The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkeimer, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” in Dialectic of Enlightenment

The upshot of mass culture for Adorno and Horkeimer is that, due to the reach of captialism, the culture industry penetrates everywhere, creates its own whole, domesticates its subjects, grows ever stronger, and is inescapable.  Additionally it reduces things down to their components and then repeats them, creating the feeling of satiation without allowing room for creation.  Culture (because it is produced by industry and manufactured) “now impresses the same stamp on everything…a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part.” (120)  The individual is now entirely “subservient” to the “absolute power of capitalism.”

The result [of suiting to consumer’s needs, and of the management deciding for consumers what they want] is the circle of manipulation and retroactive need in which the unity of the system grows ever stronger. No mention is made of the fact that the basis on which technology acquires power over society is the power of those whose economic hold over society is greatest.  A technological rational is the rationale of domination itself.  It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself. (121)

So, the origins are hidden, and it is a continual cycle.

Not only that, but what is begun will permeate all other aspects of life.  “The ruthless unity in the culture industry is evidence of what will happen in politics.” (123)

Television aims at a symthesis of radio and film, and is held up only because the interested parties have not yet reached agreement, but its consequences will be quite enormous and promise to intensify the impoverishment of aesthetic matter so drastically, that by tomorrow the thinly veiled identity of all industrial culture products can come triumphantly out into the open, derisively fulfilling the Wagnerian dream of the Gesamthkunstwerk – the fusion of all the arts in one work. (124)

The man with leisure has to accept what the culture manufacturers offer him. Kant’s formalism still expected a contribution from the individual, who was thought to relate the varied experiences of the senses to fundamental concepts; but industry robs the individual of his function.  (124)

This is where he and Fiske are diametrically opposed – that there is somehow an uncritical consumption where choice is *never* excercised but that the individual accepts whatever he gets is what is being described here.   There is no way to produce, no way to speak back, no way to challenge.

Art for the masses has destroyed the dream but still conforms to the tenets of that dreaming idealism which critical idealism balked at. (125)

Because it pretends to be art.

I find an echo (pre-echo) of Azuma’s criticism of the otaku-consumer here as Adorno and Horkheimer describe entertainment with

“details are interchangeable…[these cliches] never do anything more than fulfill the purpose allotted them in the overall plan…When the detail won its freedom, it became rebellious and, in the period from Romanticism to Expressionism, asserted itself as free expression, as a vehicle of protest against the organization.  In music the single harmonic effect obliterated the awareness of form as a whole; in painting the individual color was stressed at the expense of pictorial composition; and in the novel pyschology became more important than structure.  The totality of the culture industry has put an end to this.  Though concerned exclusively with effects, it crushes their insubordination and makes them subserve the formula, which replaces the work.” (125-126)

This is simply AMAZING.  Literally it is as if Azuma was reading A&H as opposed to Lyotard or the critics he was actually inspired by.  His rallying cry against the database is much like A&H’s rallying cry against the totalizing effects of the culture industry.

Real life is becoming indistinguishable from the movies. … the film force its victims to equate it directly with reality. (126)

The culture industry as a whole has molded men as a type unfailingly reproduced in every product. (127)

Thus not only does the culture industry break apart the pieces of the work, it also molds those who will consume it.  It is a “totality” that cannot be escaped because the individual is actually reproduced (produced) by it.

thoughts on ‘style’

The explicit and implicit, exoteric and esoteric catalog of the forbidden and tolerated is so extensive that it not only defines the area of freedom but is all-powerful inside it. (128)

thus there is no escape.

The producers are experts.  The idiom demands an astounding productive power, which it absorbs and squanders.  In a diabolical way it has overreached the culturally conservative distinction between genuine and artifical style. (129)

In the culture industry the notion of genuine style is seen to be the aesthetic equivalent of domination.  Style considered as mere aesthetic regularity is a romantic dream of the past. (130)

By subordinating in the same way and to the same end all areas of intellectual creation, by occupying men’s senses from the time they leave the factory in the evening to the time they clock in again the next morning with matter that bears the impress of the labor process they themselves have to sustain throughout the day, this subsumption mockingly satisfies the concept of a unified culture which the philosophers of personality contrasted with mass culture. (131)

the freedom of the market (and of the culture industry), “was freedom for the stupid to starve.” (132)

The misplaced love of the common people for the wrong which is done them is a greater force than the cunning of the authorities. (134)

A constant sameness governs the relationship to the past as well.  What is new about the phase of mass culture compared with the late liberal stage is the exclusion of the new.  (134)

(novelty, but nothing truly new, nothing truly old)

It is quite correct that the power of the culture industry resides in its identification with a manufactured need, and not in simple contrast to it, even if this contrast wee one of complete power and complete powerlessness. Amusement under late capitalism is the prolongation of work.  It is sought after as an escape from the mechanized work process, and to recruit strength in order to be able to cope with it again.  But at the same time mechanization has such power over a man’s leisure and happiness, and so profoundly determines the manufacture of amusement goods, that his experiences are inevitably after-images of the work process itself.  (137)

People don’t want to work, either, because they’re tired – so instead they want something that seems like it’s no work and this leads to bordom, but they don’t want something difficult because it would make them think.  This runs into a discussion of stupid plots, and how the part (of the whole) is always recognized by the viewer so it’s not avant gard.  He bemoans the fact that cartoons used to be cool and now they “confirm the victory of technological reason over truth.”

