The Premise of Fidelity: Science, Visuality, and Representing the Real in Nineteenth-Century Japan [NOOK Book]


The Premise of Fidelity puts forward a new history of Japanese visuality through an examination of the discourses and practices surrounding the nineteenth century transposition of "the real" in the decades before photography was introduced. This intellectual history is informed by a careful examination of a network of local scholars—from physicians to farmers to bureaucrats—known as Shohyaku-sha. In their archival materials, these scholars used the term shashin (which would, years later, come to signify ...
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The Premise of Fidelity: Science, Visuality, and Representing the Real in Nineteenth-Century Japan

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The Premise of Fidelity puts forward a new history of Japanese visuality through an examination of the discourses and practices surrounding the nineteenth century transposition of "the real" in the decades before photography was introduced. This intellectual history is informed by a careful examination of a network of local scholars—from physicians to farmers to bureaucrats—known as Shohyaku-sha. In their archival materials, these scholars used the term shashin (which would, years later, come to signify "photography" in Japanese) in a wide variety of medical, botanical, and pictorial practices. These scholars pursued questions of the relationship between what they observed and what they believed they knew, in the process investigating scientific ideas and practices by obsessively naming and classifying, and then rendering through highly accurate illustration, the objects of their study.

This book is an exploration of the process by which the Shohyaku-sha shaped the concept of shashin. As such, it disrupts the dominant narratives of photography, art, and science in Japan, providing a prehistory of Japanese photography that requires the accepted history of the discipline to be rewritten.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The Premise of Fidelity is thoroughly researched and written clearly and eloquently. It will prove an invaluable resource for anyone interested in Japanese art history, Japanese intellectual history, medical history, and the visual culture of the Edo and Meiji periods, history of photography, and transnational studies. Given the recent growth in appreciation of interdisciplinary research and visual culture, Fukuoka has written a pioneering book."—Asato Ikeda, CAA Reviews

"This book makes a major contribution to the history of art, science, and medicine in Japan by examining botanical illustration in the nineteenth century. It helps us understand how Japanese scholars at the time explored the relationship between seeing and knowing nature . . . This sophisticated study will be essential reading for historians who wish to go beyond simplistic narratives regarding the introduction of Western art, science, and medicine in Japan."—Morris Low, American Historical Review

"This well-researched book creatively weaves together material from a number of fields, including intellectual history, science (particularly medicine and botany), and visual studies. Fukuoka successfully situates this rich material within a broader social and cultural history while also engaging in a narrowly focused and detailed analysis of specific texts and visual objects. By untangling the complex nuances inherent in shashin, her study ultimately positions the early history of Japanese photography within its own sociocultural nexus as a development of specific local cultural practices pertaining to visual representation, rather than perpetuating the idea of photography as a form of visuality imposed of Japan by the West. This is a seminal work that will be of great interest to a wide range of scholars."—Karen M. Fraser, Monumenta Nipponica

"Fukuoka has done a great work in synthesizing a variety of sources to convincingly argue for a more nuanced and multivalent understanding of 'shashin' among the late Edo intelligentsia. She has successfully put forward a case, especially in the last chapter, that rescues the term from being merely another cultural import within a unidirectional process of modernization and technological transfer. This piece of scholarship is according highly commended for developing a more sophisticated understanding of pre-Meiji intellectual culture."—Alistair Swale, Journal of Japanese Studies

"There are many optical wonders in Maki Fukuoka's new book . . . This fundamentally trans-disciplinary book offers much of interest to historians of East Asia, of science, and of art: histories of public exhibitions, of natural history, of photography, of anatomical dissection, of translation and typography, and much more can be found within the pages of The Premise of Fidelity."—Carla Nappi, New Books in East Asian Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804784627
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 8/15/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • File size: 24 MB
  • Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author

Maki Fukuoka is assistant professor of Japanese Humanities in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Michigan.
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Read an Excerpt

The Premise of Fidelity

By Maki Fukuoka


Copyright © 2012 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-7790-2

Chapter One

The Eye of the Shohyaku-sha Between Seeing and Knowing

Prioritizing a theory over an actual object is similar to ignoring wise advisors. By experimenting from the start with objects, any average person will be able to come to a fuller understanding of an object. Yamawaki Toyo, Thoughts on Internal Organs (Zoshi, 1758)

