Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Professor Miriam Silverberg, RIP

I usually don't post much related to the world of academia (even though I still try to keep my head in that world when possible), but I wanted to share a bit of sad news.

This past weekend, author and Japanese popular culture scholar Miriam Silverberg passed away after a lengthy illness. I never had the luxury of meeting her in person, but I first encountered her work in an undergraduate course and was captivated by her discussions of sexuality, gender and modernity. More recently, I have been working my way through her fantastically detailed book, Erotic Grotesque Nonsense: The Mass Culture of Japanese Modern Times.

I know a few other Same Hat readers have checked out this book, and I've found it's filling in the gaps in my awareness about a subject I find increasingly interesting. Her book deals directly with the 1920s and 1930s period, when Japan went through a particularly interesting stage of its rapid modernization and mass culture awakening. This is the time period from which grotesque fiction like Edogawa Rampo & Yumeno Kyusaku, the Moga ("Modern Girl"), the Takarazuka Revue all sprung. This quote from Laura Miller's book blurb serves as a good summary:

"Unlike other scholars who merely view ero guro nansensu in its literal meaning, Silverberg brilliantly documents it as a complex cultural aesthetic expressed in a spectrum of fascinating mass culture forms and preoccupations"

If you want a guidebook for piecing together these cultural artifacts in their specific and compelling historical context, I highly recommend the book, along with Prof. Silverberg's other essays. (You can preview some images from the book here or download the first chapter as a PDF here.)

Miriam Silverberg's work tackled the exact type of questions, periods, and topics I like to think I'd have feebly tried my hand at if I'd managed to go the graduate school route. All of us (especially us nerdy fans of the weird descendants of the Taisho era cultural stew) are worse off having lost this vital and unique intellectual.


Anonymous said...

great book, great mind... RIP

Anonymous said...

i took her class at UCLA. sad to hear the news.