The quantity of organized amusement changes into the quality of organized cruelty. … In so far as cartoons do any more than accustom the senses to the new tempo, they hammer into every brain the old lesson that continuous friction, the breaking down of all individual resistance, is the condition of life in this society.  Donald Duck in the cartoons and the unforunate in real life get their thrashing so that the audience can learn to take their own punishment. (138)

The culture industry does not sublimate; it represses.  By repeatedly exposing the objects of desire, breasts in a clinging sweater or the naked torso of the athletic hero, it only stimulates the unsublimated forepleasure which habitual deprivation has long since reduced to a masochistic semblance.  (139)

so then, the industry is like a circus, focusing on mastery of the physical (and technical) skill and not on the intellectual.  and

Inwardness, the subjectively restricted form of truth, was always more at the mercy of the outwardly powerful than they imagined.  The culture industry turns it into an open lie. It now has become mere twaddle which is acceptable in religious bestsellers, phychological films, and women’s serials as an embarrassingly agreeable garnish, so that genuine personal emotion in real life can be all the more reliably controlled.  (144)

Pleasure always means to not think about anything, to forget suffering even where it is shown.  Basically it is helplessness.  It is flight; not, as is asserted, flight from a wretched reality, but from the last remaining thought of resistance.  The liberation which amusement promises is freedom from thought and from negation.  (144)

What you get from this is individuals who are interchangable because the culture industry creates them.  So a man is simply a copy and his individuality is totally expendable.  To the industry they’re either consumers or workers, but either way they’re objects (not people) to the industry.

In one respect, admittedly, this hollow ideology is in deadly earnest:  everyone is provided for. …Everybody is guaranteed formal freedom.  No one is officially responsible for what he thinks.  Instead everyone is enclosed at an early age in a system of churches, clubs, professional associations, an other such concerns, which constitute the most sensitive instrument of social control.  Anyone who wants to avoid ruin must see that he is not found wanting when weighed in the scales of this apparatus. (149)

The tragic film becomes an institution for moral improvement.  The masses, demoralized by their life under the pressure of the system, and who show signs of civilization only in modes of behavior which have been forced on them and through which fury and recalcitrance show everywhere, are to be kept in order by the sight of an inexorable life and exemplary behavior.  Culture has always played its part in taming revolutionary and barbaric instincts.  Industrial culture adds its contribution.  It shows the condition under which this merciless life can be lived at all.  (152)

The possibility of becoming a subject in the economy, an entrepreneur or a proprietor, has been completely liquidated.  (153)

instead everyone is trained to be an employee and consumer.  Also, he has to capitulate, to sumbit, and only then is he accepted into society.

In the culture industry the individual is an illusion not merely because of the standarization of the means of production.  He is tolerated only so long as his complete identification with the generality is unquestioned.  (154)

No peculiarity is not determined by society, and this focus on the individual that is really a pseudo-individual is the aim of the culture industry.

The idolization of the cheap involves making the average the heroic.  (157)

And then the work of art tries to hide the fact that it’s bound up in the system.

No object has an inherent value; it is valuable only to the extent that it can be exchanged.  The use value of art, its mode of being, is treated as a fetish; and the fetish, the work’s social rating (misinterpeted as its artistic status) becomes its use value – the only quality which is enjoyed.  (158)

The abolition of educational privilege by the device of clearance sales does not open for the masses the spheres from which they were formerly excluded, but, given existing social conditions, contributes directly to the decay of education and the progress of barbaric meaninglessness.  (160)

The upshot is that the culture industry is horrible, absolutely horrible.  period.  end of sentence.  Run now.

Advertisements
Posted in mass and popular culture, theory | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Empire of Signs by Roland Barthes

Barthes, Roland. Empire of Signs. New York: Hill and Wang, 1982.

Rather than somehow deciphering Japan, he is exploring his own position to exoticism, and ethnocentricism, he is creating a utopian thought experiment to get outside of his own paradigm of the conflicts with language his embeddeness in French literature do not allow him to escape. This is not a discussion of Japan, but a discussion of Europe, of France, of his own language.  He is revealing not an observed object, nor the act of observing, but the constitution and process of an observer.

Ikebana becomes an art not concerned with symbolism but with gesture; the point of a gift is not the banal object contains but the exquisite package that encloses it; and Bunraku is superb because it breaks apart the hysteria of the Western theater, insisting on artifice, relegating the voice to the single speaker on the side of the stage, revealing the puppet has manipulators (thus making the artifice visible):  “it rids the actor’s manifestation of any whiff of the sacred and abolishes the metaphysical link the West cannot help establishing between body and soul, cause and effect, motor and machine, agent and actor, Destiny and man, God and creature…No more strings, hence no more metaphor, no more Fate; since the puppet no longer apes the creature, man is no longer a puppet in the divinity’s hands, the inside no longer commands the outside.” (62)

He states his project is to address “the possibility of a difference, of a mutation, of a revolution in the propriety of symbolic systems.” (4) He is not seeking out the symbols of an orient but rather searching for the “fissure of the symbolic.”

