Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque

The Living, Dead, and Undead in Japan’s Imperialism, 1895–1945

Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque

Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 13 illustrations Published: August 2010

Asian Studies > East Asia, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Marxism

In this major reassessment of Japanese imperialism in Asia, Mark Driscoll foregrounds the role of human life and labor. Drawing on subaltern postcolonial studies and Marxism, he directs critical attention to the peripheries, where figures including Chinese coolies, Japanese pimps, trafficked Japanese women, and Korean tenant farmers supplied the vital energy that drove Japan's empire. He identifies three phases of Japan's capitalist expansion, each powered by distinct modes of capturing and expropriating life and labor: biopolitics (1895–1914), neuropolitics (1920–32), and necropolitics (1935-45). During the first phase, Japanese elites harnessed the labor of marginalized subjects as Japan colonized Taiwan, Korea, and south Manchuria, and sent hustlers and sex workers into China to expand its market hegemony. Linking the deformed bodies laboring in the peripheries with the "erotic-grotesque" media in the metropole, Driscoll centers the second phase on commercial sexology, pornography, and detective stories in Tokyo to argue that by 1930, capitalism had colonized all aspects of human life: not just labor practices but also consumers’ attention and leisure time. Focusing on Japan's Manchukuo colony in the third phase, he shows what happens to the central figures of biopolitics as they are subsumed under necropolitical capitalism: coolies become forced laborers, pimps turn into state officials and authorized narcotraffickers, and sex workers become "comfort women". Driscoll concludes by discussing Chinese fiction written inside Manchukuo, describing the everyday violence unleashed by necropolitics.


Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque is a highly fascinating book. . .” — Natalie Ballard, Elevate Difference

“A thoroughly engaging read, Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque is an invaluable contribution to the study of Japanese imperialism in Asia. It also serves more broadly as a trenchant critique of capitalism and imperialism and, crucially, their attendant violence, calling on us to reflect on the dehumanizing necro-logic of vampire capitalism that dominates the globe today.”
— Michele M. Mason, Social History

“Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque is . . . a valuable contribution to the study of empire in East Asia. Because of its theoretical boldness and its scope, the book will interest students of comparative imperialism in addition to scholars of East Asia. Most importantly, the book poses fundamental questions about the nature of imperialism, biopower and modern capitalism that are likely to remain with us for years to come.” — Robert Tierney, Japan Forum

“[A] highly imaginative study. . . . By bringing the painful human cost of empire to the forefront in a way that few other scholars writing in English have, and linking those costs to larger economic structures and cultural phenomena, Driscoll has made a significant contribution to the growing field of Japanese colonial studies.”
— Erik Esselstrom, American Historical Review

“[A] thought-provoking narrative of Japanese imperialism. . . . The book not only conceptualizes theoretical literatures of postcolonial studies and Marxism but also suggests concrete historical knowledge. I believe the book will attract readers not only in history but also comparative literature, cultural studies, psychology and philosophy.” — Sang Mi Park, Pacific Affairs

“[P]rovocatively argued and spiritedly written. . . . an audacious book. Bold, challenging, and refreshingly unrestrained by snooze-inducing generic conventions, Driscoll unapologetically shoves you into the muck of Japan’s modernity, breaches those vast colonial silences that ‘absorb all behavior, no matter how dirty, how animal it gets,’ and somehow makes the experience pleasurable. I can’t help but desire to be shoved further, past 1945, to trace vampiric revenants of the bio/neuro/necropolitical in postwar Japan. Perhaps there’s a sequel to be made.” — Gerald Figal, Journal of Japanese Studies

“A good book teaches you things you don’t know. A very good book does that and also changes the way you think about things in general. Mark Driscoll’s recent study, Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque examines labor and social change in the days of the Japanese empire, and it is a very good book.” — Alexis Dudden, Monumenta Nipponica

“Driscoll squarely confronts the real human costs of Japanese imperialism. He rightly demands that the problem of colonial labour be placed at the centre of abstract discussions of ‘resources,’ modernization, and late development. He also skillfully exposes the ‘ideological fantasy’ of Japan’s wartime leaders and the ways in which ‘civilizer/looter’ represented two sides of the same imperialist coin.” — Janis Mimura, Labour/Le Travail

Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque is a stupendous study of Japanese empire. While existing studies often revolve around the analysis of colonial institutions (such as the army, government, and market) and discourses of colonial modernity, Mark Driscoll takes us into a wholly different terrain of politics, bringing out of their historical coffins the ‘subaltern of the subaltern,’ from coolies, human traffickers, prostitutes, hustlers, and drug dealers to comfort women and suicidal soldiers.” — Hyun Ok Park, author of Two Dreams in One Bed

Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque is not simply an informed account of Japan’s imperial adventure in Asia but also an original and thought-provoking rethinking of how we must proceed if we are to understand the dynamic relationship between the theoretically general and the historically concrete. One of the book’s principal effects is to liberate the discourse of postcolonialism from its dominant Anglo-Indian emphasis by grounding it in a different historical and imperial configuration.” — Harry D. Harootunian, author of The Empire’s New Clothes: Paradigm Lost, and Regained

“This book will be an essential touchstone for our understanding of twentieth-century imperialism, and of the transformation of labor under twentieth-century capitalism. Mark Driscoll’s elaboration of the notion of the biopolitical is the most imaginative and productive use of the concept that I have seen. His meticulous and wide-ranging research, drawing on Chinese and Korean sources as well as on his thorough mastery of Japanese archival and scholarly literature, not only makes a clear case for the specificity of the Japanese imperial project but offers crucial genealogical insights into the emergence of modern East Asian regimes of capital. Written with commitment, wit, and vision, it is also a great pleasure to read.” — Christopher Leigh Connery, author of The Empire of the Text: Writing and Authority in Early Imperial China


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Mark Driscoll is Associate Professor of Japanese and International Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the editor and translator of Katsuei Yuasa’s Kannani and Document of Flames: Two Japanese Colonial Novels, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xvii

Abbreviations xxi

Introduction 1

Part I. Biopolitics

1. Cool(ie) Japan 25

2. Peripheral Pimps 57

3. Empire in Hysterics 81

4. Stubborn Farmers and Grotesqued Korea 101

Intertext I. A Korean is being beaten; I, a Japanese colonizer, am being beaten 119

Part II. Neuropolitics

5. All That's Solid Melts into Modern Girls and Boys 135

6. Revolutionary Pornography and the Declining Rate of Pleasure 161

Intertext II. Neuropolitics Sprouts Fangs 203

Part III. Necropolitics

7. The Opiate of the (Chinese) People 227

8. Japanese Lessons 263

Conclusion: Bare Labor and the Empire of the Leaving Dead 295

Notes 315

Bibliography 327

Index 345
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4761-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4740-8
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