Erica Kanesaka Kalnay responds to Anna Maria Jones

I thank Anna Maria Jones for calling our attention to the function of the “minor” in the Victorian idea of Japan and its present-day legacies. As Jones notes, Lavery uses this category to constellate a range of minor figures, objects, affects, and aesthetics, from the minor qualities of Japan as an imagined “fairyland” to the queer attraction that Japanese aesthetics held for many sexual minorities at the turn of the century.

In alignment with Lavery’s notion of our “quaint attachments” to this idea, I would argue that Japanese aesthetics continue to maintain a unique appeal for many minoritized communities—for example, in the ample representation of people of color, queer and trans people, and disabled people in anime, manga, video game, and other otaku fandoms. For me, as a half-Japanese woman, the idea that these attachments could be seen as melancholic—folding together both the dream of aesthetic connection and its loss—feels especially resonant.

But I would also be careful to not stretch these commonalities too far. I appreciated how carefully Lavery maneuvered between unpacking the intricacies of minor desires and avoiding collapsing together distinct forms of minoritized difference. As Donatella Galella writes in “Feeling Yellow,” yellowface performances like The Mikado do not hail Asian subjects in the same way. When it comes to the persistence of Victorian Orientalist fantasies in the twenty-first century, there remains a “racialized unequal distribution of pleasure and pain.”[1]

[1] Donatella Galella, “Feeling Yellow: Responding to Contemporary Yellowface in Musical Performance.” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 32, no. 2 (2018): 68.

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