Friday, February 15, 2013

Harry Harootunian and Japanese History

Last Wednesday I attended a public lecture by Harry Harootunian, a semi-divine presence in Japanese History known to have almost single-handedly revolutionised the discipline as well as a sort of figurehead of modern Area Studies. Goldsmiths College has apparently invited him all the way from NYC to inaugurate a kick-off of two interdisciplinary MA courses.

In my early MA time, his papers were prominently featured in our required readings. Dense and acerbic scholastic prose, they unfailingly took a few serious attempts to crack, always rewarded however with a yet another Zen-like epiphany with regards to how we look at the past and present of Japan.
Put simply, he proposes that we cannot use the same Euro-American yardstick to study other histories. Just because Europe had Middle Ages and feudalism, does not mean every society has been or should go through that too. My BA course in Japanese History was exactly along those, actually very Marxist, lines, so in my MA I had to go through the great pains of unlearning everything everything I knew about it.

He backs up his theoretical claims with amazingly rigorous factual research, each time each time delivering a blow to our stale Eurocentric preconceptions.

So now you see it is no wonder that I haven't yet washed my right hand since I shook his last Wednesday. 

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