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


If we continue to engage ourselves in such an endeavor--to awaken a "not-conscious knowledge"--we may be able to acquire the possibility of connecting to otherness, even in this drastic transition toward total homogeneity that is the process of globalization. In order for us to start engaging in such an endeavor, the analysis of what is currently happening is indispensable. And if we are to participate in such a project, speaking here specifically in terms of theater and dance practices, which situate the body in its representational center, the notion of dementia must become our shared theme. We must soberly accept the situation and articulate it clearly. We must live the state of dementia in our own selves.

The fact that, after 1995, artists such as Pina Bausch and Sasha Waltz started to express a sense of jouissance and "the body of dementia" in their work shows that they had anticipated, and now certainly fully understand, the coming of a new phase. In Japanese performing arts, collectives such as Gekidan Kaitaisha, through the negotiation of bodies in a state of war on stage, were able to present us with images of "war bodies," and they are now trying to connect with the notion of "the body of dementia." If we go back to the origins of theater and think in terms of Greek tragedy, it is worth noting that heroes of Greek tragedy who tried to revolt against the order of the gods invariably lost the battle because of their sheer powerlessness. Perhaps the same fate awaits Kaitaisha's actors in their battle against globalization and Empire. But at least, like the heroes of Greek tragedy, they resist the order of the gods and seek new ways of resisting, all of which is continuously enacted on the stage. We might do well to remember that in ancient Greece genius (meaning linguistic spirit as opposed to mythology) was inscribed within Greek tragedy. As we begin to witness the first attempts at negotiating with the body of dementia, we should remain hopeful.

In theater, where still very few attempts are being made to create a new kind of representation, critics such as Uchino (I would also include Unakami Hiromi, a theater director, who attempts to analyze contemporary Japanese culture through a critical lens) are starting to develop a detailed discussion of what is going on, referring to wider contexts of contemporary visual art and literary practices. This shows, however feeble it may be at the moment, that there is a connected response to globalization between performative and discursive practices. To move from the proliferation of noncritical J-theater practices to serious responses to globalization means to negotiate with the world, to move from a self-inflictive, self-affirmative practice to a realistic art practice. To support such a movement is my motivation to keep working as a critic. Rather than continuing to ignore the issue of globalization, we need to collapse the mythological order of Empire from within and inscribe a new antimythological genius, a linguistic spirit, within our culture. Active criticism may at least be able to open up avenues to lead us there.

Translated from the Japanese by Uchino Tadashi