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


Murakami's "Super Flat Manifesto" as a theory of super-two-dimensionality that is indeed a response to Clement Greenberg's theory, which placed the essence of modern painting in its two-dimensionality. Regardless, the concept of super-flat is called upon variously as something that already existed in Japanese culture, as something that would surpass preceding theories, as something that would surpass all Euro-American visual art practices and theories. The concept of super-flat, as long as it is articulated within such a web of relations, is not only postmodern but also very modern in its consciousness of the historical and the geographical.

Thus Japan's contemporary visual art practice is viewed with some reverence by Euro-American curators for its relationship to contemporary Euro-American visual art practice. In the dysfunctioning of the economy in post-bubble Japan, visual art practices seem to be functioning all too well. This rosy vision, however, does not reflect the true status of Japan's contemporary society. The current status of Japan's culture and body is, for me, far beyond the state of dysfunction and is indeed in the state that only can be called "dementia." And some critics have realized that it is more crucial to explore the relationship between Murakami's work and the body of dementia. It is no wonder, then, that psychiatrists are the ones who are responding most vividly to this unusual condition, whereby not the mind but the body is in the state of dementia. Kayama Rika, a psychiatrist, writes about certain aspects of the body in dementia, before going on to analyze Murakami's work:

A lot of things have happened in the world. But we must not forget that many things have happened in Japan, too. Just during the last month of summer, we have seen the following cases: two young men, both fans of shojo (young girl) animation to the degree that they have published a little magazine and created a Web site, kidnapped an elementary-school student; numerous sex workers wearing sailor blouses and "loose socks" (both typical garments of female high school students) for their "guests" were killed in a fire in a building housing a number of independent business institutions in Shinjuku; and a seventh-grade girl was handcuffed and left alone on a highway only to be run over by a truck and killed, in which case the suspect was a junior high school teacher who loved telephone sex clubs.

Our prime minister, experiencing the highest approval rating ever, published a collection of his own portrait photographs and publicly praised, with a smile, his son, a would-be celebrity who did not finish a college degree.

There is something maddening about all of this.[13]


Since the Aum Shinri-kyo terrorist gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, we have witnessed many such maddening scenes in Japan. While a high school student in Columbine, Colorado, was engaged in random shooting of his classmates, a man suffering from dementia was randomly stabbing passers-by in downtown Tokyo, and another was driving his car right up to a railroad platform and randomly running over passengers. What characterizes these people is that throughout their bodily rampages they never even thought about running away from the scene of the crime. Kayama's examples make it clear that these tendencies are rampant. What is interesting is that Kayama is trying to analyze Murakami's work in relation to such social phenomena, drawing parallels between this type of criminal behavior and the Murakami Takashi boom. For Murakami, as well as for those who overindulge in animations and computer games, reality and fantasy are indistinguishable. The difference is that criminals actually do commit crimes whereas Murakami stays one step on this side of the line. They engage in the same kind of behavior, but Murakami does it not as a crime but as "beauty." He seems deeply committed to such a world, and keeps producing bi-shojo (beautiful girl) characters, which continue to be attractive to those on the verge of bodily dementia, according to Kayama. She says:

The most important question is what exactly is the difference between the two: those who are dominated by the sense of dissociation or depersonalization and go on so easily to step over the "traces of stages" and commit something "terrible"; and Murakami, for whom it has somehow become possible to go and come back through several dimensions so freely. . . . The I who can kneel down for the other side--the Lacanian "Real"--is the very factor that keeps Murakami a visual art world hero, who is only exposed to a favorable wind and never considered an antisocial entity.[14]

Lacan again. Kayama also thinks that Murakami is trying to touch the Real in his work, and in this sense, her gaze toward Murakami has a certain affinity with Azuma's. Unfortunately, Kayama here does not analyze how this is realized in Murakami's work in concrete and structural terms. But when we consider what compels

13 Kayama Rika, "Murakami Takashi: What Wind Is He Exposed To, Favorable or Adverse?" in Eureka (October 2001), p. 114.

14 Ibid., p. 118.