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Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

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Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

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Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

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The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Time’s Arrow in Literary Space

Posted by Bill Benzon on 03/10/10 at 07:32 PM

Is literary time directional? In some sense the answer, obviously, is “yes.” There is no doubt that Pride and Prejudice was written before A Passage to India. The issue, however, is whether or not Pride and Prejudice must necessarily, in some sense, have been written before A Passage to India and, if so, in what sense it must have been written first.

Stephen Greenblatt comes close to suggesting what I’m up to early in “The Cultivation of Anxiety: King Lear and His Heirs” (Learning to Curse, Routledge, 1990, pp. 80—98) which opens with a long passage from an early 19th century magazine article on the how the Reverend Francis Wayland broke the will of his 15-month old child. Greenblatt notes that “Wayland’s struggle is a strategy of intense familial love, and it is the sophisticated product of a long historical process whose roots lie at least partly in early modern England, in the England of Shakespeare’s King Lear.” To be sure, one need not read that as any more than a statement of historical contingency, that Shakespeare’s play just happened to have been written before Wayland’s article. But when one considers the larger institutional changes Greenblatt considers – from the public space of the king’s court (and Elizabethan stage) to the privacy of the bourgeois home – one may suspect that Greenblatt is tracking the directionality of literary time, that one text must necessarily have been earlier in the historical process in which both texts exist.

That directionality is what I want to look at, but not primarily on the scale of decades-to-centuries. My principle example involves three early texts by Osamu Tezuka, the great Japanese mangaka. He was born in Nov 1928, which puts him in his early 20s when these texts were written during the American occupation of Japan after World War II. The three texts have become known collectively as his SF trilogy: Lost World (1948), Metropolis (1949), and Next World (1951). Thus, they are early texts; in particular, they are before the Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) stories that became the centerpiece of his work for almost two-decades.

Prior to World War II Japan had an unbroken history as an independent state stretching all the way back to . . . the primordial times of Japanese mythology. The Japanese Emperor was the living embodiment of that continuity and connection. When he surrendered, that continuity was cut and with it the whole mythological and ideological apparatus that gave shape to the Japanese world, it was gone. Even for someone like Tezuka, who was not a partisan of the militarist regime that ruled Japan at the time, that must have created a profound existential problem. And so, one of the things we see Tezuka doing in this three texts is re-creating a sense of Japan. He is creating a new myth. Without that, how can there be any sense of order about the cosmos?

My argument on that matter is more extensive than I discuss here (I’m working on an essay involving the science fiction elements of the stories, in particular, the robots and other “unnatural” creatures). Here I wish to raise a different issue: Is the order in which Tezuka in fact wrote those three texts the order in which he must necessarily have written them. I don’t have a strong argument to offer. Rather, I simply want to raise the issue.

Tezuka’s Rediscovery of Japan

The first of these texts, Lost World (1948; English translation, Darkhorse Comics, 2003), is set on two planets, Earth and Mamango, a twin of Earth that comes near to Earth every 5 million years. The geographical location of the Earth-bound events is not clear; no geographic locations are named, no cities, no countries. By default, a Japanese audience would be likely to locate these events in Japan (and some of the characters have Japanese names, e.g. Shikishima). But, when the story ends, two people, a man and a woman, remain on Mamango, and will create a new race of human beings. That is to say, in this story, the exciting new stuff of the future is going to take place somewhere else than on Earth.

The second of these texts, Metropolis (1949; English translation, Darkhorse Comics, 2003), is mostly set in some large city named Metropolis, which is explicitly not-Japan. Two of the central characters, Detective Mustachio and his nephew Kenichi, however, are identified as being from Japan and thus being Japanese. Mustachio announces himself as being from Japan (p. 46, cf. p. 53). Japan is now explicitly identified in the story, it is a named place that is differentiated from other names places, such as Metropolis and Long Boot Island. But Japan is not a site of action that is significant to the story.

The last of these texts, Next World (1951; English translation, Darkhorse Comics, two volumes, 2003), is set in locations all over the world. Much of it takes place in the capitalist Nation of Star (obviously the United States) and the socialist Federation of Uran (obviously the Soviet Union). But the story begins in Japan, has episodes there, and ends in Japan. In one plotline the Earth is being threatened by a large approaching mass of space gas. Once this phenomenon is perceived and categorized as an Earth-wide threat, there is a segment where the heads of Star and Uran say, “Let’s escape to Japan” (Vol. 2, p. 99). So Japan is an explicit destination for the most powerful politicians on Earth. Japan is on the map and it is the location of events significant to the story.

