Interpreting Love Narratives in East Asian Literature and Film
John Wallace, UC Berkeley
Copyright Year: 2019
Publisher: University of California, Berkeley
Conditions of Use
The text presents an in-depth methodology, originating in neuroscience, to interpret the cultural content of East Asian love narratives. It walks students through the process of selecting a topic or “instance,” identifying what cultural thought... read more
The text presents an in-depth methodology, originating in neuroscience, to interpret the cultural content of East Asian love narratives. It walks students through the process of selecting a topic or “instance,” identifying what cultural thought systems may be present, and working as a group to formulate an interpretation. It also provides necessary East Asian cultural context by outlining the major tenets of Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. (There is even a helpful overview of Greek and Judeo-Christian ideas on love for comparative purposes.) A comprehensive glossary at the end of text explains all terms in easy-to-understand language.
Since this is primarily a theoretical text, content accuracy per se is relevant only to certain chapters. Pt. V’s overviews of Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, for instance, appear both thorough and precise (at least to a Japan specialist, like myself, who is not an expert in religion/philosophy). A reviewer more cognizant of neuroscience might evaluate the framework of perception/understanding outlined in Pt. II.
This project will certainly remain relevant in the long term. It addresses many instructors’ central goal when teaching an East Asian literature or film class: developing students’ awareness of/sensitivity to unfamiliar cultural contexts. Furthermore, this pedagogical aim is pursued not through authoritative explanations but through student-focused collaborative work—an approach that meshes well with long-term trends in higher education pedagogy such as the flipped classroom. As another reviewer mentions, brief discussions of specific films may require updating at some point. The core project should stand the test of time well, however.
In terms of thought process, the text is very clear: methodology as well as terms are explained in accessible language.
At the sentence level, confusing syntax necessitates the rereading of certain passages. Also, as another reviewer notes, the use of asterisks before each glossary term makes for difficult reading.
Language and methodology are used consistently throughout the text, whether the focus is on interpretation of a specific East Asian film, group discussion models or potential roadblocks to student understanding.
The text, with its focus on interpretive strategies, should easily adapt to modular use in any course located at the intersection of literature/film and cultural studies. Many sub-sections could be assigned to students as required: for example, those on selecting/organizing/matching material and on subliminal priming. In addition, Pt. V on “Traditional Thought Systems in East Asian Love Narratives,” with its overviews of Taoism/Confucianism/Buddhism, would be helpful reading for any class requiring general knowledge of one or more of these beliefs.
As noted above, the overall structure of the project flows smoothly as it develops its ideology.
Pts. II and III, however, might benefit from some streamlining. Currently, these sections involve an exhaustive list of the obstacles students encounter when interpreting East Asian love narratives. It might render the text more student-friendly to outline the core elements of the interpretative methodology in Pts. II/III and create a separate “Trouble Shooting” chapter that students/professors could refer to when needed. This chapter might even take the form of a teaching guide. Students could then focus their energy on honing skills they need to read specific narratives rather than attempting to understand (intellectually) all the skills at once.
A combination of colorful images and links to YouTube videos, popular science websites, etc. add liveliness to the text. All hyperlinks appear to be in working order. Two minor issues that might be addressed in future revisions: 1) the list of images, etc. beginning on p. XI links to a Google Drive account that requires access permission; 2) hyperlinks for scholarly articles occasionally lead to an abstract when a full-article version is available elsewhere on the free web.
This text, as the author himself clearly states, is a work in progress that requires further editing. There are numerous (typographical) errors in spelling and grammar.
This text models cultural sensitivity in two ways. On the one hand, it presents students with a logical and consistent framework for interpreting East Asian films that might otherwise be opaque to them. On the other hand, it accomplishes the even more difficult task of sharpening students’ awareness of the way that “attractors” (Wallace’s term) from their own cultural background(s) impact such interpretations. Cultural sensitivity involves both a knowledge of other cultures and appreciation of one’s own implicit cultural biases.