Posted in theory | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

S/Z by Roland Barthes

Barthes, Roland, and Honoré de Balzac. S/Z. New York: Hill and Wang :The Noonday Press, 1974.

Barthes performs an analysis influenced by structuralist linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure that explores and (de)mystifies the link between a sign and its meaning. However, S/Z is identified as a postructuralist text because Barthes criticizes narratology as an attempt to establish an overall system out of which all individual narratives are created, which makes the text lose its specificity (différance). This criticism is ostensibly laid out by Barthes’ use of five specific “codes” of reading that reveal literary texts reflect structures that are interwoven in ways that do not close down meaning into one. Instead there is a plurality that he insists cannot ever be reduced to a single privileged interpretation.

Hermeneutic code: “all those units whose function it is to articulate in various ways a question, its response, and the variety of chance events which can either formulate the question or delay its answer; or even, constitute an enigma and lead to its solution” (17).

Semic code: “the unit of the signifier” which creates or suggests “connotation” (17).

Symbolic code: “lays the groundwork” for a “symbolic structure” (17).

Proairetic code: “the code of actions and behavior” (18).

Reference code: “the knowledge or wisdom to which the text continually refers” (18); “references to a science or a body of knowledge” (20). (Barthes also calls this the “cultural code.”)

What I take from his analysis of Balzak’s work is that the critic/reader is simultaneously producing a text as they are reading it and as they are writing it.  Instead of reading a text for its linear plot, and rather than attempting to locate fundamental structures of literature in a text (things like genre), we have to be conscious that the reader is “no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text.” (4)  Barthes himself produces Sarrasine as he reads it.  In all its radical structural perversity Barthes is making us aware of our processes of reading as a very tight relationship between reader and text, between author and reader, that we do more than “accept or reject the text” (4) but create it as we read it.

His way of reading also reveals that as we read we make decisions about meaning, and even when looking at a single sentence there are a variety of meanings we choose. As Barthes puts it, ” “the networks are many and interact, without any one of them being able to surpass the rest; this text is a galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoritatively declared to be the main one” (5)  Even “plotting” is a retroactive construction.  Narrative is more like a constellation; a “nebulae of signifieds” (8) than a single authoritative assertion.

Posted in theory | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Discourses of the Vanishing: modernity, phantasm, Japan by Marilyn Ivy

Ivy, Marilyn. Discourses of the Vanishing: modernity, phantasm, Japan.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Ivy’s amalgam of cultural theory, anthropological research, and cultural criticism investigates peripheral sites she sees as vanishing “displacing Japanese ‘culture’ as a stable signification.” (21) Japanese culture is not a monolithic entity, but rather she suggests postwar culture is centered around the “coincidence of capitalist and technological modernity with a totalizing drive to reunite its disunities within an archaic, continuous, and harmonious culture” (15).  This drive can never recover a stable subject because “Japanese investments in the continuity of tradition disclose a phantasmatic structure” (22) and that structure is based on Freud’s notion of “deferred action” where the “second event – when the moment emerges as an event to consciousness – is thus the first instance: the origin is never at the origin; it emerges as such only through displacement….It means rather that loss can never be known simply as loss, as originary loss.” (22) She isn’t seeking to deny history happened, but is pointing out that the mechanism of recovery and rembrance is always based on the emergence of the event to consciousness, and this is always a “temporal deferral.”  She looks at the process of nostalgia to think about this, because nostalgia is an attempt to recuperate something that always enunciates its distance from the object – the desire to return is always underscored by the distance one is from the object of return.  She sees figures of doubling, ghostliness, and spectral vanishing as “uncanny” (the strangeness of that which is most familiar, “place out of place”) but also that it is in these phantasms that she attempts to “contest the interior certainties of Japanese culture.” She proposes a tight linkage between nation and culture, calling it national-cultural, so that the production of the nation is never forgotten in her discussion of cultural activity.

Her first chapter looks at two different campaigns aimed at metrople Japan, “Discover Japan” in the 1970s and “Exotic Japan” in the 1984 and how they set up an idea of Japan for the Japanese that could be traveled to (in fact, must be traveled to) not only to revisit the past, but also to establish a sense of the self; and then how that nostalgic traditional Japan notion transformed into the “exotica of the continental East” (49). “No longer is there the lure of tabi as self-discovery and holistic encounter with the scenic naïve, but rather the seductiveness of rare objects within a fragmented yet sumptuous space.” She notes that “Japanese nativist ethnology, in its attempts to rescue disappearing worlds of narrative and practice from oblivion, rehabilited them in the guise of the folkloric. Such an endeavor offers the reassurances of knowledge, even of knowledge that radically troubles the premises of modernity.” (242)