It turns out that the gas cloud somehow got neutralized before it reached Earth, so everyone survived. Star and Uran had gone to war, but that was stopped by the Fumoon, advanced humanoids that seemed to have been the product of radioactive fall-out from atomic tests done by Star and Uran. (Yeah, this is a complicated mess of a story.) The point is that Tezuka has positioned Japan outside the conflict between Star and Uran. That is its position in the world and, whatever the geographical relationships between the three nations, Tezuka has given it a political role to play in this, the last of the three books in his SF trilogy. Japan now has a differentiated identity.

On this one matter, Japan as a geographical and political entity, we see a clear progression that matches the order of publication. In the first text Japan is not mentioned at all; in the second it is named, but is peripheral to the action; in the third it is named and becomes a central locus of action on the international scene. Still, the fact that Tezuka wrote the text wrote the texts in that order does not necessarily imply that he had no choice but to write them in that order. To say that he had to write them in that order is to imply some process in his mind that takes place on the scale of months to years and that is linked to his story-telling activity in such a way as the place strong restrictions on the stories he can construct in any given period.

Let’s return to my assertion–merely assumed here, without argument–that Tezuka is using these texts as a vehicle for restoring some sense of order in the world in the wake of Japan’s defeat. We know that he found that transition to be traumatic. As Frederick Schodt has noted in The Astro Boy Essays (Stonebridge Press, 2007, pp. 29-30):

With the end of the war, new difficulties appeared. Tezuka also witnessed starvation among a once proud people, and during the wild, unstructured early days of the occupation, he suffered the humiliation and anger of being beaten by a group of drunken American GIs who could not understand his broken English. It was a brutal and direct experience in cultural misunderstanding that he never forgot. Like all young Japanese of his age, he had also seen how an authoritarian government—his own—had been able to manipulate information and public opinion, and how, after the war, the entire value system of the country was overturned and replaced by a new democratic ideology. It was horrifying, he later said, to realize that “the world could turn 180 degrees, and that the government could switch the concept of reality,” so that what had been “black” or “white” only days before was suddenly reversed.

All of that, I believe, is what Tezuka was working through while writing these three stories, Lost World, Metropolis, and Next World. I suggest that the process was comparable to mourning the death, for example, of one’s parents. As such it was a process that involved his whole psyche and not just some relatively localized notions about how the state functions and just who is in office now. And it is not just that Tezuka was working through the death of his nation during this period, but that he was using his fiction as a vehicle to work through that process and so to arrive at the beginnings of a new conception of Japan, its place in the world, and the place of individual Japanese in this emerging Japan.

We are still a long way from understanding just how and why the demands of this psycho-symbolic process influenced Tezuka’s manga so as “determine” the order in which certain themes and motifs appeared in them, but that is what I think is going on. That is the direction our investigations must take if we are to gain a deeper understanding, not only of Tezuka’s artistic work, but of artistic work in general, and of the human mind.

Longer Time Scales

Tezuka wrote these three texts over a period of three to four years. What about longer time spans? Many artists have been productive over decades and it is common to talk of early, middle, and late works, not as mere temporal markers, but as indicators of characteristic themes, concerns, and sometimes even of aesthetic quality. Some of this development may reflect technical command of the medium, but surely we are dealing with personal development and maturation as well.

Shakespeare presents an interesting case. Early in his dramatic career he tended to write comedies and histories; then he gravitated to tragedy; and he finished his career with curious tragic-comic hybrids, or romances. In a paper that looks at one play from each of these periodsMuch Ado About Nothing, Othello, and The Winter’s Tale—I relate this sequence to ideas about adult development by Erik Erikson, Daniel Levinson, and George Valliant. Thus, while we can read or see Shakespeare’s plays in whatever order we wish, and at whatever time in our lives we wish, Shakespeare himself was constrained to write certain kinds of plays during certain periods of his life. There was a certain necessary order to his artistic production. He could not have written Othello before he wrote Much Ado About Nothing, nor The Winter’s Tale before either of those others. His psyche made demands on his artistic work, and his artistic work was a vehicle for shaping his psyche.

