Walker Art Center
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Revolt, Dysfunction, Dementia: Toward the Body of “Empire”


criminals to move from the world of animation and costume play to the murder of bi-shojo within the notion of aggressiveness that leads a person to the Lacanian Real, Kayama seems to understand that in Murakami's work the Real does not emerge from the cracks of the Symbolic, but rather resides behind the crackless facade.

The Japanese are so attracted to Murakami's work for different reasons than an American curator, for instance, is interested in it. Japanese fans of Murakami are sympathetic to the world Murakami depicts in his work, and for them it is not in the least important whether or not Murakami's world expresses an ironical attitude toward Japanese culture. They indulge themselves in this world with complete ahistoricality, and there is no consciousness of cultural theories, theories about Japan, or its relationship to American culture. In this sense, they are only practicing a Japanese version of postmodernism, which Asada calls "infantile." In the meantime, curators in Euro-American contexts are looking at the ways whereby a new trend in Japanese culture is structurally and self-consciously reestablished within Murakami's work, and they are interested in the relationship between characteristics of Murakami's work--as analyzed by a Japanese art critic, a philosopher, or a psychiatrist--and Japanese culture at large, or in characteristics of Japanese culture as inscribed in Murakami's work.

Clearly, a complex discursive space is being formed around and about Murakami. There are interesting articles and essays written about Aida Makoto and Otake Shinro as well, but they do not comprise an equally multilayered and complex discursive space. Fukuda Kazuya, a literary critic, says that Otake's "junk" installations and house-paint drawings of Nihon-kei (Japanese landscape) are good because they are garbage. He locates the spirit that sustains Otake's work within the tradition of waka (a Japanese poetry form), and also relates this very spirit to the philosophy of Yasuda Yojuro, a theorist of the Japanese Romantics. According to Yasuda, in the tradition of waka, that is to say, in the essence of Japanese culture, there is a maxim, "Shindemo-yoi" (I am ready to die). This is not Shinuga-yoi (You should die), Shindara-yoi (Why don't you die?), or Shineba-yoi (I forgive you if you die). There is no comparative or conditional meaning in the phrase "I'd rather die." It is simply a philosophy of determination that has been reached in an absolute solitude. It is in this context that Fukuda says "they are good because they are junk," and it is different from saying "they are good even though they are junk."[15] Fukuda's phrase is absolute in its affirmativeness. Thus Otake's work is absolutely affirmed, and cannot be destabilized by critique of any kind. There is no possibility for us to raise a critical assessment of the work, and we, including Asada and Azuma, can only make an agreeable response like "Maybe . . . " This is no way to initiate a critical discourse.

For Aida Makoto's A Picture of New York Air Bombed there might be some war veteran somewhere who finds satisfaction in seeing New York set on fire by Japanese Zero fighters. But for most, seeing such an unethical, inhuman, and aggressive picture leaves us only with a bad taste. We can hardly find any sense of Japanese reality in it, and the artist himself does not feel there is any connection to the real. About Mutant Hanako, a comic strip in which the U.S. is called "the country of evil," Aida says: "There may be a few people [by people he means Japanese] left who feel pleasure in such an exaggerated phrase as 'Savage Americans and Brits,' and I enlarge this pleasure as if through a microscope, expecting this to serve to neutralize a poison."[16] It is very doubtful how many Japanese are feeling such a pleasure, and how many of them need to be neutralized of its poison.

Of his works that might enrage some feminists, Aida says, "My works are not too erotic. Compared to erotic manga magazines sold in the streets, I cannot be too vulgar. I shouldn't say it myself, but it is because I am well-bred, and my upbringing prevents me from going that far."[17] He thus admits his work is tepid and suggests that what is realized is only the satisfaction of a small desire. No political or economical issues arise from his work, and he emphasizes that his work is produced in the strictly private sphere of the hobbyist. He claims a position that dislocates him from any connection to the others, and so, following this position, even though he creates radical visual images, this creation can only be understood as a practice of what Alexandre Kojčve

15 The latter phrase, as we know, could be applied to much contemporary art practice, and if we elaborate the phrase a little more, it becomes a feasible theory of avant-garde art. For instance, de Duve's theory of visual art--"something that can be anything"--is written in this vein; see Thierry de Duve, "N'importe quoi," in Kant after Duchamp (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1966).

16 Aida Makoto, "Japan, Future, Visual Art," featured interview in Bijutsu Techo (December 1999), p. 22.

17 Ibid., p. 23.