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Of Flows, Bodies and Shows: Incipient Mass Cultures in Early Twentieth Century East Asia: An Introduction

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Shying away from an excessively constrained definition of mass culture, this paper finds in Tanizaki an unexpected point of entry. Tomoda and Matsunaga, a novella published in 1926, unfolds as a tell-tale allegory combining the paradigm of quantities (series and duplicates) with one of malleability (a-centredness and transversal circulation). Yet, in spite of elaborate statistical instruments in early twentieth century East Asia, mass culture is difficult to assess through the mere law of big numbers, and its birth remains questionable as does its point of departure. Likewise, while available sources make it hard to provide the 'thick descriptions' capable of unlocking grand homologies (cultural practices, social groups, univocal signification), uneven patterns of distribution are still to be recognised. Beyond some differences, China, Korea and Japan offer a remarkably homogeneous configuration of mass cultural forms and norms. Before proletarian or ultra-nationalist programmes took hold of their forces, it brought to the fore a consistent period (ca1890-1930) when East Asian mass cultures were, more or less, in a state of freewheeling.


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