Chapter three thinks through the production of folklore as an accessible and concrete object of study through the production of Tono Monogatari. “The Tales of Tono anticipated a newly imagined Japanese subject, a subject seemingly immersed in the immediacy of spoken language, subsisting outside the depredations of print culture and the technologies of modernity. Yet that subject only achieved discursive perdurability by means of modern ghastliness of the writing that situated it.” (98)

Chapter five investigates the practice of recalling the dead on Mount Osore, problematizing the acts of memorial by suggesting they are “a double displacement in the national-cultural allegory of Japanese modernity” (192) of both “scandalous falsity” at the very moment it “emerges as most powerfully authentic.” The result of this attempt of recovery of both the search for the places of Tono, and the ghosts of Osore, is in “the midst of domestication, these places and practices continue to disturb; they are not what they are imagined to be…to act as constitutive reminders of modernity’s losses.” (243)

Chapter six examines taishu engeki (a lowbrow form of theatre) because it “momentarily emerged as yet another vanishing species of folk performance…as a suitable object of a neo-nostalgia that focuses on moments of modernity overcome, its eccentricity seems to embody an older world of speech” (194)  In the dream realm of the taishu engeki it thematically recovers the Japanese past and layers over it a comfort of “calibration of duty with human feelings was unquestioned” (244) but this only exists transiently in the dream realm.

She notes the “very search to find authentic survivals of premodern, prewestern Japanese authenticity is inescapably a modern endeavor, essentially enfolded within the historical condition that it would seek to escape.” (241)

Posted in japanese history, japanese media studies, mass and popular culture, theory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals by Azuma Hiroki

Azuma Hiroki. Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals. Trans. Jonathan Abel and Shion Kono. Minnesota UP, 2009.

Azuma theorizes otaku as posthistorical, specifically inspired by Kojieve’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel where he sees US culture as animalistic as it is classless, its members can “appropriate for themselves everything that seems good to them” (xvii), that the members no longer risk themselves for “the sake of ‘historical’ values that have social or political content” (xviii), no longer engage in struggles of humanity (wars and revolutions) but instead function as animals.  He is attempting to make an intervention in society as he sees otaku as a specific sub culture not unique to Japan, but as “one manifestation in Japan of a grand trend towards the postmodernization of culture that began in the middle of the twentieth century.” (10)  He very explicitly locates this postmodernization as a break that occurred in the late 1960s when “the fundamental conditions that determined the constituents of culture changed within late-capitalist societies…[and c]onsequently, this change was accompanied by transformations in many areas of cultural production. (7)  He sees this not simply as a change, but as an ideological rupture, with current society making sense of the aftermath.  Thus, although otaku culture is connected to the problems of Japan, he is not comfortable with drawing a straight line between Edo and otaku practices.  He inserts the U.S. into that relationship: “Between the otaku and Japan lies the United States.” (11)  Additionally along with that rupture is the awareness that after WWII “we had decisively lost any traditional identity” (16).  Instead otaku are interested in a pseudo-Japan, and splits those comfortable with otaku culture and those not into groups that (in the case of the latter are uncomfortably aware of the perversion; in the case of the former are pleased by it) either otaku excessively attracted to images or excessively repulsed by them.  But the rise of otaku culture in the post 1980s reflects the fact that many want to retain the illusion of the prosperity, peace, and world domination of that era – otaku culture allows and maintains the “illusion” that the bubble hasn’t burst. (19)

Otaku are an undifferentiated postmodern subculture who primarily consume anime and manga and are visually, not textually, oriented.  He suggests the importance of narrative and textual analysis from modernism has been replaced by an emphasis on the individual elements without historicity (including the visual) that can be constantly reemployed in new patterns.  Thus the overarching narrative at the core of modernist creation is replaced by a postmodernist database, where image is removed from referent and infinitely combined with other images free of affect. Discusses otaku culture in generational terms; those born in the 1960s consumed products (and these were sf products), 1970s had more choices of product but the texts themselves were still part of the older type of narrative.  In the 1980s he suggests there is a break; the prosperity of the 80s in Japanfrees the country and the anime from the constraints of history, and the otaku begin to take on the characteristics of the consumers in the latter generations.  Instead of narrativising, they collect objects produced through a vast array of media and product type; instead of distinguishing between copy and original otaku are concerned with production and collection of moments of emotional affect, not overarching narratives with specific world views.  Azuma identifies the end of hierarchical relationships (history, modernity, and subject) and the beginning of disassociative subjectivity where the self no longer cares about recognizing the other (thus explaining why otaku are so wrapped up in their ability to produce and reproduce and are no longer interested in social relationships).  This image of otaku is simultaneously grim and optimistic in the ability of the otaku to destabilize power relationships

