Graduate Seminar: In the Nature of Things? Japan, Art History, and Ecology
Thursday | 9:00 - 12:00pm
This seminar focuses on the visual-material cultures of the Japanese archipelago in relation to emerging practices of eco-critical inquiry. At first glance, Japan may appear to be an important case for such investigation given the notion of Japanese (and “Oriental”) “harmony with nature” in opposition to the imperialism/orientalism and Cartesian, industrial-rationalist West. With regard to Japan’s arts and architectures, this modern view is oftentimes advanced through attention to specific material choices, techniques, aesthetics, and subjectivities allied with inherent and at times explicitly anti-modernist racial-ethnic values and religio-philosophical concepts said to root traditional Japan and its continuity into the present. On the ground—in cultural practice, realms of capital, technology, social organization, consumption, and nation, all of which operate within the earth’s ecology, and in our current ecological and social crises—things may not be so simple, essentialized, or holistic—so harmonious. Even so, we might still ask if critical study of the “nature-culture” dialectic in the arts and architectures of Japan allows us to better understand these dimensions of Japanese culture and enables us to reassess or deepen practices, epistemes, ontologies consequential to the human and non-human relationship?
Our collaborative work will take up case studies in the visual-material cultures of Japan; consider different approaches to ecocritical art historical inquiry; examine relationships between ecologies and artworks and building practices in Japan; and address modern-contemporary art making in the midst of/wake of industrialization, hyper-growth, and Japan’s nuclear history. We will also ask: How has the art history of Japan considered Japan’s “nature”? (How) do normative art historical practices (empiricist, artist, iconography, style, and nation-framed analysis) put nature “under control” or seal off artworks from the ecological world? What alternative models of inquiry (and being) within the environmental humanities are available and possibly applicable? How might current conditions of anthropocentric ecocide and post-3/11 toxicity and precarity change the art historical study of Japan? How might the art history of Japan, within the broader of Japanese studies, become (more) ecocentric while sustaining critical study of art and architecture?
The seminar will be collaborative and exploratory, building week-to-week. Participants will lead individual meetings focused on specific topics relevant to field/interests. Taken for 4 units, the seminar requires preparation of a research paper and weekly assignments; for 2 units, participants will complete readings and weekly assignments. Advanced undergraduates are welcome to speak with Professor Levine regarding their possible participation.