But the life of literature is longer than the lives of any individual writers and readers. And so we are back at the time scale implied in Greenblatt’s interest in a Nineteenth Century article on childrearing and a Shakespeare tragedy, a time scale of centuries and—why not?—millennia. Is there an intrinsic ordering there as well? If so, what is that ordering about? Does the human mind develop, perhaps mature, and, dare I even suggest it? progress over the course of centuries? Are we allowed even to thing such thoughts without being struck dumb?

* * * * *

Meta comment: I’ve made no attempt to hide my affection for the newer psychologies in the study of literature. The subject of this post, however, owes little or nothing to those psychologies nor does it owe much to various post-structuralist approaches (I don’t follow them), though I’d be happy to find out that some new historicists have something to say about it. Nonetheless it seems to me a matter central to the study of literature. It arose in my thinking simply from thinking about literary texts and relations between them.


The material about Tezuka sounds very intriguing. I’ll be interested to read more. It certainly seems plausible, and I think an overt case can be made for “rebirthing” Japan through manga and anime, meaning not only mourning but also reshaping and revisioning the history and folklore of Japan in media that became immensely popular from the late 1940s to today. Surely a case like that can be made for Hideaki Anno’s very-well known anime “Neon Genesis Evangelion.”

By on 03/11/10 at 11:01 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I want to resist the idea that the transitions of early, middle, and late styles can be mapped onto some idea of natural or cognitive development. 

To a large degree, they are a product of a modernist understanding of artistic growth: increasing complexity, subtlety, ambiguity.  And what they neglect are artists who go in a different direction, toward simplicity, say, or to the master visual artist’s ability to hint, in a few quick lines and shadings, what he once painstakingly worked out in intense detail and complexity. 

Thomas Pynchon’s work would be a great example here.  Notice how reviewers have attacked the work since *Gravity’s Rainbow*, each time arguing that Pynchon is weaker as a writer insofar as he resists the mannered complexity of his first works.  They neglect his own statements, in *Slow Learner*, that he views *V.* and *Gravity’s Rainbow* as immature, as inhuman.  And works like *Vineland* and *Mason & Dixon* are far more driven by character, by light touches, by an almost sentimental concern for the individual and family, for friendship and congregation.  My main problem with *Against the Day* was that, to me, it seemed like a falling off, a return to the easy complexity of the earlier work, a neglect of the simple human issues he treated so effectively in *Mason & Dixon*.  Which is why *Inherent Vice* seemed so strong to me, a lovely sketch that suggests so much more than all the earlier work’s ramblings on serialism and German cinema.  But critics align Pynchon against their stadial view of natural artistic growth and denigrate the late style.

James and Joyce are too often held up as natural models and not aberrations.  Shakespeare and Pynchon are counter-examples, as each moved with a lighter touch as they developed (’tho Shakespeare seems to go light-baroque-natural in style). 

The popularity of late Roth seems to be precisely due to the way he’s mimicking what Harold Bloom tells him a master-writer should do.  And the critics eat it up.

By on 03/11/10 at 08:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I want to resist the idea that the transitions of early, middle, and late styles can be mapped onto some idea of natural or cognitive development. 

To a large degree, they are a product of a modernist understanding of artistic growth: increasing complexity, subtlety, ambiguity.

Um, er, Luther, I didn’t say ANYTHING about complexity, subtlety, or ambiguity. And my Shakespeare paper certainly doesn’t discuss his development in those terms.

By Bill Benzon on 03/11/10 at 09:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

When I woke up this morning, Tim, I had a thought: The “space” in which Tezuka created Mamango, with the new Adam and Eve, in Lost World is the same space in which he created the Japan of Next World. What do I mean by that?

Keeping in mind that the three texts are in fact separate from one another, think of them in a crude biological metaphor as the acorn, the seedling, and the sapling oak (with the Astro Boy stories as the mature oak). Well, the Japan of Next World develops from the mamango of Lost World. Something like that.

By Bill Benzon on 03/11/10 at 09:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

No, Bill, but whenever I see the term “late style,” it’s synonymous with the turns in the careers of James, Joyce, and writers of that ilk.  I don’t know where the term originates—Adorno’s Beethoven essays make the late-style case for *Missa Solemnis* as fractures, complex, experimental late-style development—but I rarely see anyone saying, “Wow, this writer’s late style is clearer, simpler, more natural, more humane than her early style.”

