is a killer piece of historiography, not least because it provides a genealogical history of the trashier pulp side of Japanese culture, which fed into films like Seijun Suzuki’s Gate of Flesh and similar hardboiled masterpieces. eg Battles without Honour and Humanity. 1973 Kinji Fukasadu’s ultimate revisionist yakuza flic and a perfect counterpoint to Hasebe’s Bloody Territories.

    Necro capitalist biopolitics. Foucault would be proud of this analytical turn of events.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s