Burn Your Textbook

I’m having a lot of trouble with the cultural politics of my “Introduction to Japanese Culture” class.

On Tuesday I tried to give a nice and pleasant lecture on Zen Buddhism in the Muromachi period and ended up channeling the unquiet ghost of Karl Marx during a discussion of how the cultural production of the elite is glorified as a means of social and political control.

It’s been really difficult for me not to do this. I feel the same way about Zen that I feel about eugenics, which is that we need to apply the same level of critical thinking to the concept of “restful meditation” that we do to the concept of “healthy babies,” especially given that the ideological systems connected to these concepts were used to justify and facilitate two of the worst genocides of the twentieth century.

I’m going to try to do better in today’s class, but I still feel weird about teaching the straightforward narrative laid out by the (admittedly excellent) textbook I chose for the class. The “great men doing great things” approach to history feels so slimy when it comes out of my mouth, like, Hello children, let me sell you lies.