Kristin Mahoney responds to Anna Maria Jones
Anna Maria Jones characterizes Quaint, Exquisite as “at once generous and rigorous.” This is a hard balance to hit, and I think she is right in saying that Lavery’s book does so. What does it mean to approach something as troublesome as the way Victorians thought about Japan in this manner, to be open to and thoughtful about the rich textures of Victorian responses to Japan without being naïve? As Jones notes, the success of Lavery’s approach hinges on her selection and meticulous interrogation of her key terms, “quaint” and “exquisite.” Slowing down to think about how these terms mean and what they do to the objects to which they are applied provides tremendous insight into the affective complexity of Victorian fascination with Japanese cultural production. Understanding the ways the categories of the quaint, the exquisite, and the eccentric functioned, attending to their rootedness in both attraction and condescension, in desire and anxiety, gets us somewhere new.
Jones also encourages us to think at greater length about the similarities between Victorian perceptions of Japan and our own comprehension of these dynamics to which Lavery draws our attention. If we use categories such as “quaint” or “eccentric” to stop ourselves from thinking too hard about Anglophone fetishization of Japan, why is that? What does that tell us about our own affective inclinations when it comes to our objects of study? Erica Kanesaka Kalnay makes a similar point when she notes that Lavery’s work might serve as a model as we continue to interrogate “our ‘quaint attachments’ to Victorian Orientalism.” As these two responses take together suggest, Lavery’s mode of inquiry should open up a broader conversation about the history of our own field.
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