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


From Dysfunction to Dementia in Theater and Dance
After 1995, our body came to experience a more difficult state than simply being dysfunctional. Being dysfunctional means that there is something wrong with the function, but it is somehow still functioning. It was possible, therefore, for Furuhashi, with his own dysfunctional body, to create S/N. His death seemed to herald a shift in which the world was not even dysfunctional anymore. Something more drastic than being dysfunctional has arrived, and at least in Japan, bodies are behaving very strangely in the streets. This is what Kayama was referring to in her essay on Murakami. And I would call these bodies, "bodies of dementia," which came after the representation of the dysfunctional and are now emerging in representational genres. But if those representations are emerging as something lacking any sense of critique, the bodies themselves are, in a sense, in a state of dementia by lacking any circuit for self-examination. That is why, even if the bodies in J-theater practices are "bodies of dementia," they are only simplistic reflections of the bodily dementia that we are experiencing in Japanese culture at the moment. I would take Uchino's analysis to mean as much. In fact, not only in theatrical expressions but in our everyday lives, more and more people are satisfied simply with having their desires fulfilled, without any consideration for self-reflective thinking. In such a state, the status quo is silently affirmed, and those desires are never articulated in terms of history, culture, and society.

We can understand the emergence of this kind of non-self-critical circuit by looking at Paul Virilio's analysis of acceleration. He writes in Politics of the Very Worst (1996) that in contemporary society, which was made possible by the extreme progress of speed, human beings lack the ability to respond to the emergence of absolute speed:

Because the nature of absolute speed is also to be absolute power, absolute and instantaneous control, in other words an almost divine power. Today, we have achieved the three attributes of the divine: ubiquity, instantaneity, immediacy; omnivoyance and omnipotence. This is no longer a question of democracy--this is tyranny. Multimedia confronts us with a question: will we be able to achieve a democracy of real time, live time, a democracy of immediacy and ubiquity? I don't think so, and those who are quick to say yes cannot be very serious.[26]

According to Virilio, there is a loss of space and time in the globalized world, and the lack of distance not only oppresses us with its instantaneity but deprives us of our self-critical circuit since we have to think with our bodies. But we humans do not know how to respond with our own bodies, and we can only go mad in such a situation. It must be noted, however, that what happens here is not that our minds go mad. Dr. Caligari's madness in the 1920s, for instance, can only be nostalgic. What goes mad are our bodies, and this occurs without being filtered through our minds. Freud once said that to realize the pleasure principle we need a certain amount of oppression of our libido, but in the current situation, libido is completely oppressed, and when it is completely oppressed, it looks for an extremely violent burst to the surface. In such a scenario, the system of the symbolic is completely destroyed, and the body transfers itself from the dysfunctional to the demented.

It is so easy to lose a sense of history and geography when there is a lack of distance. Many have described postmodernism as the end of history, but if the world is in the state that Virilio outlines, then what we have been experiencing is not the end but the loss of history. Of course, geography is lost as well. I refer to this latest phase of globalization as the emergence of "Empire," following Hardt and Negri. In this absence of outside (there is no distance, so there can't be an outside), in this singular dominance of power (in which otherness is lost as well as the possibility of dialogue), there is still an attempt at restoring history and geography by discovering a circuit for self-reflection--a process of restarting our memory. Walter Benjamin wrote about the notion of "awakening," and this concept is useful as we struggle to devise a strategy for deconstructing the contemporary myth that, in our discussion, is none other than globalization and Empire. Benjamin asserts the importance of "awakening" as an action for restoring history:

Here it is a question of dissolution of "mythology" into the space of history. That, of course, can happen only through the awakening of a not-conscious knowledge of what has been.[27]

26 Paul Virilio, Politics of the Very Worst, ed. Sylvere Lotringer, trans. Michael Cavaliere (New York: Semiotext[e], 1999), p. 17; originally published as Cybermonde: la politique du pire (Paris: Editions Textuel, 1996).

27 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin Mclaughlin (Cambridge, Mass., and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 458.