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


In this way, Sawaragi locates Murakami's and others' work in its self-referentiality. In addition, Murakami and others would, through incessant contact with trends in American art practices, succeed in opening a circuit toward American curators and audiences. And by devising a logic to affirm such a nearly self-inflictive self-awareness, they would become widely and enthusiastically accepted in Japan.[4]

We can find a similar circuit and logic in Murakami's "Super Flat Manifesto" (April 2000), published in the cat-alogue accompanying his Superflat exhibition.[5] The manifesto starts with the phrase "The world of the future might be like Japan," and Murakami goes on to declare that he hopes "to reconsider 'super flatness,' the sensibility that has contributed to and continues to contribute to the construction of Japanese culture, as a world-view, and show that it is an original concept that links the past with the present and the future."[6] It is "an original concept of Japanese who have been completely Westernized," but this concept, he declares, will dominate the world. The super flat is a very privileged space, from which Japanese culture has been generating itself, and this space will provide a model for any future space. Murakami thus discovers flat space as an essential characteristic of Japanese culture, and, by using this as an underlying concept, he goes on to create concrete art works. Accordingly, even though the world he creates can only begin to exist on Americanized soil, Japanese contemporary visual art practices can be recognized with a surprising degree of affirmativeness.

The young critic Azuma Hiroki has endorsed this affirmativeness, from the "shaky foundation of an amateur's intuition," by drawing "from Murakami's two-dimensional work some sort of philosophical proposition."[7] Azuma defines the characteristic of postmodernity as the "dysfunction of castration," referring to Lacanian notions, and, using a Derridian theoretical framework, goes on to discuss the issue as a transition from the predominance of the gaze to that of "the ghost" and as an appearance of "the postal." Lacanian "castration" is, according to Azuma, "to abandon a direct tie to the image (the direct gratification of desire) and come to recognize one's own gaze. It is nothing less than to adopt a mechanism by which to adjust one's own gaze to that of society's (to see things from society's perspective) . . . the 'ghost' exists between presence and non-presence as an intermediate sign between the image and symbol. 'Postal' refers to dysfunction of the symbolic realm."[8]

An iconographic world develops from castration's dysfunction, according to Azuma, when the modern and the perspectival gaze are both totally disrupted, and there is no longer a gaze but only a multitude of eyes. We can certainly see such eyes in Murakami's work, and we should recognize the "postal" in them. Azuma takes as an example Murakami's Dokomademo Fukaku (In the Deep DOB) and relates it to Lacan's analysis of Holbein's The Ambassadors:

. . . the multitude of eyes in In the Deep DOB--the very ambiguity of these distorted anime signs--corresponds to the painting's deficiency of space, to its equation of gaze with castration's dysfunction. The Ambassadors "imaged" the establishment of linear perspective's gaze (of lifelike space), and turned it around in a lack of eyes (in the space of death). In contrast, In the Deep DOB "images" the dysfunction of linear perspective's gaze--the failure of castration--in a proliferation of ambiguous eyes: not the vital eyes of the living or the sunken sockets of the dead, but "spectacle" eyes. In postmodern society, where the mechanism of castration--which provided a clear division between the world of children and the world of adults, of the realm of images and the realm of symbols--no longer functions, the world of the living is no longer secure. Instead we have only a growing proliferation of eerie signs for "eye."[9] Azuma then concludes that Murakami's super-flat world responds to this transition from modernity to post-modernity. What is important about Azuma's theorizing is that the discussion of castration's dysfunction gradually slides into the affirmation of a system--"a proliferation of signs." And such a manipulation of logic, which

4 For example, the exhibitions The Year of Zero at Art Tower in Mito, curated by Sawaragi; Murakami Takashi at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Contemporary Art; and Nara Yoshitomo at Yokohama Art Museum all enjoyed unprecedented levels of attendance for contemporary art exhibitions.

5 Murakami Takashi, "Super Flat Manifesto," in Superflat (Tokyo: MADRA Publishing Co., 2000). 6 Ibid., p. 5.

7 Azuma Hiroki, "Super-flat Speculation," in Superflat, p. 145. 8 Ibid.

9 Ibid., pp. 149, 151. Lacan's discussion of Holbein is included in Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York and London: Norton & Company, 1978).