By on 03/12/10 at 02:01 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The titles themselves suggest such a progression: Lost World, Metropolis, Next World. It’s a nice metaphor for rebirth…

By on 03/12/10 at 05:12 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Though no examples come immediately to mind, Luther, if you read enough jazz criticism you’ll find critics asserting that this or that artist’s late style is more economical than their early work, with each note counting and nothing wasted.

By Bill Benzon on 03/12/10 at 09:09 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I think I’m missing something. Tezuka’s “early” and “late” styles are certainly different ("Astro Boy” =/= “Buddha"), but I don’t see any linear progression or sequence of clarity, simplicity, humanity, or subtlety in these changes. Or is something else the point?

By on 03/12/10 at 12:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, when I introduced “early,” “middle,” and “late,” I didn’t have anyone in particular in mind (though I then talked briefly of Shakespeare). I simply introduced them as notions that sometimes get applied to some artists. My remarks on Tezuka are limited to those three texts and have to do with the stories told in them, not how they’re drawn. I’ve not given any serious thought to the long arc of his career and have nothing to say. My one thought about Buddha is that either Tezuka’s landscape drawing improved dramatically from his early work (e.g. Lost World, etc.), of he’s working with assistants.

By Bill Benzon on 03/12/10 at 01:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

If I recall, an examination of (as it were) ‘backwards influence’ is the topc of Derrida’s Carte Postale.

By Adam Roberts on 03/13/10 at 05:31 AM | Permanent link to this comment

What is “backwards influence” and what does Derrida say about it?

By on 03/13/10 at 06:29 AM | Permanent link to this comment

“Backwards influence” isn’t a very good way of putting it; and it’s been a while since I read The Post Card.  But it’s grounded in an actual postcard, with an image on the front of Plato standing behind a seated Soctrates, dictating to him (reversing the actual chronology of influence), reproduced on the front of the book, that D. found in Oxford, if I recall.  Derrida’s ‘post’-ness of the recto-verso, image-text postcard has to do with the uncertainties of the vector of address, and a strophic ‘turning-around’ in a metaphysical, or indeed religious sense.

By Adam Roberts on 03/13/10 at 09:43 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Not having read the Derrida I can’t answer Tim’s question, but I will note that T.S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent” has a passage about backward influence. As I recall he says something to the effect that this or that neglected author may, in some present moment, be “discovered” and restored to public memory, thereby (in effect) altering the past.

By Bill Benzon on 03/13/10 at 09:44 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Borges also made a famous case for “backwards influence” in “Kafka and his Precursors”.

By on 03/13/10 at 10:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I never read The Post Card but I remember the Eliot essay. But I still feel that I’m missing something—what does such backwards influence (for lack of a better name) to do with Tezuka and the rebirthing of Japan? Forgive me for being literal minded, but now I’m interested. It reminds me of “precursorism” in history; if it came before, it must be the precursor, and so we promptly re-read the old stuff in the light of the new. If that’s the part that refers to Tezuka, then I don’t think it applies to him, for rather long and roundabout reasons.

By on 03/13/10 at 10:55 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Not sure if this is Derrida’s version, but Harold Bloom, in the *Anxiety of Influence* days, talks about the impossibility of reading past writers outside of the terms created by the strong readers, who themselves become their successors as strong writers.  So when we read Stevens, we read Ashbery’s Stevens.  So the influenced student actually retroactively influences how we read the influencing master—if the student is great enough.  And the effect is to make it seem as if Ashbery was *prior* to Stevens.

By on 03/14/10 at 05:08 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I guess I have to plunge into this, although not much of it has to do with Bill Benzon’s original comments about Tezuka. But that’s OK—I’m going to try to make it relevant.

It strikes me that the (brief) discussion of influence above makes an assumption warranted only for a very few people, some of them here, but it’s an assumption that doesn’t apply to most readers in most audiences. Thus, the last comment knowledgeably refers to “Stevens” and to “Ashbery,” implying that anyone reading Stevens knows his/her work only through the lenses provided by Ashbery. Nope.

I’ve never heard of Ashbery. No idea who he or she may be, and I’m not sure how to find out. I got 363,000 Google hits for “Ashbery” and I assume some of them might be the same one. Or maybe not.