The interest of the members of the Shohyaku-sha in the world around them was governed by a set of practical concerns related to the medical efficacy of the local flora. But this practical bent in the approach of such figures as Mizutani Hobun and Ito Keisuke was neither inevitable nor even natural. Indeed the medical world of early modern Japan, at the very moment at which the Shohyaku-sha emerged, was marked by a tension between two dominant approaches: one reliant on the deep textual tradition of Chinese medicine, and the other an emerging approach indebted to Western anatomical science. What both of these approaches shared was an attempt to understand the living world through recourse to the world of printed books. In this context, experimental human dissections—initiated by both traditions of Chinese and Western medicine—in the late eighteenth century radically shifted the channels of medical understanding by adding the actual and the real human body as the source of their medical knowledge. Where the Shohyaku-sha departed from these practices was in an abiding concern that emerged in this group to reinterrogate the textual record in relation to lived experience and the environment, a concern that itself emerged from the daily demands placed on its members as practicing physicians. In this light, recording and preserving what they deemed to be the real (shin) encompassed varied activities that included their study of textual resources, excursions to nearby mountains and villages, experimentation, and comparisons of their findings.

To understand the thought of the Shohyaku-sha and the place that the transposition of the real (shashin) assumed within it, we need first to grasp the social world that its members occupied. "Honzo shashin," the Shohyakusha manuscript that Siebold brought with him when he left Japan in 1829, was a product of this world and serves as a point of entry for reimagining the intellectual and social environment within which Hobun and his contemporaries operated.

Mapping "Honzo shashin"

On March 29th, 1826, the core members of the Shohyaku-sha—Mizutani Hobun (1779-1833), Ito Keisuke (1803-1901), and Okochi Zonshin (1796–1883)—met with twenty-eight-year-old Philipp Franz von Siebold at the local Atsuta shrine in Owari. Trained as a physician, Siebold was accompanying Dutch factory chief Johan Willem de Sturler to pay the obligatory visit to Shogun Tokugawa Ienari in Edo castle. The Edo castle served as the headquarters of the shogunal government, known as bakufu, which reigned from 1603 to 1868. For their meeting with Siebold, the Shohyaku-sha members prepared a variety of samples that included plants, fruits, minerals, and dried fish as well as illustrations. During their meeting, the Shohyakusha representatives asked Siebold to examine the objects they brought and identify them, affixing to them Latin and Dutch names. The Shohyaku-sha were fully aware of the Dutch investment in collecting and understanding Japanese fauna and flora and wanted to understand the place of these local objects within a larger classificatory system.

In May of the same year, the Shohyaku-sha met with Siebold again when the Dutch envoys were returning to Dejima and exchanged more information as well as samples with the German physician. Siebold describes this encounter in "Journey to the Court of the Shogun in 1826" ("Reise nach dem Hofe des Sjogun im Jahre 1826").

I met there Mizutani [Hobun] with whom I have been exchanging letters from Dejima, and a few others who do not specialize in medicine but whom I have asked to collect specimens on my behalf before. It is then that I first met Ito Keisuke and Okochi Zonshin, both of whom later came to contribute greatly to my research. [Hobun] ... brought a wide range of objects to the meeting. Among them was a collection of plants, mainly from the area of the Shrine, which had been made into a unique pressed specimen, accompanied by their names in Japanese and Chinese. There are some fruit from China and Japan included in these illustrations as well.

The collection of "pressed specimens" that Siebold describes here is clearly the manuscript "Honzo shashin" now at Special Collection of Leiden University Library, which is described in the catalogue of that Siebold collection, compiled in 1845, as "Honzo shashin, botanical sketches according to nature drawn by Mizutani Sukeroku [Sukeroku is Mizutani's common name]" ("Honzo sjasin, adumbrationes botanicae ad naturam del. Midsutani Sukerok"). The manuscript came to Leiden as a part of the first installment of the Siebold collection, donated after he was expelled from Japan in 1829 and returned to Europe, finally settling in Leiden in 1831.

The manuscript includes fifteen illustrations of native Japanese flora, including poisonous plants (such as kashioshimi Lyonia ovalifolia, subspecies Neziki) as well as edible ones (kuzu Pieraria lobata and nadeshiko Dianthus superbus L. var. longicalycinus; Figs. 1.1 and 1.2; see also color plate 1). Of the fifteen images, four depict fruit—apple, loquat, fig, and apricot—with their branches. Seven illustrations portray plants valued as materia medica for their medicinal properties, and two others depict plants that were not included in canons of materia medica. The size of the paper approximates Oban (39 x 26.5 cm) and is rather large for the period, when most published illustrations of materia medica plants were printed in Chuban (26 x 19 cm), approximately half of Oban. In addition to these hand-painted illustrations, the manuscript includes an ink-rubbing print and a pencil outline of flowers and leaves of nishikiran (Goodyera schlechtendaliana), one of the plants that caused a gardening frenzy at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Each illustration is accompanied by inscriptions giving the Japanese name of the plant in katakana script and the Chinese name in Chinese characters.