Alexandre Kojéve distinguishes between two forms of post-historical existence in his neo-Hegalian philosophy: the animalization of American society that is based on consumerism and the snobbism of Japanese society that is based on nostalgia for the grand narratives and formalized values of behavioral patterns.  But, as Lyotard noted, the grand narratives of modernism are dead.  Azuma asserts that the formalized values of Japanare dead as well.  In their place Azuma proposes a there is a postmodernist two-tiered mode of consumption.  Instead of the modern world image where the subject who perceives the outer surface layer of meaning and can infer a deep inner layer of grand narrative, the postmodern subject can distinguish between the surface outer layer of Baudelarian simulacra and the deep inner layer within where the grand narrative has been replaced by the database.  The database is the repository for these products and settings that can be constantly deployed and remixed.  While it stores them, it does not put them into context of an entire transcendent world view, because the otaku has abandoned world view and has “learned to simply desire the database” (54)

That the notion of transcendence is on the decline is just one of the markers of postmodernism.  There is a rupture between the cultural products of the past and the present, and this rupture is postmodernity.  InJapanthis sense of rupture also stems from the country’s break with the past after World War II.  Even though many experts seek to define otaku culture as originating from Edo period and premodernJapan, Azuma insists that there is a disjunct with this historical past.  At the foundation of otaku culture is a complex yearning not to produce the realJapan, but to produce a pseudo-Japan “once again from American-made material” (13)

Later generations of otaku abandon Kojéve’s snobbism because they no longer need to feel as if there is a single unifying world image.  Instead there is simply the deployment of the smaller narratives that are the components of the database used in order to remix and compile nonnarratives. These nonnaratives are understood as collections of properties that were not launched as priviledged originals, but as a cluster of simulacrum at the same level of derivative works.  Instead of an entry to a world through a single original text, these nonnarratives have no primary text but multiple iterations of products that loosely link together and can be entered at any point along the spectrum.  There is no totalizing whole, no beginning, and no end, but instead products that can be broken down into a number of elements.  These elements can then be remixed and redeployed as simulacra.  A new variety of standards is applied to the new product – instead of being judged by its distance from the original, the copy is now judged by how well it deploys the elements of the database and how far away from the shared consensus of product it is.

Azuma delineates four generations of Japanese who embrace otaku culture.  The first generation, born in 1960, saw anime like Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam and consumed printed science-fiction and B-grade movies in their teen years.  The second generation, born around 1970, consumed a number of more diversified products, but both of these generations remember a time when each text was part of a grand narrative, when meaning was less about the ability to collect the entirety of a commodified property and more about the large scale philosophies of the world.  These two generations are part of Kojéve’s Japanese snobbery that arises from the prosperity of the 1980s.  For a time Japanese society forgot (at least, superficially) that it had a complex about theUnited States based on the postwar occupation and instead focused on the “advancement of Japanism inAmerica” (18).  These generations of otaku, and indeed Japanese society at large, sought to create narratives of national and international dominance, and unifying theories of Japanese success.  It is with the decline of the Japanese economy that the third and fourth generations of otaku become unmoored from these larger narratives of nationhood and prosperity, even though it is the rise of that same prosperity in Japan that begins the transformation from human to animal.

This third generation, born in the 1980s, became junior high school students watching Neon Genesis Evangelion and the fourth generation who have just passed or are in their teens are the animals who employ Azuma’s databases. Instead of narrativising, they collect. They are no longer concerned with the distinction between copy and original that was the obsession of the modern. Their experience of fan culture is conducted and mediated through the internet, and where the intersection between digital media and fan consumer is complicated by the ability to produce new works while simultaneously consuming.  They do not remember the height of Japanese prosperity and thus are not nostalgically attached to transcendental narratives.  They are more like Kojéve’s American animals than they are like previous generations of Japanese snobs.

This is in part because Kojéve maintains that to be human one must struggle against nature, while animals live in harmony with nature.  Kojéve suggests that the postwar consumer society all “needs” are met, and so there is no hunger, no strife, and just like in the animal world, there is no philosophy, or a need for it.  It is this assertion that Azuma makes for the latter generations of Japanese otaku.  Their needs are met, and they are no longer interested in formalized values, the passage of history, or totalizing theories.  Instead they are anamilistic.

This is a new model for subject formation that reflects a much larger movement than simply a subculture’s desire to collect.  Without a totalizing world view, there is still an interest in the formulas of narrative that elicit emotion.  However, these formulas are again detached from their moorings in specific narratives and deployed over different kinds of spectrum.  It is quite easy to see how this functions in computer games, as each element can be both viewed at a meta structural level and divorced from their surroundings, redeployed both within and outside of the game.  Thus the elements of setting, character, and sound are all outer surface layers of the game that the otaku desires to invade.  The elements can be extracted from the game, and recombined to create an entirely different work using the same exact material.  For Azuma this is learning the techniques of creation “without connecting the deeply emotional experience of a work (a small narrative) to a world view (a grand narrative).” (84)

In a switch from the post-Hegalian philosophies into the psychological, Azuma suggests this rupture is a new dissociative subjectivity.  In the past the subject was constantly in the process of desiring the other and hoping to be desired by the other.  The new database animal is no longer concerned with this intersubjective structure, because their needs and wants are constantly satisfied mechanically, without the intervention of the other.  Nothing produced by the database animal has a deeper meaning than the database, and the intensity of works no longer comes from message or narrative but from the combination of different elements in an interesting fashion.  Sadly this particular view does seem to indicate there is a certain hollowness to contemporary society that cannot be circumvented.  Azuma, near the end of his analysis, compares the otaku’s process of consumption and remixing to a drug dependency that must forever seek new and expanding sets of materials to be satisfied.