Either way, though, the point is obvious. The sorts of “influence” being discussed apply only to an elite, highly-educated audience who are deeply and thoroughly familiar with writers like Stevens and Ashbery. No one else knows or cares. It follows with the force of logic that if I, a newcomer to Stevens, read something he wrote I will not be influenced whatsoever by Ashbery. I never even heard of him. For me, Stevens arises de novo, not from a matrix deeply mired in immensely complex webs of academic argument about “influence.”

Now, to Tezuka. His work—some 500 volumes of manga done over his lifetime—has been read and admired by vast numbers of fans, and has only a very few academic readers at all. There is no academic matrix of accepted “pathways of influence” from Tezuka in 1950 to Hideaki Anno or Shukou Murase in ca. 2000—or, more to the point, in reverse, from Hideaki Anno or Shukou Murase back TO Tezuka. In all likelihood, most readers of this thread will not recognize the names Hideaki Anno or Shukou Murase, let alone know any of their work, and (once again) it follows with the force of logic that your reading of Anno and Murase will not be influenced by Tezuka—and vice versa.

That is the situation the VAST majority of fans find themselves in. They do not know or care about these complex webs of purely academic theorizing about influence. They never think along such lines. Now, some scholars of the history of manga have tried to tease out past-->future influences by asking whose student or assistant a later artist was, but those are academic exercises of little interest for fans reading or watching manga and anime. (I’ll skip the reasoning and evidence for why.) LIkewise, various academic historians of manga have tried to link Tezuka’s work to pre-WWII popular writing and drawing, but once again those are purely academic exercises of no interest to fans.

One result—to return to Bill’s orginal point—is that Tezuka’s work hit Japanese readers ca. 1950 like an immensely fresh breath of air and hope. The point is that in many ways Tezuka did succeed in giving Japanese art a rebirth, and (if you know what to look for) you can see it in the work of Hideaki Anno and Shukou Murase. Or, if you don’t, it doesn’t really matter too much because both of them continued, in their own ways, the trajectory of rebirth that Tezuka had begun. That it seems, is more important, and lends considerable credence to the ideas Bill put forth—that a significant feature of manga and anime center on the return of life.

By on 03/14/10 at 10:12 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Timothy: Ashbery is this geezer. I’ll admit I’m surprised you’ve never heard of him; his fame is very large in academic/literary circles, and it’s sobering that none of that celebrity has filtered into the wider world.

By Adam Roberts on 03/14/10 at 10:23 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Why would I have heard of him? There are lots of people I’ve never heard of.

But beyond that, did you want to make a comment about back-influence and manga?

By on 03/14/10 at 10:36 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Here’s some more “workshopping” of the Tezuka essay, another sequence:

Michi is one of the central figures in Metropolis, the second of the three manga, and is an artificial being (jinzo ningen in Japanese) made of synthetic cells; as such Michi stands in contrast to ordinary electro-mechanical robots (robotto in Japanese), which also appear in the story. Michi was created by one Dr. Lawton at the behest of Duke Red, a criminal boss, who wanted this being to fly and to be super-strong. He also dictated that the being’s face be modeled on that of a statue, The Angle of Rome. Lawton did as he was ordered, but he also made Michi capable of being either male or female. There’s a switch in her throat that determines her gender. Despite her superpower, Michi is also very needy and spends most of the story searching for her father so she can learn whether or not she’s human.

There’s something else about Michi that most interesting, and peculiar. The first time we see Dr. Lawton in his laboratory he’s lamenting the fact that, while he’s succeeded in creating synthetic proteins, “breaking through the barrier to animate life has proven impossible” (p. 26). Then the cells suddenly come to life, which Lawton attributes to radiation coming from black spots on the sun. Much later in the story we learn that those black spots were created by omothenium radiation (which I assume is entirely fictions) that Duke Red had directed at the sun. Later on we’ll learn that that black spot radiation has had-wide spread effects all over the earth.

Thus Duke Red played two two roles in Michi’s creation. He specified certain properties, including her appearance; and he made it possible to her synthetic cells to be alive. The first action was direct, the second was not. Nor is there anything in the text to suggest that Duke Red was aware of the connection between his omothenium rays and Michi’s viability, much less that he created them to enable that viability. We are thus free to believe that bombarding the sun with omothenium rays is just one of those things that bad guys do to cause trouble in the world.