At first glance these appear to be fully hand-painted illustrations. Close inspection, however, reveals that they were, in fact, created by a rather unusual method. Deep indentations, clearly visible under natural light, surround each illustrated plant like an outline. In some cases, the paper even bears the fine impressions of the stamen and pistil, details best seen in the spidery network of ridges on the reverse of the pages (Fig. 1.2, reverse side of Fig. 1.1). These illustrations look markedly different from illustrations used and trusted in materia medica around this time (Fig. 1.3, from Ka'i [1765], by Ono Ranzan, Mizutani Hobun's teacher). Traditional depictions of materia medica plants had relied heavily on outlining to delineate the contours of the plant, effectively flattening the depicted plant. Comparatively, the illustrations in "Honzo shashin" (Fig. 1.1 and color plate 1) use little outlining and instead employ gradational hues to sculpt the plant. The monochromatic woodblock prints necessarily relied on two colors to differentiate the front and back of the leaves, which further creates a stark tension in the crowded areas of leaves, but multicolored depiction delineates the two sides more ambiguously. In fact, in some areas the front and back of the leaves are difficult to discern. The rectangular frame that traditionally marked the pages of published illustrations demarcates the representational space and gives a sense of confinement and separation. The two representations in Hobun's manuscript, though, suggest a rather different sense of space. The gradual differentiations in hue create less visual contrast, deemphasizing the difference between the front and back of the leaves. The lack of framing allows the representations to appear less controlled and confined. The impressions visible on the reverse of the pages (Fig. 1.2) indicate that these unusual qualities of the illustrations stem from an innovative attempt to transpose visually living plants onto the pages. These impressions, together with the fact that the fifteen illustrations closely follow the size of the plants, suggest that the outlines were produced from actual specimens, a process of illustration unknown in any other Japanese botanical manuscript. 9 For each image, the plant seems to have been impressed directly into the paper first, providing an indented outline that the colorist then painted inside with the appropriate colors. Although none of the illustrations bear signatures or seals, the entry for the manuscript in the 1845 catalogue of the Siebold collection indicates that Hobun, perhaps in collaboration with others, was the maker of these singular images. The details of his exact process remain obscure. If he used dried specimens and a pressing machine to create the indentation on paper, he would not have been able to attain the fine details from fragile parts such as the stamen and the pistil. Yet if Hobun had used fresh plants with a press, the paper would have absorbed some of the water and nutrients seeping from the stem of the plant from the applied pressure. Alternatively, he might have copied another illustration and traced the outline by hand with enough pressure to make indentations on the blank paper, but if so, the illustrations that they would have used have not been found.

This unusual method of illustration resembles, and was perhaps even inspired by, the technique of ink-rubbing prints, a medium to which, as we will explore in Chapter Four, the members of the Shohyaku-sha devoted much energy and time. The technique involved inking a pressed specimen and taking an impression of it on paper; an example is included in the manuscript "Honzo shashin" (Fig. 1.4). Considering their ongoing interest in incorporating the actual plant as a way of documenting and accumulating knowledge of materia medica, it is highly likely that they used a previously prepared specimen and put the plant into a press machine to produce these illustrations. The minute details of the illustration, however, would have to be drawn in with high pressure separately by hand.

The "pressed specimens" that Siebold describes in his account of the 1826 meeting with Hobun and other members of Shohyaku-sha affirms the material evidence of the pictorial process found in "Honzo shashin": the illustrations were made with a unique method of impression using plants common in Owari at that time. The descriptions of the inscribed names in Siebold's account from the first meeting also correspond to the illustrations in the manuscript. Correlating Siebold's accounts of the meeting in 1826, we begin to see "Honzo shashin" as an object embedded in a particular moment and location. This manuscript, then, served to facilitate transmission and reevaluation of knowledge between the Shohyaku-sha and Siebold, and thus it offers us a window through which to examine what was at stake for the Shohyaku-sha in their pursuit of materia medica. In other words, "Honzo shashin" carries with it a historical residue that sets itself at the intersection of inveterate and new epistemological frameworks and practices.

The two meetings with a German physician in 1826 embody, both figuratively and literally, three interrelated dimensions of the broader historical climate that conditioned scientific discourse in early-nineteenth-century Japan. The first is an awareness of the diversity of ways of thinking about the natural world, exemplified by Linnaean taxonomy. The second is an under standing that situating local Japanese flora within the broader systematic approach offered by Western botanical taxonomy might grant insights into the medicinal properties of native plants. And the third is an intense interest in physical objects as a means of reexamining and recalibrating textual knowledge derived from the canon of Chinese materia medica but removed from the living world around them.

