Literature Review: Arjun Appadurai’s Modernity at Large

by criticalhit009

For my M.A. in Cinema and Media Studies, we must produce a paper of significant scholarly work. My project will deal with the transnational flows between American and Japan in terms of animation aesthetics. My professor recommended Arjun Appadurai’s book Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (1996) as a starting point, a key theoretical text in examining how globalization and the cultural imaginary has shaped out world. Appadurai notes that with transnationalism both in communications and global migration, the notion of the nation-state is disintegrating as various global communities step in to fill the space.

Space itself is examined in how we construct and are constructed by such contexts, as well as the ability to create new contexts. We are ourselves taught to maintain our cultural contexts, to retain their traditions, and thus our identities. Appadurai examines the fluctuations of identity, from individuals to the nation-state within a context of globalization while tracing the history of such flows, including their connections to colonialism.

Much of Appadurai’s examples draw from India, from the exploration of how India decolonized cricket, to how numerical data held by the colonizers of the colonized serve to subjugate the land and its people to base abstractions. It is these examples that help illustrate the power of the imaginary in constructing these communities and their power dynamics, an imaginary only exacerbated by growing transnationalism and globalized communications.

Appadurai’s text is most helpful to me in its consideration of the remnants of colonial power within transnational flows. For my work, much of the historical trends I want to examine begin with the American occupation of Japan in the post WWII era. It was during this time that a young Osamu Tezuka became enchanted with Disney comics, particular those featuring Donald Duck. These comics have already been interrogated by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart for its imperialist ideology, and therefore serve as our colonial remnants that must be explored when dealing with the transnational flows of animation between Japan and America.