“The Mikado's Queer Realism: Law, Genre, Knowledge” offers a hermeneutic history of the Gilbert and Sullivan light opera, arguing that the now ubiquitous assertion that it is not “about Japan” became critical only in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War and reflected a pervasive and anxious concern that Japanese ambassadors of culture not be offended. The crucial intervention was made by G. K. Chesterton, who argued that the opera did not contain “a single joke against Japan” in a moment of just such panic: the Lord Chamberlain's censorship of the opera for the duration of Prince Fushimi Sadanaru's visit to London in 1907. Yet the problem with Chesterton's assertion is not merely its historical partiality—the fact that, repeatedly since The Mikado's opening in 1885, enthusiastic critics, in Japan as well as Britain, had judged it to be a learned, albeit lighthearted, account of Japanese domestic politics. More suggestively, Chesterton problematically demarcates too fast a distinction between an Orientalist writing that makes serious, and therefore falsifiable, claims about its subject, and one whose engagement with the Orient is so fanciful as to disclaim any such accountability. The essay thus revisits the positivist critiques of Edward Said's Orientalism and contends that both Said and his conservative critics misconstrue the corrigibility of Orientalist knowledge by inadequately accounting for the levity and “queer realism” of Victorian writing about Japan.
The Mikado's Queer Realism: Law, Genre, Knowledge
joseph lavery is assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Specializing in transnational Victorian literature and culture, he is at work concurrently on a monograph titled “Loving the Alien: Japan and the Victorian Tradition” and on a coedited collection on “sex/comedy.”
Joseph Lavery; The Mikado's Queer Realism: Law, Genre, Knowledge. Novel 1 August 2016; 49 (2): 219–235. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-3508987
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