I’m not a big fan of pop music. I thought music was just a tool to relax, like games. But thanks to this book, now I think I become more sensitive to different genres of music and get the awareness of the geopolitical maps behind them. Also this book reminds me that scholarship is anything but boring researches. It is always interesting as long as we keep curious to the world.
In this response paper, I want to talk about the points that impressed me most in this book.
1. The key words and the main argument
When I previewed the content, I couldn’t find the central argument. It seems that he only picked up different genres of music randomly to carry out his analysis. It’s quite different from Louis Young’s Japan’s Total Empire, which shows readers a complete picture at the first sight. However, as I reviewed this book, I returned to the introduction and found that the author actually explained it clearly and organized the subsequent chapters centering his main argument.
From my point of view, the key words is the imaginary map, which focuses on the effect of music on the people. When we talk about music, in most cases we talk about the individual singers or specific songs but we tend to ignore the most important part of enjoying music, which is what kind of imagines the music invokes on our mind. Different listeners will have different imaginary maps.
The main argument of the author is that the macro geopolitical situation (the change of international relations, the growth of capitalism, the emergence of nation-state and so on) can construct the micro imaginary maps in everyone’s mind (how performers and listeners understand a certain music) and ultimately has impact on the development of music. On the other hand, music is not a passive subject, but is active and meaningful in the large geopolitical situation through the process of influencing people. The book intends to disentangle the relation between imaginary maps in people’s minds and macro trends in geopolitical situation.
In the subsequent each chapter, the author examines a single genre of a specific time period range from 1945 to 1990s through a particular theoretical lens: the relation of music to liberation and different models of liberation; the influence of cultural mapping on musical appreciation; the role of translation in transmitting musical genres around the globe; the place of noise in music and its relation to history change; the tenuous connection between ideologies of authenticity and imitations; the link between commercial success and artistic integrity; and the function of melodrama.
In each chapter, the author gives vivid descriptions of the musicians and music, but it actually confuses readers who know little about pop music. I wondered the relation between these detailed case studies and the main argument. Then I found that although each time period(or each chapter) was complicated and differed a lot , there were still at least two hidden hints that could help me connect chapters. One is the trend of growth of technology and economy, while the other one is the cooperation and opposition among nation-states. In nearly every chapter, we can see the shadows of these two macro trends and there are always conflicts or paradox between them. Upon the birth, pop music is the product of mass culture. It couldn’t get any developed without the growth of economy, mass consumption, mass media and technology. It seemed to emancipate people from inequality and make a evener world. However, the reality is that it’s not unpolitical rather a tool to reflect, express or pursue political intention on both international level and domestic level. No matter the pursuit of liberation, the resistance to the commercialism, the nostalgic emotion to the pure Japaneseness or the enthusiasm to revolution, all we can see is the politics of music. Every time we seem to be emancipated from the existing social or political structure and get a temporary liberation, we only find to be trapped into a new structure. The old mental maps die, while the new keep emerging.
2. The use of theory
The second feature that impressed me is the utilize of theory in this book. As the author claims in the very beginning, he follows neither the theory-head in 1980s and 1990s nor the anti-theory-head in 2000s. He tries to figure out a new way to apply theories and expects a creative effect.
I’m not so familiar with the works of theorists, but still I try to understand the author’s new way to use theories.
Firstly, he use the theory notions to organize the content. The author does not start his work with the review of system of theories or intend to supplement or correct the system, but he does borrow many notions from theorists: liberation, ideology, translation, identity, nation-state, revolution, gender and so on. The notions are just like bricks without which it’s hard to tell a meaningful story. What impressed me most is the assumption of gender in Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, in which the feminine means passive surrenders, fresh body and entertainment while the masculine means active dominator, ascetic mind and wisdom. I don’t know whether it is the author’s application of the concept of “gender” or the musician’s, but I actually find similar applications of “gender” in other academic works. For example, during Japan’s occupation in Korea, the Occupation government of Japan also tried to feminized Koreans through movies and music. As a female, I’m not very comfortable with this assumption, but it actually occurs me how the assumption came into being, developed and be applied.
Secondly, the author utilizes the theory to find clues. As the author says in the introduction, everyone has a mental map in mind, which helps to navigate the direction and understand the surroundings, though without awareness. We are so used to the daily life and common sense that rarely find something puzzles us a lot. Nevertheless, through the glasses of theory, we can explore more. From the ostensible level, the author does not use any theories and all he talks about is very close to the real life. However, he is sensitive to the macro trends and the content is always under a large framework. Also in the detailed descriptions in each chapter, he is sensitive to the representations or symbols of musical phenomenon. Reading through the pages is just like a exploration with the author. Readers can follow him to reconsider the commonness, or even sometimes a step further than the author.
3. The novel focus on ordinary people and everyday life
Another creative point of this book is the focus on ordinary people and everyday life. It focuses on the feelings of listeners, the mental maps, the process of consumption and comprehension and the influence of music in everyday life of ordinary people rather than the still result of a music work or the reputation of musicians.
We can tell the story of macro trends by different approaches. For example, it will be more direct to present it through the history of Japan’s emperor. At first I thought maybe it’s just because the author is a big fan of pop music, but even within the field of pop music, we can also focus on many other things.
The question occurs me is why the author chose to present it in this way and the pros an cons of it. From the my limited reading experience, I find this book is similar to many works of cultural history scholars. Although they talk about different phenomenon, range from household furniture to the variety of language, they similarly focus on things we ignored before. They tend to pay attention to more conceal private and detailed phenomena like the emotion, the consumption or the understanding that seem hardly relate to the macro trend but virtually compose our everyday life. I don’t know if it is one of the features of cultural history. This approach helps us to deconstruct many commonplace phenomena but also confuses us because it will be harder to conclude into a central argument.
4. The meaning of this book in the history of area studies
Finally, as a work of area studies, I think this book implies a new trend in Area Study. From the very beginning of this course, the work we read on area studies was written out of political motivation. It views Japan and Japanese as the “exotic” or “others”. It is a pioneer to have insight into another race but without any objective sense. However, as we can see today, Area Study has developed into a much more flourish discipline comparing to its ancestor. Its advantage of inter-discipline is focused. It is very flexible and encompasses many possibilities of social science and humanities or even natural science. It also can be an open space for history and theories to have a better combination. At last, it is not limited in one nation or one certain area, but a story of a specific area under the present framework of global capitalism.
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