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In 1986, John Whittier Treat went to Tokyo on sabbatical to write a book about the literature of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But once there, he found himself immersed in the emergence of new kind of Holocaust, AIDS, and the sweeping denial, hysteria, and projection with which Japan--a place where "there are no homosexuals"--tried to insulate itself from the epidemic.
Great Mirrors Shattered is a compelling memoir of a gay man thoroughly familiar with the Japanese homosexual underground, a man anxious for his own health and unsure of the relationship he has left behind in the US. It is also a highly self-aware analysis of Orientalism, which the author defines as "the Western study of everywhere else," and an exploration of how sexual identity conditions knowledge across cultures. Jump-cutting between such texts as Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, Pierre Loti's Madame Chrysantheme, Saikaku's The Great Mirror of Male Love, the writings of Roland Barthes, newspaper headlines, and his own experiences during a previous stay in Japan, Treat creates an intricately textured account of the problems inherent in how we "know" another culture. The questions of self and other, difference and sameness, time past and time present, America and Japan, are explored here with rare intelligence and unabashedly personal disclosure.
Great Mirrors Shattered gives us a brilliantly fractured reflection of a year in one man's life, and the first study of the sexual politics behind what the West has come to know not just about Japan, but any place Europeans and Americans have gone to escape the confining rules of their home cultures.
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From Kirkus Reviews:
John Whittier Treat is Professor of Asian Languages and Literatures at the University of Washington, Seattle, and the author of Contemporary Japan and Popular Culture and Writing Ground Zero: Japanese Literature and the Atomic Bomb. He lives in Seattle.
An intensely personal yet jaggedly polytextual account of the AIDS panic that swept through Japan in the mid 1980s. While on sabbatical to write a book about the literature of the atomic bomb, Treat, a homosexual and an assistant professor of Asian languages and literature at the University of Washington, Seattle, runs smack into the AIDS epidemic, which he had imagined that he had left behind in the US. His account of the Japanese reaction to this tragedy is related in a complex narrative that deals with issues of sexual orientation, Orientalism, and the allure of Japan to the Western scholar. On one level this work is a very conventional, almost chatty memoir of a gay man exploring another culture. Treat takes us with him on a tour of Japans homosexual underground and explicitly describes his encounters with both local men and fellow tourists. Major themes here are his coming of age as a homosexual, his tenuous relationship with a lover in Seattle, and his growing sense of dread about his own health. This relatively straightforward narrative is constantly shattered, however, by intrusive bits of text gathered from a wide range of sources. The hypocrisy of the Japanese government's response to the AIDS crisis, for example, is revealed in frequent bulletin-like bursts of quotations from official sources. First it is denied that Japan has any homosexuals at all, later that Japanese homosexuals participate in hardcore sex, use drugs, or are promiscuous. As the epidemic progresses, the government is forced to recognize its existence but becomes increasingly xenophobic and describes the disease as a foreign threat. The personal narrative is further splintered by the insertion of texts from such disparate sources as Thomas Mann, Ruth Benedict, Roland Barthes, and Julia Kristeva, which explore the relationship between Western scholars and the East. Should attract those interested in gay studies, Orientalism, or Japan, and who have a high tolerance for what Treat terms his ``wilful meanderings'' of style. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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