I take those omothenium rays to be an allusion to the radioactive fallout from the bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As I’ve indicated above, radiation also plays a role in Next World, where it also causes mutations. Tezuka uses the word Verderungun (mutant) in the text (2003C, p. 31) and glosses it in an afterword (2003D, p. 152). The most important mutants, of course, are the Fumoon, intelligent life-forms with advanced technological knowledge and the ability to communicate telepathically, both among themselves and with humans. The Fumoon have been quite active on earth, creating a large fleet of spacecraft and preparing the evaculate both humans and animals.

Radiation plays no role in Lost World, but there is something in that story which may well belong in this discussion. The story opens with the theft of a jewel that a scientist had hidden in his glass eye. That jewel was one of seven stones that had fallen to earth from Mamango; all of them were retrieved by Dr. Kenichi Shikishima, who discovered that they embodied tremendous amounts of energy. Thus they are like the uranium used in bombs; they have a tremendous amount of energy in a relativly small chunk of matter. The stones don’t do anything in the story; they don’t have radiation that has any effects; but the first half of the story is devoted to the theft and recovery of these stones. Tezuka thus has quite a bit of “aesthetic captital” invested in those stones.

With that in mind, let me suggest another progression. In Lost World energy is embodied in stones which are the focus of criminal activity. In Metropolis a criminal uses radiation to cause wide-spread changes in the world, changes which are at best ambiguous (Michi), but otherwise harmful, all the unnaturally enlarged plants and animals. Things get more complicated in Next World, which doesn’t contain evil criminals of the sort we have in Lost World and Metropolis. Rather, we have great powers in conflict, Star and Uran, and they’ve tested atomic weapons the fallout from which has produced mutants, including the intelligent Fumoon, who are autonomous agents. The Fumoon are not presented either as good or evil, but they and their works are effectively rejected.

[The reasoning in the final paragraph needs a bit of work.]

By Bill Benzon on 03/16/10 at 05:15 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I received a short note about this thread from Helen McCarthy, a British writer whose Anime! A Beginners Guide To Japanese Animation (London: Titan, 1993) was the first book about anime written in English. Her other books include The Erotic Anime Movie Guide (1998; with Jonathan Clements), Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation (1999), and The Anime Encyclopedia: Japanese Animation since 1917 (2001; 2nd edition, 2006; with Jonathan Clements).

She writes: “Just a small note to add to Tim’s introduction of the very interesting Tezuka discussions on The Valve: It’s hard to assign a timeline to Tezuka’s stories because he made, and kept, voluminous notes from his early childhood, filled with story ideas and borrowings from his reading and viewing. 

He mined these notebooks constantly when he needed new stories fast - and given his workrate, that was all the time. It’s therefore problematic to discuss the evolution of his themes without reference to these early notebooks, and without looking backwards in his work to other works using the same themes.

Even the works of the 1940s were not evolving simply in response to events unfolding around him, but in constant and changing reaction to the unusually wide and rich cultural mix to which Tezuka had been exposed from infancy.

I will add some further comments shortly.

By on 03/18/10 at 08:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It strikes me that several factors are in play in the Tezuka stories Bill is describing (clearly, Bill knows this too!). One is Tezuka’s use of significant cultural/historical referents—like the thinly disguised omothenium radiation—that would indubitably been recognized by his readers. But a second process centers on what readers wanted, in this case, boys (since manga was marketed to boys and marketing of manga to girls was in its post-war infancy, although stories for girls about homes, family, and of course motherhood had existed prior to the war). If Tezuka is pushing certain images and referents, there was also a pull towards the same referents from the boy readers—the same pattern of space travel, machines, adventure, honor, and battles of good guys vs. bad guys that still characterizes much manga and anime for boys today. World War II propaganda anime—like Mitsuyo Seo’s 1942 Momotaro’s Sea Eagle with its prolonged (and superb) animation of fighter planes and warfare—stressed much the same imagery, though of course set in very un-Tezuka like militarist formulas. Tezuka was always aware of what audiences wanted, and did not hesitate to fill an audience’s expectations. But in the manga Bill is describing, he was, we can assume, still working his way towards a command of those audience favorites.

And, at the same time, he was, perhaps unknowingly, redesigning those formulas. Michi is one of the earliest gender-shifting characters in post-war manga, and [Tezuka] will return to the theme in the far more completely developed Ribon no Kishi, about Princess Sapphire, who also has male and female forms. Similarly, he was also breaking conclusively with the pre-War and wartime emphasis in Japanese official and/or propaganda art of taking Japan—and only Japan—as the center of the narrative universe. We do not notice, perhaps, that these stories are set in a variety of very strange places—we’re so familiar with the tropes of science fiction that we think bizarre settings are the norm. But coming on the heels of the intense militarist nationalism of prior official Japanese art, these are radical shifts. From the outset, then, manga is marked by an internationalism—more trendily today called “transnationalism”—that has become the de facto standard of all manga and anime.

