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


is slippery in its very nature, in order to establish affirmativeness is precisely what critics were engaged in during the 1990s. In Azuma's thinking, there is none of the critical consciousness that should arise when we find that the construction of a system can be only dysfunctional. According to Azuma, we did not have a satisfactory development of a project called modernity and therefore were able to preserve a multilayered view of the world, as opposed to the rise of one-point perspective as the predominant way to look at the world. If this is true, Lacanian concepts such as "the fragmented body" or "a primordial Discord," which Lacan worked out in the very process of transition from the world of images (the Imaginary) to the world of symbols (the Symbolic), cannot and should not emerge here.

If such an image/concept does not appear in Murakami's work, we must then say that Murakami's work has nothing to do with the Lacanian world, and in fact it may be that a Lacanian analysis of Murakami's work is irrelevant from the beginning. Indeed, Lacan describes the type of image that would appear in the transition from the Imaginary to the Symbolic, which is completely different from what Azuma describes. Taking up the work of Hieronymus Bosch, Lacan identifies the concept that would emerge in the crack of the Symbolic:

This fragmented body . . . then appears in the form of disjointed limbs, or of those organs represented in exoscopy, growing wings and taking up arms for intestinal persecutions--the very same that visionary Hieronymus Bosch has fixed, for all time, in painting, in their ascent from the fifteenth century to the imaginary zenith of modern man.[10]

In the process leading toward the stabilization of the modern, such iconographic representations might remain concealed in the cultural depths, but they sometimes come out through the crack of the Symbolic as a potentially very dangerous element. We must recognize that the Symbolic always embodies such crisis, as does the modern, and therefore has dysfunctionality as its essence. This crisis becomes ubiquitous in the dysfunctioning of the modern, a state that we call postmodern. Azuma's discourse is arguably too naive for this kind of paradox, and naturally some critique arises. This critique is perhaps best articulated by Asada Akira, who writes, in "Irony of Super-flat," that:

It is a sociological fact that such a phenomenon that could only be seen as infantilization within a Lacanian framework is widespread, especially in contemporary Japan, and undoubtedly Murakami Takashi's Super-flat is one of its more radical examples. But shouldn't we say that we have had such a symptom for a long time? In fact, in a short lecture I gave in the U.S. in 1987, entitled "Children's Capitalism and Japan's Postmodernism," I said that in Japan's postmodern culture we neither have the elderly who believe in transcendental values nor the matured who have internalized some definite values as subjects but only children who are engaged in relativistic games, and went on to say that if capitalism is accompanied by the process of infantilization, Japanese children's postmodernism anticipates the future of the world. Of course, it was an apparent parody told in the subjunctive or the conditional mood as a rhetorical response in the linguistic game against those Hegelians who claimed the world history had come to an end in Europe or in the U.S., therefore variegated with a sense of irony, including that of self-scorn. What Murakami Takashi wants to say now in his "Super-flat Manifesto" is probably the same. But when he declares "Japan may be the future of the world, and Japan is now Super-flat," it is difficult to sense a sharp irony any more. Is it too mean to say that this is only a self-affirmation based on "super-flat," therefore naive, irony and a self-assertion of J-Art, which stays at about the same level as J-Pop?[11]

Thus Asada looks at the self-affirmation of "J" in contemporary visual art practice in Japan together with Azuma's theory, and points out that in the case of Murakami, there still is a sense of irony there.[12] I myself have to acknowledge the permeation of "J" in Japan, and we cannot deny that there is a popularization of contemporary visual art that can be identified as a "Murakami Takashi boom" in this movement of "J." And this is possible because Murakami's work is shifting from irony to self-affirmativity. Whether or not there is a sense of irony in his self-affirmation, the more important issue is that such a theory came into existence not through domestic insularity but through Murakami's global sphere of activity. Murakami's notion of super-flat is said to have some connection with Robert Rauschenberg's two-dimensional "Flatbeds," and we must remember Sawaragi's point that Murakami's concepts derive from a sense of the history of American modernist painting, where flatness or two-dimensionality was highly prized. I personally think that we should also consider

10 Jacques Lacan, "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience," in Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York and London: Norton & Company, 1977), pp. 4-5. 11 Asada Akira, "Irony of Super-flat," in Nami (Wave) (Tokyo) (June 2000), pp. 44-47.

12 The term "J" started to be used very frequently during the 1980s. It is the first letter of Japan and, as will be discussed in more detail later, it connotes a lightness of Japanese culture in the 1980s.