Posted in japanese media studies, mass and popular culture, theory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation by Susan Napier

Napier, Susan. Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2001.

One of the first long-format works that critically engaged with anime in a critical way, focusing on its narrative aspects (rather than the visual/perceptual).  She examines three broad “expressive modes:” apocalyptic, elegiac, and festival and this allows here to concentrate on themes, images and ideas in a survey of some of the “most memorable” anime created in the 1980s and 90s.  In order to justify it as an authentic subject of study, she asserts anime “is the ideal artistic vehicle for expressing the hopes and nightmares of our uneasy contemporary world.” (11)  Those concerns center around gender roles/transgression, unease/potential of technology, a Bakhtinian notion of festival that speaks to power, thought at heart she sees it all relating to the “shifting nature of identity in a constantly changing society.” (12)

Her discussion of bodies in anime is particularly useful to clarify why it is I do not take them as my explicit research subjects – she proposes that the bodies in anime are intrinsically bodies undergoing metamorphosis, and this protean corporal identity may or may not challenge dominant notions of gender (and thus the social order).  Many anime texts focus on the “process of bodily change” (37) and it is this process that articulates, questions, and destabilizes or reflects fears of gender and gendered identity.  Her chosen evidence, including Ranma ½, Ghost in the Shell, Neon Genesis Evangelion (just to name a few), are particularly apt examples, each in their own way.  But I am not interested so much in metamorphoses, as gender as a process made clear and plain, but instead with the ways that bodies already in play, already ‘finished’ confound gender categorization and possibly lead to a different kind of existence.

Posted in japanese media studies, mass and popular culture, sci fi | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation by Tom LaMarre

LaMarre, Thomas. The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

LaMarre’s interest in “looking at the specificity of animation is the possibility for thinking the modern or postmodern technological condition with greater specificity.”  He does so by deploying an idea of the “anime machine” that is consonant with Guattari’s work on stripping the word “machine” “of its mechanistic connotations, when I call animation a thinking machine…[it] is a heteropoietic process in which human thinking happens differently than it would otherwise, in another flow of material forms and immaterial fields.” (301)  This requires a thinking through of the technological specificity of anime itself, the way it functions differently from film, in particular the way it contrasts with film’s ability to move/be mobile (both moving into the frame, thus achieving depth, and out of it).  Al la Schaffer (who is reacting to Deluze’s Cinema), he notes the fixed camera of animation then places a primacy on “the invisible insterstices between layers” (xxix), the composting and planes of the image, not the characters and not the hand of the animator.  He suggests that the anime machine thinks technology in very specific ways, and the rest of the book is spent attempting to examine the way the animes of Miyazaki, Anno and CLAMP think.  The anime viewing position is not stable, but anime stabilizes different kinds of viewing positions (panoramic; enclosed) and flattens out the “multiplanar image” into an assemblage that can be taken apart and put back together (and indeed, he suggests this is what anime viewers do as they view).

He proposes Miyazaki engages in a “critical minimization of animation technologies which goes hand in hand with a strategic reprisal of the classic body of full animation in a world of open composting.” (315)  He suggests Miyazaki is creating a neo-classisism that asserts bodies “coordinated to the slow human-scaled world” in which Nature is the dynamic entity.  For all of the innovativeness of Studio Ghibli, Lamarre notes this in some sense threatens the very innovativeness that it seems to value.  On the other hand, Anno operates “a critical optimization of animation technologies, which builds on the crisis of the classic body of full animation…” (315) The flat composting “promises the advent of a boundless and horizonless world, a distributive field, in which anyone might now participate.” This dehierarchizes the classical, but also flattens the notion of worlds into characters who become the sites of serialization.  Finally, it is in CLAMP there is “a critical perversion of information technologies (computers), wherein computerization and hystericization” go together, taking up the issues of movement/image in ways that disallow stable and fixed meanings but instead insist on dual readings.

The real benefit of this work is the way in which LaMarre is continually attentive to the mechanics and specificity of production – anime is never treated as synonymous with film, and it is particularly helpful to think of it as not only a distinct medium with attendant affordances and problems in representation, but in requiring a distinct set of abilities to see/read it that are acquired only through continual engagement with the genre.  In that way it is much like Delany’s assertions about science fiction.  The only issue I have with this is that, while Lamarre does attempt to diverge from Azuma on the way in which anime viewers are consuming/viewing their work, they often seem to uncritically consume (or at least are occasionally held hostage by) the medium itself – it would have been interesting to see his take modified a little bit with Fiske’s ideas of the difference between mass and popular culture, especially as his discussion of CLAMP and Gainax anime acknowledge their position as both producers and consumers (otaku).