By on 03/19/10 at 09:14 AM | Permanent link to this comment

A couple of things:

First, I’d like to amplify one of Tim’s points. He mentions the fictional omothenium rays that show up in Metropolis. They cause worldwide mutations in plants and animals. As Tim indicated, they seem to be an obvious reference to the radioactive fallout that accompanied the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nextworld is even more explicit on the same point. Here we have atomic testing on remote islands producing mutations, clearly a reference to testing that United States began in 1946. Then we have the geopolitical situation Tezuka depicts in Nextworld where world politics is dominated by conflict between Star (US) and Uran (USSR), a conflict that eventually breaks out in armed conflict. That seems topical as well.

Second, I’m not arguing that Tezuka “responded” to Japan’s defeat with these manga in the way that, for example, Steinbeck “responded to” the Great Depression by writing The Grapes of Wrath. It’s deeper than that. My argument is that Tezuka had to rethink the world in such a fundamental way that such rethinking would show up in his work regardless of what he consciously thought or intended.

Third, one thing that attracted me to these manga is a sense of the changeability of the world at a fundamental level. In Metropolis and Nextworld we see strange mutations in response to radiation; the sense of a change in the natural order of things is particularly strong in Metropolis. But Lost World is, in its way, even stranger. There we have humans deliberately changing animals into humans by reconstructing their brains into human form and then educating them in human ways. What’s that about? As far as I know – Adam knows more on this than I do – this is not a common theme in science fiction. There is The Island of Dr. Moreau, but Tezuka’s use of the motif is quite different. Not only do we have animals into humans, but plants as well. The fundamental nature of things is in play in these stories, and, I’m suggesting, that reflects Tezuka’s need to rethink his own world in a fundamental way.

And, lastly, as Tim suggests, he’s writing for a public that has the same need. Consider the position which Kenneth Burke articulated in his essay on “Literature as Equipment for Living” from The Philosophy of Literary Form. Using words and phrases from several definitions of the term “strategy” (in quotes in the following passage), he asserts that:

. . . surely, the most highly alembicated and sophisticated work of art, arising in complex civilizations, could be considered as designed to organize and command the army of one’s thoughts and images, and to so organize them that one “imposes upon the enemy the time and place and conditions for fighting preferred by oneself.” One seeks to “direct the larger movements and operations” in one’s campaign of living.  One “maneuvers,” and the maneuvering is an “art.”

Through the symbols and strategies of shared stories, members of a culture articulate their desires and feelings to one another thereby making themselves mutually at home in the world. In these three manga Tezuka provided his readers with templates for making sense of their utterly changed world.

By Bill Benzon on 03/20/10 at 02:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Bill, don’t you think Burke’s quote is much more individualistic, and much less communal, than your concluding sentences suggest?

It seems to me that Burke is arguing for a vision of art as taming the world, making it safe not for a community but malleable by the self.  Language becomes a craft in the Greek sense, a humanizing effort to be sure, but one driven by an individual’s hopes and fears.

By on 03/20/10 at 10:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Perhaps, Luther, perhaps. But I don’t see that it much matters to the point I’m making. After all, I’m not asserting that every one of Tezuka’s readers made exactly the same use of his texts. But every one of them did have to cope with Japan’s defeat and surely they had to talk about it with one another, either directly or indirectly. That they talked doesn’t imply that they had to reach happy agreement.

By Bill Benzon on 03/21/10 at 08:07 AM | Permanent link to this comment

A propos of Burke, I suspect that you’re both right—meaning that art serves to tame the world for the viewer and for the artist, although obviously we need more elaborate analyses of how. But Tezuka is also in the important position of having in many ways founded modern (i.e., post-war) manga in Japan. So his resolutions and visions resonated with other creators of manga and later of anime. And they all needed ways to reconstruct Japanese art not only after the massive physical destruction of the war but also after the profound social rearrangements caused by the destruction of a heretofore long-lived militarist tradition.

By on 03/21/10 at 09:15 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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