Monday, November 29, 2010

Notes Towards a Cultural Geography of Tokyo

Gaston Bachelard
I don't want to make it a general habit to put my research notes up here, but for the moment I'm a bit out of pocket, and I suppose occasional glimpses of the work in progress can only help.  As some of my recent posts have suggested, what I'm gravitating towards right now is a full-scale psychoanalysis of Tokyo as a spacial/mental construct.  In SF, at the amazing Green Apple bookstore, I happened across a book that I think is going to be vital to that effort - Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space.  I wanted to get down a few thoughts that the book has triggered so far.

First of all, Bachelard's book is about the way the poetic image shapes our experience of space, and since my chapter is going to be part of a book about hip hop, the obvious and correct move is to integrate readings of how space is represented in Japanese hip hop, both lyrically and musically.  There are the broad categories of space representation in hip hop as a whole, then the specific ways this is implemented in Japan.  Immediately, it occurs to me that space in hip hop has two particularly important modes - the space of the 'hood, and the space of the club, both of which emerge both sonically and lyrically.  There's the spacial extensiveness of bass music, which can either flood out over a city block, or reverberate inside the box of the club, filling the body, going inward.  In Japanese hip hop , the hood gets represented in the work of Shingo Nishinari (named after his Osaka neighborhood) and MSC (whose song "Shinjuku Running Dogs" talks about Kabukicho/Nishishinjuku as an "unsleeping terminal").

The issue of place as a site for identity attachments was never a major component of psychoanalysis, and Bachelard makes the vital point that this leads frequently to the confusion of shifts in location for time's passage in human development.  Time and space are, if not interchangeable, then mutually dependent.  So aside from the music and lyrics, the chapter needs to look at the history of the city itself, from a psychoanalytic perspective of digging down into the layers below the street, as I did in my recent post about the firebombings. The city of Tokyo is a storehouse of memory, even though (actually, specifically because) so much of it is newly built.

This is also significant because time, space, and identity are so closely linked in Tokyo, in Japanese society more generally, and in particular in the Japanese attitude toward subculture.  For many here, participation in a subculture is something literally 'left at the door' when moving from subcultural spaces to professional or more generally social spaces.  So, space becomes not just the marker but the root of changes in identity.


sbellef said...

Small detail... The name is Gaston Bachelard.

David Z. Morris said...

Duh . . . thanks for the catch.