To honor the memory of the late Kazuko Takemura, a feminist famous for her activism as well as introducing theorists such as Judith Butler to Japan, WAN is posting a series of eulogies delivered by her fellow activists and scholars both from Japan and overseas.
Tribute to Kazuko
By: Minoo Moallem
Gender and Women’s Studies Department
How did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
All its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light
Against its being,
Otherwise, we all remain
“From Hafiz Classic Poetry”
My first encounter with Kazuko was when she arrived to Berkeley as a visiting scholar in 2008. It did not take long before I started to appreciate Kazuko’s intellectual presence in the department and enjoy many conversations with her first as a scholar and eventually as a friend. I was in my first year of chairship at Berkeley struggling with the same issues most chairs encounter in US academia, where neoliberalism, individualism, privatization lead the way against a collective sense of purpose, communication and direction based on an ethic of collaboration and collegiality despite differences and disagreements. Kazuko very quickly understood some of my daily challenges and became a supportive presence by reminding me on a number of occasions that my efforts and work to foster and sustain a gender, women and sexuality department was worth a great deal.
On a few occasions, we shared our experiences with regard to the challenges and obstacles of leadership positions for women and the significance of gender, class, race and immigration in relation to the invisible work of care in an institutional context. It was perhaps these conversations that encouraged her to invite me to be a speaker in a conference she was helping to organize on leadership issues. While the conference did not take place because of the devastating earthquake in Japan, she inspired me to write a draft of a paper on “Women, leadership and the politics of care” reflecting upon more than seven and a half years of working towards the building and chairing of gender, women and sexuality studies departments in the US.
Our intellectual conversations went beyond collegiality and everyday academic life when I learned that she was working on issues that had interested me for a long period of time including war, violence, racism, nationalism, imperialism and militarism. We both loved theory yet were deeply concerned about the political implications of what was happening in a number of locations including Japan, Iran, and the US. I was eager to learn from her about Japan, and she used every opportunity to ask me about Iran, Iranian diaspora and the US. Both of us enjoyed theory and theorizing beyond our cultural, social and historical context, both of us were horrified by the spectacularization of violence in a transnational context and both of us thought that feminist scholarship needed to be more engaged with issues of militarism and violence of our everyday life. Reflecting upon the horror of Abu Gharib, she asked, “Why are we stunned by these photos? Does violence practiced by women invalidate feminist claims against the brutality of patriarchy? What impetus drove women soldiers to perpetrate such acts? Did sexual desire occasion this act? Or just desire, independent of sexual difference? Or, was desire itself engaged in this abuse? If not, what else was there?”
In an effort to respond to these questions, Kazuko suggested the concept of “lethal biopolitics” stretching the Foucauldian concept of biopolitics to expose “an agency for ‘better life’ to social or furthermore physical death of its own.” A profound thought on her part that involved an interrogation of desire, passion, and death linking everyday acts of violence with the killing machine of war and militarism.
We both thought of militarization of everyday life as the most pressing issue to be tackled by feminist scholars especially with the expansion of new media and cyberspace. I admired her efforts to bring cultural and literary studies into conversation with policy studies by interrogating the literary representations of beauty, eroticism and death as an insinuating way for the militarization of Japan. Her linking of militarization with the policies for a small government and the desire for shrinking the welfare state was brilliant not only in linking the lethal biopolitics with modes of governmentality and subjection in Japan, and in the formation of what she called ”japanism”, but also extremely significant for an understanding of the politics of death in liberal democracies. She argued for an understanding of the relationship between the internal aesthetics as it is mutated into external violence and perpetrated in actual world politics.
I miss Kazuko, her smile, her intellectual passion, her words of care and support, her spirited season greetings, her commitment to feminist postcolonial studies, her political sensibilities and wisdom. Our paths crossed for a very short period of time but I will keep endearing memories of the long lasting effect of this encounter.