News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Just glanced at a couple of books written in the prevailing university style. They’re both good examples of why I detest academic writing and why four and a half years of university taught me nothing that I couldn't have learned much faster on my own. From Ideology and Practice in Modern Japan, chapter 2 "Symbols of Nationalism and Nihonjinron", by Harumi Befu:

Cultural manifestations of nationalism come in a variety of forms: physical symbols, personages, rituals and discourses. (So who doesn't know this? Enumerating four categories achieves nothing by way of clarification) Every nation uses these instruments as a way of creating a sense of national identity, reminding its citizens of the importance of patriotism and bolstering loyalty to the nation. (Of course they bloody do!) The most obvious symbols of national identity are the national flag, the national anthem, the national, and national monuments and rituals, which are all physical representations of national identity and national pride. (Fuck off!) The symbols acquired an aura of sacredness and inviolability and are designed to cause a surge of patriotic emotion when displayed in the proper place at the proper time. (Ditto!)

The hypothesis I want to develop in this chapter is... Shut up already! Rather than state the hypothesis, why not just get the fuck on with it. It's like going to a bar and telling your friends, "I'm now going to take a swig of beer," followed by, "I'm now going to put the glass down," and then, "I'm now going to rest my arm on the counter." Very quickly someone would be saying: "Just drink your bloody beer and shut up about it!" This prevailing attitude of the hacks of academe towards writing is not just a mockery of clear prose, but a professional disguise for mediocrities with nothing to bloody say, but with a will to publish. It's characterized by endless fluffing up of empty essays with intellectual cardboard and verbal stuffing, a lazy contempt for the reader, indifference to efficiency, and the presumption that some poor bastard somewhere is chained to a desk and going to be forced to read this.

Thus rather than have to appeal to descriminating readers, the writer tosses out a filibuster of high-blown blather ex cathedra knowing he or she is going to be read by a kowtowing grad student or one of the usual fellow suspects. Or, alternatively, they know they're writing fish-wrapper fit for stuffing a journal only good for lighting kindling in a Franklin Stove.

For whatever reason, these bastards have little incentive to write something useful. And of course people who need incentive to write something useful are usually the sort of people who are incapable of writing anything useful regardless of whether they have an incentive. Creative people are not creative only when they have an incentive. They're creative because if they don't do something interesting with themselves they get bored out of their minds and go stir crazy.

Here’s an alternative format, Brian Reading’s from the intro to Japan: the Coming Collapse (1993): The aim of this book is to show that Japan's postwar economic success is fatally flawed, while its political stability is dangerously fragile. There is no great plot or grand design. Japan is characterized by paralytic government, venal cell seeking politicians, pervasive corruption, gross inefficiency and inequity, lawlessness, latent violence and a total lack of any social purpose. The Japanese are not planning to take over the world. All they are doing is defending and promoting their own sectional interest against those of other Japanese. That this system has produced miracle growth and then massive trade surpluses was by accident rather than design.... Japan's economic system is not capitalist with warts, but communist with beauty spots. It is a halfway house between capitalism and communism, democracy and dictatorship. It is corporatist, with big business run for the benefit of stakeholders, management, employees and customers, not shareholders.... It is virtually a one-party state, corrupt, paternalistic and nepotism, a neo-feudal system operated for the benefit of powerful and wealthy political and industrial dynasties, in which fear and greed dictate how unequal votes are cast in unsecret ballots to select politicians without policies.

Agree or disagree with his thesis, but he’s got your attention. Not because he accurately predicted doom and gloom, but because he has something to say. He has an unfettered set of opinions, prejudices, and conclusions. Needless to say, at that time anyway, he wasn’t an academic. He was a features writer for the Economist and other magazines with paying customers. Ergo, he’s a money and factoid whore who’s pitching to a finicky set of near virgins in terms of their knowledge of Japan. What a difference having to earn your daily bread makes to quality. Viva capitalism!

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