In early Chinese thought, heaven was considered "round" and earth "square." Westerners from St. Anselm to Kant taught that round and square are opposites. I will explore the connections between east and west (round and square) in a blog that takes seriously the little details of our lives. Round and square; east and west—never the twain shall meet (it has been said). Except when they do, and that is the whole point of this blog.
From Round to Square (and back)
For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project: http://magazine.beloit.edu/?story_id=240813&issue_id=240610
A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again). *Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.
Read Rice as Self and watch the Seven Samurai (this will be shown in class on October 23rd and 25th). Write an
essay of at least 3,000 words (about ten pages) commenting upon some of the
many themes found in these very different “documents” and showing their
connections to the materials we have studied up to this point in the course. The essay is due by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, October 29th.
Remember what I said in class about this assignment being
a “pivot” experience. In that way, it is the most important assignment of the
entire course. Your source letter was meant to get you thinking on new levels
about primary and secondary sources, and to help you review the material in
your various readings during the first five weeks. The rest of the term, as you
already know, will be spent engaging a number of significant secondary texts
that have shaped Japanese studies during the last half-century—covering the
whole of the Tokugawa (1603-1868), Meiji (1868-1912), Taishō (1912-1926), Showa
(1926-1989), and Heisei (1989-present) eras. You will complete the course with
a final paper that asks you to put it all together—primary and secondary
materials, as well as the various historiographical and ethnographic(al)
arguments that have been employed over the centuries.
That makes this assignment central to your task. It is as
though you are looking back at the first seven weeks of study, processing and
reprocessing the material, and then pivoting to engagement with the film and
the book…with an eye to preparing yourself for the second half of the course.
In short, although this assignment asks you to write an essay on Rice as Self
and the Seven Samurai, you will be using all that you have learned as a
backdrop for your work. To the extent that you really make the first half of
the course your foundation for this assignment, you will prepare yourself
beautifully for what is yet to come.
A good way to approach the assignment is to write a
“review essay.” You have already read
several essays in the New York Review of Books, and have seen a number of
authorial strategies being employed. In other words, you have a few models
(highly and moderately successful) in front of you. The basic idea for your own
assignment is as follows. A good review essay has a two-pronged approach. It
is, on the one hand, a “review” of the book (Rice as Self) and the film (the
Seven Samurai). Imagine that your ten-page essay contains an “embedded set of
reviews totaling about four pages—maybe five. In the “rest” of the essay you
should show how the themes in the book and the film that can be seen in the
wider perspective of Japanese history.
In other words, what do the sources in Lu and McCullough
have to do with what you have encountered in Rice as Self and the Seven Samurai?
Write about it.
This assignment asks you to engage the text (and film) at
hand, and to review all of the work you have done thus far in the course. It
does not require you to do “research,” and substantial outside work will almost
certainly be counter-productive. For example, spending two or three pages on
the casting and shooting of the Seven Samurai would be far less relevant than
spending those pages examining how themes of rice and community weave their
way(s) through the early Japanese poetry in McCullough’s text. Background
information is occasionally useful (and you may have some from previous reading
or coursework), but do not make the mistake of providing so much “background”
that you don’t deal fully with the assignment itself.
Plot out some of the
themes and take notes to make sure you have dealt with the full range of
possibilities in the materials. Your skills in spotting themes in the Lu and
McCullough source readings will pay off a great deal in this assignment, as
will the general historical and cultural knowledge you have gained from your
other sources and from class sessions. You have all of Week IX (the week after
break) to pursue this project, and you should use it to review all of the
readings and class discussions (not to mention themes) that we have studied
thus far in the semester.
 This assignment is meant to tie together much of the work
you have done this semester. Just as you must do on weekly quizzes, be sure to
use the full range of your “sources” in your interpretations—classroom analyses,
Varley, Souryi, Lu, and McCullough. As you know, the primary sources in Lu and
McCullough are the foundation of the class, and I would like to see connections
to them in your essays.
 Don’t forget that I will be evaluating this assignment
with the assumption that you are trying to explain these matters to
“intelligent non-specialists.” That
means that I do not want you to “skip” those portions that you know I know. I
want you to explain them. I want you to be the expert who is explaining these
matters to someone who does not know much about Japan, but is certainly able to
follow a complex argument. Imagine, for example, that you are writing for your
FYI professor, with moi looking over her shoulder
 Follow standard Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) citation form,
and use the style sheet as you proceed. This is a “formal” paper, and the style
sheet’s guidelines should be followed closely.
 There should be a short bibliography of sources (class
books and any outside materials that you have consulted) at the end of your
 Be sure that you fill out a “paper checklist” and attach
it to your essay. I will send this as an e-mail attachment with the link to
 Good luck. There is more than enough material to write
any number of essays. Choose several good points, scenes, or themes. Then write
Due by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, October 29th. (Put
a hard copy outside my door).
Use the word count feature of your software and put the
word total at the bottom of the essay, e.g. “3,262 words.”