As someone who teaches Japanese literature/film and culture, I found this text to be an absorbing read. Wallace has thought deeply and systematically about many of the issues I encounter each semester as my students struggle to interpret Japanese narratives. His emphasis in Pt. IV on coaching student groups to form their own interpretations (however limited and incomplete) also gave me much food for thought. As Wallace himself might say, there were many “’Ah-ha’ moments” here. I look forward to using material from this text in my Japanese film class next semester.
Broad theoretical frameworks that inform the interpretation of the featured texts are covered to a degree that enables students to make use of them in interpretive projects without providing an overwhelming level of detail. Theoretical and... read more
Broad theoretical frameworks that inform the interpretation of the featured texts are covered to a degree that enables students to make use of them in interpretive projects without providing an overwhelming level of detail. Theoretical and technical terms are treated thoroughly in a cross-referenced glossary at the end of the textbook that is easy to navigate. The practice of adding an asterisk to every instance of a term in the glossary is somewhat distracting, however, as many paragraphs are littered with asterisks.
Notions of love are explored from multiple cultural contexts, starting with European traditions and extending to East Asian traditions that are likely to be less familiar to typical American undergraduates. These ideas are all treated neutrally and thoughtfully, situated in the contexts of their cultures of origin.
The content that covers traditional types or concepts of love from various cultures reflects modern perspectives reasonably well and will not be likely to become superseded soon. The commentary and interpretive activities that focus on contemporary texts will need to be updated as the critical understanding of them change, and relevant new texts will need to be added, but many films with lasting significance are likely to help this textbook age well.
The prose quality is very high without being inaccessible, although the aforementioned use of asterisks to denote glossary terms makes for fraught reading online. A better approach would be to hyperlink the first occurrence of each term on a given page and dispense with the asterisks entirely. Complicated philosophical and religious concepts are treated elegantly and accessibly for readers encountering them for the first time.
The use of the glossary allows the author to make reference to key terms in advance of fully describing or exploring them, and each chapter begins with a list of new technical terms to be covered. Contrasting frameworks for understanding different kinds of love are developed against one another in a way that reinforces their meaning for students.
The text is organized around interpretive practice using theoretical frameworks that are explored beforehand. This makes the text somewhat rigid rather than modular, as the theoretical groundwork needs to be addressed prior to interpretive projects, and the subject matter being explored is too narrow to make any single reading easy to extract or reorder for a professor who would like to follow a different path through the material. That being said, the text itself is divided into sections that are readily digestible.
Given the relative unfamiliarity that American undergraduates are likely to face when exploring these East Asian texts and concepts, this text does an excellent job of building a theoretical framework that allows them to practice hands-on interpretation using key technical terms. The specialization of the course material is balanced by an approachable and thoughtful organization of it.
The interface is easy to navigate and free of any errors that I could see, blending multimedia clips of films and images seamlessly.
The style is sophisticated, as befits the sophistication of the material covered, without being opaque or overly academic. It is well written throughout, and even conversational in the style of an inviting, in-person lecture.
The range of materials is impressive, using Western touchstones to establish access points to East Asian frameworks for thinking about kinds of love. The nuanced differences among cultures as well as human universals regarding attitudes and behaviors around several types of love are treated with clarity and dignity throughout.
Although its focus is not on film analysis as such, this text provides some excellent examples of applied film criticism that would be helpful for advanced film studies students.
Table of Contents
- I. About this book and this course
- II. A Theory of Interpretation for Cross-Cultural Reading
- III. Method - Elements of (Course) Interpretive Projects
- IV. Method - Designing and Completing (Course) Interpretive Projects
- V. Cultural Contexts - Traditional Thought Systems in East Asian Love Narratives
- VI. Glossary of Key Terms and Concepts
About the Book
This book explores the role of traditional East Asian worldviews, ethical values, and common practices in the shaping of East Asian narratives in literature and film. It offers a specific method for this analysis. The interpretive goal is to arrive at interpretations that more accurately engage cultural information so that narratives are understood more closely in terms of their native cultural rather than that of the reader/interpreter. Current neuroscience related to processes of perception and the attribution of meaning form the basis for the theory of interpretation offered in the first half of the volume.
About the Contributors
John Wallace, University of California Berkeley