In Development Drowned and Reborn, Clyde Woods proposes that we envision new worlds—worlds “more egalitarian and democratic,” and more committed to “sustainability” and “social, cultural, and economic justice”—by way of an epistemology of the blues. The blues are that musical form born in the freedom found in the wake of American slavery. They are characterized by the expressive deviations of the blue note and the transformation of memories of the sounds of the plantation (field hollers, wailings, and so on) into something more mellifluous. Woods contends that, with a bit of synesthesia, the modes of listening and sounding out afforded by the blues might help us make better sense of the world and give us a sense of how a better world might be.
This talk is interested in the formation of what we might call an epistemology of the violets, or that way of seeing and being in the world at the intersection of the blues and the reds, with “red” here serving as a chromatic stand in for the epistemological and sensorial insights embedded in Japanese creative works. To date, Afro-Japanese scholarship has been framed primarily by concepts such as representation and reception. While informative in their own way, such frameworks prime us to think about transferences from one culture (“blues”) to another (“reds”). The aim of this talk is to provide general heuristics for those interested in the study of the epistemological possibilities of purple, or a way of seeing and creating possible worlds that is neither red nor blue—neither African American nor Japanese—but both red and blue, the emergence upon their coalescence. This talk is a “between the books talk:” it synthesizes lessons learned in the writing of Playing in the Shadows: Fictions of Race and Blackness in Postwar Japanese Literature with ideas from the upcoming The Black Pacific: A Poetic History.
Will Bridges is Associate Professor of Japanese at the University of Rochester. His scholarship has been recognized by the Fulbright Program, the Japan Foundation, the Association for Asian Studies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His first monograph, Playing in the Shadows: Fictions of Race and Blackness in Postwar Japanese Literature, was published in 2020 by the University of Michigan Press. He is currently working on two manuscripts. The first is The Futurist Turn: The Aesthetics of the Possible and Re-Imagining Intergenerational Justice at the End of Heisei. The second is The Black Pacific: A Poetic History. He is also an author of creative nonfiction.