According to Siebold's account of his meeting with the Shohyaku-sha, the group presented him with a series of illustrations that already bore plant names based on Linnaean taxonomy. Further evidence of the group's familiarity with the Linnaean system prior to their encounter with Siebold comes from the fact that of the 102 examples they presented, only four were wrongly classified. But what would be the benefit of knowing a plant's place within the Linnaean system for someone who already knew its Chinese and Japanese names?

To understand what was at stake for the Shohyaku-sha in their meeting with Siebold and their interest in Linnaean taxonomy, let us turn to one particular example from the first meeting, Hobun's inquiry into the Linnaean classification of a plant known as hashiri dokoro in Japanese. For physicians trained in the Chinese traditions, the plant known in Japan as hashiri dokoro was understood to be a local variant of the plant known as roto (Ch: langdang) in Chinese materia medica. By the time of the 1826 meeting, however, some Japanese scholars identified roto with the tobacco plant. To investigate the relationship between roto—and hence its local variant hashiri dokoro—and tobacco, Hobun obtained tobacco seeds from Siebold and began an experiment that allowed him to compare and note the differences between the plants. This exchange of seeds and the study of mature plants complement the role of the illustrations in "Honzo shashin" by underscoring the decisive role that vision and observation played in the pursuit of medicine and pharmacology in nineteenth-century Japan. For the Shohyaku-sha the encounter with Western natural history was critically mediated not only by text but also by object and image.

Another facet of Hobun's questioning of the identification of hashiri dokoro and roto reveals that this emphasis on observation was intimately paired with the desire to verify the names of plants. Scholars familiar with the traditions of Western medicine argued that the roto of Chinese texts such as the Compendium of Materia Medica (Bencao gangmu) in fact corresponded to the plant known as belladonna in imported Western texts. Accurate linking of names and physical specimens, a process mediated through text, constantly preoccupied the Shohyaku-sha, since these linkages facilitated coordination of and access to knowledge. For physicians like Hobun and Keisuke, however, this was not simply an abstract question of classification. In Chinese materia medica, roto was identified as a poisonous plant, consumption of which could lead to death. In contrast, the translations of Western herbal books described bella-donna as a plant used for mydriatic treatment of the eye (Figs. 1.5 and 1.6).

Proper naming thus had very practical consequences for the physicians: if hashiri dokoro was correctly identified as belladonna, then it could be used medicinally so long as the remedy was prepared properly. As this example demonstrates, the allure of Linnaean taxonomy for Shohyaku-sha rested ultimately not in the theoretical and abstract systematization of plant life that constituted the novelty of its approach but in the practical, almost pedestrian, knowledge that the taxonomy brought to treatment.

Medical Knowledge and "the Real"

It was around the time of the 1826 meetings that the Shohyaku-sha began to gather regularly and adopted their collective name. Their scientific exchanges with Siebold, moreover, indicate the questions and issues that would guide the group's activities for the next half century. Along with Hobun's inquiry into the nature of hashiri dokoro, another illustrative example of the group's concerns comes from their interest in a number of wild grasses commonly found in the environs of Nagoya. The "Honzo shashin," for instance, includes two illustrations of local plants, known in Japanese as sawagiku and igahozuki, that existed entirely outside of the canon of materia medica and whose medicinal properties were consequently unknown. Both plants appear in Hobun's 1809 Clarification on the Names of Things (Buppin shikimei), a compilation of names that correlated Chinese names with their Japanese counterparts. But both were listed under only their local Japanese names and lacked a Chinese analogue, suggesting that the plants existed essentially outside of medical knowledge. What Hobun sought from Siebold was a way around such lacunae that enabled him to investigate the medicinal properties of these sorts of common grasses that held potential for pharmaceutical use. Hobun and his colleagues were interested not in abstract placement of these grasses within a larger classificatory system for its own sake but in understanding the practical uses of the plants in medicine.


Excerpted from The Premise of Fidelity by Maki Fukuoka Copyright © 2012 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Figures vii

Acknowledgments ix

Note on Names xiii

Introduction 1

1 The Eye of the Shohyaku-sha: Between Seeing and Knowing 15

2 Ways of Conceptualizing the Real: Scripts, Names, and Materia Medica 53

3 Modes of Observation and the Real: Exhibition Practices of the Shohyaku-sha 79

4 Picturing the Real: Questions of Fidelity and Processes of Pictorial Representation 105

5 Shashin in the Capital: The Last Stage of Metamorphosis 155

Appendix: Takahashi Yuichi, "Yogakyoku tekigen" (1865) 197

Notes 199

Glossary 241

Works Cited 243

Index 255

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