Photo credit (left): Koomi Kim
I emailed Professor Nettleton a series of questions and this was his response. The questions given to him were not easy to answer. I am extremely grateful to him for taking the time out of his already busy schedule to give each question the deep thought that it deserved. For doing so, the UPRIZINE Team extends our sincerest thank you. The perspectives that you shared with us come highly appreciated and valued.
Who was a woman in your life who inspired you to become who you are today?
Ryoko Kleiger, a former student, influenced who I am, especially at TUJ, but also elsewhere.
In what ways did she help you become the person you are today?
Ryoko requested an independent study course with me on queer theory to defend herself theoretically. Although I’d always aspired to make course content relevant to students’ lives in and outside the classroom, the content and setup made this class so personal that it became impossible to abstract the ideas we were examining regarding gender, sex, and trans politics. The impossibility of abstraction made the course simultaneously the most difficult and meaningful one I have taught so far. In the end, Ryoko concluded that queer theory was not for her.
What aspects of her do you see manifested in yourself?
Teaching trans studies texts, which were new to me, to a trans student, and, also having her conclude that the course material was, in the final instance, not useful to her, meant I had to be teachable–an important lesson I frequently remind myself of in teaching and life.
Ryoko was volatile at school. It didn’t take long for me to see that she had plenty of reasons to be. Too often, when marginalized people express anger in response to consistently repeated “minor” acts of prejudice and violence, they’re treated as if they’ve “lost it” or are “overreacting.” It takes compassion to see that they have every reason to react. It’s not crazy to be furious in maddening circumstances. I’m interested in cooling down my own aggression, but I’d like to try and understand and refrain from judging anyone else’s anger.
For all the negativity that she’s had to endure, Ryoko shows incredible determination, independence, and strength. I admire her drive and resilience.
How do you carry on her life or legacy?
I now teach a course on queer theory, the first at TUJ, regularly. More generally, I try to be present, teachable, and compassionate. To do those things, you have to stop assuming things and making stories up about others in your head [and these are my goals; I’m not saying I’m always successful]. I also try to convey that the classroom should be a space of empowerment and that learning can and should be a critical, transgressive act.
Assistant Professor Nettleton teaches a range of courses on art and visual culture. His research interests include he relation between urban spatial politics and subjectivity and how they were articulated in avant-garde works of the 1960s and 1970s, and visuality in historical and contemporary art practices in the context of the March 11, 2011 disaster. His publications include "Shinjuku as Site: Toshio Matsumoto’s Bara no Soretsu/Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) and Nagisa Oshima’s Shinjuku Dorobo Nikki/Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1969)" (2014) and “Hi Red Center’s Shelter Plan (1964): The Uncanny Body in the Imperial Hotel”(2014).