Posted in japanese history, japanese media studies, sci fi, theory | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime

Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime. Edited by Christopher Bolton, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr, Takayuki Tatsumi.Minneapolis:University ofMinnesota Press, 2007. Pp. xxii+269. $20.

Although no single work can ever completely and thoroughly inform a reader of the both the depth and breadth of a genre, Robot Ghosts and Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime, edited by Christopher Bolton, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., and Takayuki Tatsumi attempts to cover the field of Japanese science fiction in literature, manga, film and television from the twentieth century.  This collection of eleven essays is an excellent way to become acquainted with the voices of prominent scholars in the field for those who are new the study of contemporary Japanese science fiction.  Published at the same time the first two issues of the journal Mechademia, Robot Ghosts joins other popular culture theoretical works such as Anne Allison’s Millennial Monsters, Hiroki Azuma’s Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals, Susan Napier’s Anime from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle, and Takayuki Tatsumi’s Full Metal Apache: Transactions Between Cyberpunk Japan and Avant-Pop America, while at the same time offering a glimpse at multiple perspectives none of these single-author works can provide.  Additionally, while many of the writings in the field are are concerned with a single medium, like anime or manga, and the others are often more theoretically or philosophically inclined, Robot Ghosts straddles this divide.

With Robot Ghosts one finds both the historical and the theoretical represented.  The editors, who have written an exceedingly helpful introduction that places the genre of science fiction inJapan into both its historical, cultural and intellectual contexts, chose to split the volume into two sections.  While the first concentrates on prose, and the second on animation, it is the conscientious focus on the interplay between the two that is the strength of the compilation. As the editors suggest in their introduction, Japanese science fiction “develops in complex communication with other cultures, other media, and other genres.” (p. xi)

Inside one becomes acquainted with Susan Napier’s work on anime, Takayuki’s more theoretical musings, Kotani Mari’s thoughts on feminism and the female cyborg.  The book begins with Miri Nakamura examination of the unique trajectory of science fiction prose prior to the introduction of American science fiction styles in the 1950s, while in the second chapter Thomas Schnellbacher traces the transformation from speculative fantasy to the beginnings of modern science fiction in the second half of the nineteenth-century.  Nakamura locates the roots of the genre not in the importation fromAmerica, but in the “irregular detective” novel genre of the 1920s.  Mari Kotani’s “Alien Spaces and Alien Bodies” surveys writing by Japanese women from the 1970s through the 1990s, in particular raising the notion of the feminine as grotesque, a provocative notion that is raised later in the essays on anime.  In a move away from the array of authors Kotani introduces in her chapter, Azuma Hiroki’s short piece introduces an interesting theoretical contention that science fiction depicts grand visions of the world, large narratives that are fascinating because they are introduced at a time in which “such visions are impossible to attain.” (79)  From this broad vision of the philosophical function of science fiction to the narrow scholarship on a single author, William O. Gardner’s chapter on Tsutsui Yasutaka provides insight not only on the author’s life but on the intellectual movements he was involved in.  While this might suggest a singular view of the field of Japanese science fiction, because it is juxtaposed so neatly with the other works in the prose section, it simply feels as if one has a clearer view of the whole.

The book transitions into anime with Susan Napier’s “When the Machines Stop”, where the apocalypse becomes a feature specific to Japanese sci fi anime, opening up areas of inquiry into the disconnection between technology, identity, and embodied reality.  Christopher Bolton’s and Livia Monnet both consider the parallels between mechanization and digitization of the body and the grammar of digital media.

Sharilyn Orbaugh’s “Sex and the Single Cyborg” suggests that, while many have declared the cyborg to be “postgender,” Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Eveangelion’s human-mechanical hybrids disrupt not only conventional notions of individuality, but of gender as well.  Orbaugh suggests that Japanese cyborg narratives often include a process she labels intercorporation, the mutual incorporation of the other. As a refinement to the concept of incorporation, when material is put or introduced into a body, often represented by the “sexual incorporation of the penis by the body of the other” (180), intercorporation is a penetration of the body being penetrated.  Although a bit convoluted, this concept challenges the “heterosexual matrix” and proposes that within these narratives is a reconfiguration of bodily roles.  This escape from the traditional binaries of masculine / feminine allows one to see the possibility not of postgender, but deeply entrenched in assuming multiple genders.

Finally the textual and visual analysis of earlier chapters is again rounded out by Saito Tamaki’s “Otaku Sexuality” and Takayuki Tatsumi’s afterward, both of which reconsider some of the social and theoretical concerns of those who consume science fiction.  Tamaki’s work is a provocative take on fan (otaku) history, including a discussion Murakami Takashi’s superflat movement that has enchanted and frustrated fans, while Takayuki offers an interesting history of the creation of science fiction texts, from publishing to translation.

While not every work in this collection offers a dramatic updating of the field, it should be clear from the examples above that these essays are widely varied in both their approach and content: on the one hand reflecting the expanding nature of the field and on the other proving a fairly comprehensive look at Japanese science fiction in an increasingly nuanced way.  Each article is well researched, thoughtful, and provocative in its own way.  The editors manage to not only bring together some of the most stimulating scholarship in the field, they also organize it in such a way that the links between anime and the less well known Japanese literary science fiction are unmistakable.  Finally, like any good work, it raises further questions to be asked.  It is, without a doubt, a useful collection for anyone working in the field of contemporary studies today.

