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Erotic Grotesque Nonsense

The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times

Miriam Silverberg (Author)


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ISBN: 9780520924628
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This history of Japanese mass culture during the decades preceding Pearl Harbor argues that the new gestures, relationship, and humor of ero-guro-nansensu (erotic grotesque nonsense) expressed a self-consciously modern ethos that challenged state ideology and expansionism. Miriam Silverberg uses sources such as movie magazines, ethnographies of the homeless, and the most famous photographs from this era to capture the spirit, textures, and language of a time when the media reached all classes, connecting the rural social order to urban mores. Employing the concept of montage as a metaphor that informed the organization of Japanese mass culture during the 1920s and 1930s, Silverberg challenges the erasure of Japanese colonialism and its legacies. She evokes vivid images from daily life during the 1920s and 1930s, including details about food, housing, fashion, modes of popular entertainment, and attitudes toward sexuality. Her innovative study demonstrates how new public spaces, new relationships within the family, and an ironic sensibility expressed the attitude of Japanese consumers who identified with the modern as providing a cosmopolitan break from tradition at the same time that they mobilized for war.
List of Illustrations
By Way of a Preface

Japanese Moddern within Modernity

1. The Modern Girl as Militant (Movement on the Streets)
2. The Café Waitress Sang the Blues
3. Friends of the Movies (From Ero to Empire)
4. The Household Becomes Modern Life

1. Asakusa Eroticism
2. Down-and-Out Grotesquerie
3. Modern Nonsense

List of Abbreviations
Miriam Silverberg is Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles and the author of Changing Song: The Marxist Manifestos of Nakano Shigeharu (1990).
“Impressive. . . . [The book] aims to be thought-provoking and it is. It conveys a sense of the richness of the material, leaving the reader longing to know more, and regretting that the author is no longer here to help us satisfy that wish.”—Japanese Studies
“This is a book not just for Japan specialists, but for anyone interested in a history of cosmopolitism and modern life.”—Journal Royal Anthro Inst
"A sumptuously documented book, one that makes innovative use of the principle of montage to generate informative historical readings of Japan's myriad mass cultural phenomena in the early twentieth century. Both in terms of its scholarship and its methodology, this is a truly admirable work."—Rey Chow, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, Brown University

"As Miriam Silverberg has brilliantly shown here, the modern times of 1920s and ‘30s Japan were rendered in a cacophony of cultural mixing: a period of consumerist desires and Hollywood fantasy-making but also the rise of nationalist empire-building. Excavating its kaleidoscope of everyday culture Silverberg astutely offers a theory of montage for how Japanese subjects 'code-switched' in juggling the mixed cultural/political elements of these times. Utilizing a montage of media, texts, sites, and scholarship, Silverberg leads the reader into the terrain of the 'erotic grotesque nonsense' in a work that is as scintillating as it is theoretically important."—Anne Allison, author of Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination

"Unlike other scholars who merely view ero-guro-nansensu in its literal meanings, Silverberg brilliantly documents it as a complex cultural aesthetic expressed in a spectrum of fascinating mass culture forms and preoccupations. With great erudition and humor, she traces the sensory and conceptual modes that are animated with potency and sophistication through this cultural metaphor. This book is destined to be a classic in Japan scholarship."—Laura Miller, author of Beauty Up: Exploring Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics

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