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In Session: Comparative Print Capitalism in Times of Transformation in Japan, Indonesia, China, and Philippine
1: Institutionalizing Criticism, Building a Nation: Genre, Media, Japan
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
University of Kentucky, United States
This paper traces the historical emergence of criticism (hihyō) as a formative writing practice, particularly important to the production of a modern nation in Japan's Meiji period (1868–1912). Contrary to the assumption that criticism arises in response to cultural production, criticism was called for in Meiji Japan as the primary agency that would pave the way for a new, civilized nation. Facing the diffusion of new printing technology, Japan's 1880s witnessed a material abundance of publications, the high volume of newly-bound items that were to be circulated and consumed. Criticism was posited as a primary selector to counter a surge of information to be processed. Furthermore, under the Euro-Anglo-American imperialist threat, intellectuals such as Ōnishi Hajime and Tokutomi Sohō argued that criticism needed to be practiced to set Japan's modernization in motion. Meiji Japan's criticism thus diverged from traditions of critical evaluation by anointing itself an exceptional guide to a nation yet-to-come and self-consciously defining its own boundaries.
To unravel the institutionalization of criticism when it was first recognized as a genre vital to Japan, this paper looks into the processes through which criticism was established as an individual section in major periodicals. Many journals and papers began to assign a material space to "criticism" of published items towards the end of the nineteenth century. The individuation of the criticism section reflects the contemporaneously-shared notion about the importance of criticism, especially in a country such as Japan that considered itself "half-civilized" vis-à-vis its Euro-Anglo-American and Asian counterparts.