Posted in japanese literary studies, mass and popular culture, sci fi | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Perversion and Modern Japan: Psychoanalysis, Literature, Culture by Nina Cornyetz

Cornyetz, Nina and J. Keith Vincent (eds), Perversion and Modern Japan: Psychoanalysis, Literature, Culture. London and New York: Routledge, 2010.

Nina Cornyetz analyzes the “dangerous women” in Izumi Kyoka, Enchi Fumiko and Nakagami Kenji’s work because this woman “hovers at the borders of colliding and remforming ideologies of Japanese modernism.” (13)  She performs a “psychoanalytic based materialist-feminist analysis” on these texts (informed by Cixous’ and Clement’s critical readings of femaleness and feminine texts) because it is part of her ethic of reshaping Levi-Strauss’ bricolage (making use of the means at hand).  She seeks “to describe the social coming-into-being of the modern Japanese (male) subject through a process of othering and abjecting (of the dangerous woman).” (6)  Drawing on Judith Butler, Cornyetz positions writing (and literary representation) here as a compensation and replacement for physical desire, creating a tight “reciprocal” relationship between psychoanalysis and literature “to describe the interdependent systems of psychic and social subjectivity.” (7)

Cornyetz reads these female characters as abjected but empowered bodies that can “unsettle from within its interiors, the conceit of maternalized femaleness.” (101)

Abject in this sense is meant to suggest a whole set of binaries established where the male/phallogocentric knowledge accomplishes the construction of the male subject by subordinating the maternal body, creating a gendered separation of mind and body where the body is cast off.  This discussion of abjection is from Elizabeth Grosz’s Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994).  Her focus is on “reading the relationship between specific literary imaginaries and discourses of social abjection, pollution, and othering that made possible the coming-into-being of the Japanese twentieth-century masculine subject in language.” (228)  She maintains that all three writers eroticize women through words/language, though all three also seem to imply there is something “inexpressible in word, or something surplus to language that….in twentieth-century Japan has been naturalized as bound to the woman’s maternalized body.” (230)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque: The Living, Dead, and Undead in Japan’s Imperialism, 1895-1945 by Mark Driscoll

Driscoll, Mark. Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque: The Living, Dead, and Undead in Japan’s Imperialism, 1895-1945. Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2010.

Mark Driscoll attempts to (along with other contemporary scholarship) explain “the mutually constitutive nature of the colonial periphery and the imperial center” of Japan.  An avowed postcolonial studies subalternist and Marxist, he maintains we must understand the rise of centers of power in relation to “human life and labor, especially that inhabiting the margins and peripheries far away from centers of power.” By making the study of the periphery his priority he argues Japanese in the colonies not only profited from the subaltern and colonized, but also that the center adopted the techniques of the periphery. “Although violent, martial forms of capital accumulation were taking place inside Japan as well at this time, postcolonial studies adduces that the “state of exception” characteristic of imperialist tactics in the outer circle allowed accumulation to advance more quickly, benefiting from novel (and often criminal) techniques that were adopted later in the inner.” (p. xi)

He defines the ero-guro-nonsensu as “the dominant form of mass culture modernism in Japan from 1925 to 1934 and included sexology, detective fiction, graphic art, soft-core pornography, and urban anthropology.” (p. xi)  And so he takes up as his subjects the Chinese coolie, pimp, human trafficker, Korean tenant farmer, Japanese sex workers and middle-class women attempting to escape patriarchal Japan, Japanese pimps and human traffickers, and then finally those who were involved in ero-guro modernism itself, suggesting that it spawned ” key neuropolitical subjectivities they spawned: sexologist, detective novelist, revolutionary pornographer, and the street subjectivities of the modern girl (moga) and modern boy (mobo).” (p. xiii)

Driscoll, plays with Michel Foucault’s concept of biopower, suggesting a tight relationship between life and death in the subjugation of populations in the colonial periphery. He charts an arc of transformation under capital of living labor: the first section, “Biopolitics” is the rise of the first colonies 1985-1920s is about control of living labor, the second “Neuropolitics” covers the 1920s through 30s examines the extension of that control not simply to the laboring body, but penetrating into the nervous system constituting specific subjectivities, and finally “Necropolitics” from 1930s to 1945 where the dead, objectified labor is a kind of “living-dead” or “undead” because there is no concern for the reproduction of workers, reflected in a popular culture fascinated with murder and suicide.

The only concern I have with Driscoll’s reading is that the pervasiveness of capitalism and its ability to subsume even the nervous system leaves absolutely no room to resist, escape, be a critical consumer, be ironic, be savvy, or have any agency.  The body is helpless against the “stimulation and stupefaction” the human is alienated “down to a zero-degree state before [capitalism begins] hammering them into pulp and casting them into a new mold, a new image.” (140)

Posted in japanese history, japanese literary studies, mass and popular culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment