International Exchanges

[By Jerry W. Ward, Jr.]

Professor Tsunehiko Kato’s eloquent essay on the Japan Black
Studies Association (JBSA) provides relief from the glut of always already
interpellations of the face (and other body parts) of the Other who occupies an
interstitial transnational location in the postcolonial diasporic interrogation
which is a simulacrum for academic discourses in conversation with postmodern
debris of gendered desires. In Professor Kato’s essay, one hears the voice of a
human being speaking to human beings about a subject that is dear to his heart
and that he invites us to share.
JBSA was founded in
1954, the year Richard Wright published Black
and Savage Holiday. Given
the importance of Wright’s works for Japanese scholars prior to their having
ocular proof of the fault-lines in America’s practice of democracy (e.g.,
segregated military bases), any future dialogue and  collaboration between African American
scholars and their Japanese colleagues can begin with the importance of
empirical history for international exchange. 
Professor Kato makes it clear that the early stages of Japanese
engagement of Negro literature was mediated by reading experiences which did
not have to be filtered by theory.  I use
the term “Negro literature” for the sake of historical accuracy. Timing is
crucial. By highlighting Professor Kitajima’s response to Black Boy, the essay allows us to understand why Japanese literary
scholars may be more in synch with African American scholars than foreign
scholars who became interested in black writing after LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka
challenged “the myth of Negro literature” in 1962. I surmise, for example, that
Japanese intellectuals were better prepared to appreciate the experiential
grounding of Wright’s response to George Padmore’s Pan-Africanism or Communism in Black
and The Color Curtain
(1956) than their Chinese peers who might have given greater weight to Langston
Hughes and W. E. B. DuBois as politically engaged men of letters.  My ideas about the locations of literary
sympathy and interpretation have to be debated in rigorous exchanges which are
informed by fact rather than theory. 
Professor Kato whets my appetite for such exchanges between JBSA and the
Project on the History of Black Writing, because I believe African American can
learn much from how JBSA members formulated questions over a period of sixty
years. And the third generation of JBSA members can learn from PHBW why
contemporary African American literature, culture and criticism appear to
create a ball of confusion.
The admirable specificity of Professor Kato’s narrative brings
to the foreground, for me and perhaps for others who have taught African
American literature in China, how Chinese scholarship is more strongly
motivated by and mediated through what can loosely be called Eurocentric
theoretical discourses. My impressions are buttressed by reading the three
volumes of Critical Zone: A Forum of
Chinese and
Western Knowledge
(2004, 2006, 2008), which are seminal in articulating what a global community of
scholarship might be. My concern about barnacles of misunderstanding regarding
African American thought is anchored by a recent “reading” of Wright’s Savage Holiday.  In Abandoning
the Black Hero: Sympathy and Privacy in the Postwar African American White-Life
(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2013), John C. Charles interprets
Wright’s novel “in the context of his postexpatrIation search for aesthetic and
intellectual freedom beyond the reductive labels of mid-twentieth-century
American racial and political discourse”(21). From the exchanges I have
frequently with Chinese colleagues and students, it is easy for me to imagine
their not questioning a distinction between Wright’s privacy and his agency, an
agency that is judiciously assessed in Claudia Tate’s Psychoanalysis and Black Novels: Desire and the Protocol of Race (1998) and Abdul R. JanMohamed’s
The Death-Bound-Subject: Richard Wright’s Archaeology of Death (2005).
Professor Kato’s essay persuades me that JBSA members might question the
theoretical implications of John C. Charles’ interpretation with more critical
Professor Kato’s reflection on the history of JBSA
strengthens my determination to call for establishing an online African
American Research forum among African American, Chinese, American and Japanese
scholars at the 2nd International Symposium on Ethnic Literature,
Central China Normal University, October 25-26, 2014.  Without dismissing the virtues of theory, I
am convinced that future international exchanges about African American
literature(s) and culture(s) ought to be marked by greater recognition of
shared historicity and production of knowledge, the kind of historicity that
Professor Kato has most gracefully delineated.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr.
January 29, 2014