Review: Tim Clark's "The Rise and Fall of the Island of Nakazu"
Author: Erin C. Harding, 1998
Tim Clark's article "The Rise and Fall of the Island of Nakazu" is a very comprehensive overview of the wide variety of pleasure activities that consumed that island of Nakazu's time and space. Unfortunately the article does not seem complete within itself, and in fact it appears that it was not initially intended to stand alone. In the end notes, the author mentions that this article is merely a synopsis of a single chapter of a dissertation. This could possibly explain the lack of conclusive argument. Despite this lack of argumentative zeal, the article serves as a good overview of the types of activities on Nakazu using art and first hand accounts to explore them.
Clark begins by stating that he wishes to examine art and literature to learn about Nakazu, and to examine Nakazu to learn about art and literature. This is what he does to some degree of success. He organizes the article in an approximately chronological pattern moving from Nakazu's construction to its destruction. He explains the reason why it was built and the reason why it was dismantled. The article then spends time on some interesting examples of contemporary thought on the subject of Nakazu's existence through numerous memoirs and other literary works. In between the accounts of its construction and destruction Clark discusses life on Nakazu and the various elements that he argues makes it a symbol for the culture of its time.
It is on these artistic elements of life occupying Nakazu's time and space that Clark's discussion is primarily focused. He begins by examining numerous aerial views of the island in the form of perspective and birds-eye prints. These views diagram the layout of the land and buildings. They depict how people related to the land and indicate the popularity of the area. In addition to making a visual analysis of the scenes depicted and how these artistic creations relate to the actual layout of the land, the author also attempts to relate the style of the views to various elements in the art of the period. He aims to use these works not only to describe the land itself, but to also catalog artistic influences and to theorize on the art of the time period as a whole. It is in this that I have qualms about the article, a topic which will be discussed further later. But, within themselves his examples are excellent. They provide an impression of the area, the gradual process of its construction and how people related to it.
From the discussion of the physical layout, Clark moves on to discuss the social layout of the island. Once again he uses numerous literary and visual sources to illustrate his presentation. He discusses the importance of the 'spectacle' shows, the role of restaurants and of the brothels in shaping the unique culture that seemed to exist only on this island. These discussions are extremely interesting and enlightening as he seems to focus on everyday subjects that others often overlook. Clark effectively demonstrates that Nakazu had a very unique culture and a very unusual standing in society. Although it was not considered the licensed pleasure quarter of Edo, it was able to escape confrontations with the authorities because of its apparent overwhelming appeal. Clark seems to have an intense interest in these cultural issues. But he presents no argument about them. He seems to take no position other than that Nakazu is a worthy place of note and study. Perhaps this somewhat neutral, although at times regretful, perspective is good. It allows a concise presentation of data without introducing a particular bias.
Clark's strongest asset in his article "The Rise and Fall of the Island of Nakazu" is his use of primary sources in formulating his discussion. He uses well chosen texts that illustrate the opinions and realities of the culture of the island. These texts are usually firsthand accounts and journal entries discussing the spectacles, food, fireworks, and general feeling of the island itself. These personal accounts of such a public oriented space are very compelling and appropriate. This space was intended for personal pleasure and experience and firsthand accounts of that experience are the most desirable way to learn of it. The firsthand accounts are one way Clark's article provides real value.
A way in which Clark's article differs from others is in the argument, or perhaps more aptly his lack of an argument. The article is merely an account of events and elements that relate to the island of Nakazu. It seems to take no real argumentative stance, but rather seems to exist only to inform. At the beginning Clark mentions that he wishes to examine art and literature to learn about Nakazu and to examine Nakazu to learn about art and literature. This could perhaps be seen as an argument, or at least a thesis: the idea that the island of Nakazu is representative of a particular artistic tradition. But he does not seem to follow this course. This point is never concisely argued or examined. It is eluded to in various locations but never tacked as a solid issue. Instead he chooses to merely relate information about the area itself without making any particular judgments about it. This lack of an argument is good and bad. The appeal of it is that it allows the reader to read a less bias account of life on Nakazu. With his extensive use of primary sources, it makes it an overview reference of this area of Edo. What makes it difficult is that without a particular argument or spin, the article seems disjointed. There seems to be no particular common thread other than that all of these events and elements are in some way involved with the island. The sections of the article seem disconnected and at times arbitrarily placed. During the course of the article he moves from discussing layout to discussing aerial prints, to a discussion of boats. He then moves into a discussion of various cultural displays, then on to courtesans, to restaurants, back to courtesans and finally to the end of the islands history. Intermixed in these discussion are mentions of other topics such as fireworks, bridges and actors, sometimes mentioned multiple times but not in the same location. Throughout he disperses primary sources including images and texts and excellent analysis of each as I have previously mentioned, but all of these excellent elements do not seem to tie together in the end. The article seems to be full of content with nowhere to go. The article lacks a cohesive conclusion.
A second problem which is perhaps directly tied to the difficulty mentioned above is the apparently over-ambitious purpose for this short work. The author states that he wishes to examine Nakazu through art and art through Nakazu. The article accomplishes the first issue decently well as mentioned above in the discussion of the authors use of primary sources. It is when he tries to mix the second objective in that we begin to encounter difficulty. I believe this is what creates the disjointed confusion mentioned above as he attempts to switch between artistic and social analysis while tying in primary sources and anecdotes all while bringing in issues from outside the island. This is a difficult task to accomplish and could have been done more adequately than it is done here. The author could have either attempted to smooth the transitions between topics and points of view, or to better delineated the topics of discussion, or perhaps even divided the argument into two separate but related discussions. This last format could be structured as an initial discussion of how art related to Nakazu, and a second discussion on how the art of Nakazu related to the rest of the art of the period. Obviously in this structure there would not be as much general overview of the life of Nakazu, but in order to compose and effective article the author must make choices on what his point really is.
A final issue was touched on at the very beginning: the article is not complete in itself. One wonders how a synopsis of a single chapter in a dissertation can become an effective article. The reader of the article does not have the benefit of knowing that this discussion is leading to the real point which is made in another literary work entirely. One must ask how the information in this article relates to his real argument which apparently is only available in the dissertation. Is it background information? Is this a summary of the issue he intends to deal with? Is this merely a collection of some research notes that he has attempted to put into a cohesive format? The reader of this article is not privileged to know this information so is at a loss to place this overview into a cohesive argument. The question of what the author felt this particular section of his dissertation contributed and why he believed it should stand on its own as an independent work cannot help but be asked.
Despite difficulties with compositional organization of argument formation, this article does in fact have a lot of information of value. As has been mentioned previously the author makes extensive use of firsthand sources when discussing the island of Nakazu. He does an excellent analysis of visual and literary works and effectively demonstrates how they relate to the topic of the life of Nakazu and life on Nakazu. His analyses are detailed and easy to follow and thus are very convincing elements. He brings up many interesting subjects and examples of the unique life of this island. He explores the life of courtesans, nobles, commoners, performers, and merchants. He relates why Nakazu is an important concept and what it meant for the city of Edo. If the attempt to bring the discussion of Nakazu into a more universal context is ignored, this article is an excellent source of information and insight into the life of the island. Clark's carefully chosen sources and well described elements make it a worthwhile contextual article.
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