#PhDshelfie: What books and libraries mean to me

Inspired by the #PhDshelfie movement, we asked a few Monash PhD students to share their 'shelfies' and reflect on the books that have become most meaningful to them during their candidature. The first piece in our #PhDshelfie series is written by Basil Cahusac de Caux, a doctoral candidate researching language reform in post-war Japan. 



The books I borrow from the library are like family. I pick them up and take them home with me, create a space for them next to my desk at university, and regularly take them out for lunch. I would find it difficult to live without them… though their very existence sometimes causes me to doubt myself as a capable individual. My family’s real home – for the time being at least – is in the library, of which my favourite part is the collection of Japanese language books and journals housed in the recently renovated Matheson Library (Clayton Campus), which serves as a sanctuary of intellectual wealth and comedy. There I pick up books on Japanese language policy, written by the very individuals whose testimonies and actions I study as part of my doctoral thesis on language reform in Japan.

There’s the book on the Romanization of Japanese by Kayashima Atsushi, which forces me to dig deeper in my analysis to produce more meaningful research findings. There’s the book on language policy in China, which helps me reflect on the potential impact of language policy and education. And of course, there are the National Language Council Reports, which form the bedrock of my thesis’ conceptual landscape. I find in these accounts of language and society, glimpses of the ideal language speaker, language as an efficient conveyor of ideas and vehicle of culture, mixed in with disgruntled criticisms of the past and its feudal characteristics – usually dominated by malicious power relations and hierarchies.

When I’m lost I often turn to Galan’s chapter on the changes and continuities that occur in the Japanese education system after 1945 in Japan’s Postwar (Routledge, 2011), perhaps due to my inability to fathom the totality of the postwar experience (in Japan or any other country). This chapter offers a window into the political makings of society in the aftermath of defeat. It teaches me the importance of upholding compromise and tolerance as principles, both in theory and practice; a unilateral approach to a problem unfortunately often results in the weakening of the standing of others. The chapter serves as a constant reminder of the need for balance and compromise – two attributes that are often missing in my writing.

When I read, I read through the eyes of my mind. I take the time to enjoy the spaces I occupy so that I can best internalise the books I discover. The ideal space in which to do this is the library, which embraces people from all walks of life. It is where our ideas and emotions are challenged, where introspection and interaction are encouraged. It takes us in and (if we’re lucky) learns from our mistakes. If knowledge had legs with which to walk, then the library would be an open park, green, silent, and welcoming, waiting for new faces and fashions to grace its grounds. Some people leave, while others remain, to age with grace. (If libraries were parks and knowledge the human race, what would that make us?)

Basil Cahusac de Caux is a doctoral candidate at the School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies (SoPHIS), Monash University. He has conducted comparative research on the intellectual history of early and mid-20th-century linguists in the United Kingdom and Japan and is now focussed on the cultures and politics of language reform in postwar Japanese society. In his spare time, Basil runs the Kontemporary Japan Reading Group, a cross-institutional initiative promoting the discussion of Japan-related social issues and academic works.

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