Anna Maria Jones responds Kristin Mahoney
Kristin Mahoney admires in Quaint, Exquisite: Victorian Aesthetics and the Idea of Japan Grace Lavery’s ability to bring “texture” to the abstract theoretical categories, such as Said’s Orientalism and Bhabha’s mimicry, that have been so influential to our thinking about race and empire in Victorian studies since the 1980s. One of the key virtues of Lavery’s book, according to Mahoney, is its ability to return to these foundational theories the specificity and detail that is often blurred over time as concepts like Orientalism become familiar and, not infrequently, serve as shorthand or “placeholders” for historical complexities. Mahoney notes that Lavery brings “sensitivity” to the texture of specific encounters between Japan and Britain. In other words, after Said no scholar is likely to be surprised by the argument that the Victorians’ aesthetic ideas about Japan, or for that matter Meiji Japanese’ ideas about the Victorians, were laden with affective and political freight, but Lavery’s chapters like the one on Mikimoto Ryuzo’s Ruskin, for example, offer detailed, poignant accounts of what that looks like. As Mahoney notes, “Lavery inhabits the affective space of Mikimoto’s Ruskin collection … conceptualizing Mikimoto’s assemblage of editions and artefacts as a form of loving.” This theoretical approach not only reveals Mikimoto’s “longing” for Ruskin, Mahoney argues, but offers a reflection on our own desires for connection to the figures of the past. Lavery’s attention to specificities, then—in Mahoney’s words, “her capacity to relay and theorize the affective and political complexity of these encounters”—is what makes Quaint, Exquisite such an exciting and useful, such a textured, book.
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