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


calls "Japanese snobbism."[18] There is an obvious difference between Murakami, who strategically brings forward the notion of Japanese snobbism and whose work invites critical debate about the structure and the effectiveness of his strategy, and Aida Makoto, who is a super-self-complacent, anticritical practitioner of snobbism.

Critics talk not only about Murakami but about the current situation of Japanese culture and thus are able to refer to its development in the context of globalization, and to explore a new dimension of postmodernity in its global deployment. It is unusual that, in this type of theoretical discussion and debate, contemporary visual art practice has emerged as the most important arena in Japan's modern and contemporary cultural history. There were moments, in the late 1960s to 1970s, when such a situation was observable in and around poetry and theater practices: for instance, Suzuki Tadashi's theories on the body and acting were analyzed with reference to Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenologie and L'Oeil et l'esprit; or Terayama Shuji's work was not able to be analyzed without making connections to surrealism, Marcel Duchamp, and Raymond Roussel; or discussions on Terayama's work spanned from Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze to the anthropological explorations of Claude Levi-Strauss and Marcel Mauss. The emergence of a dialogic discussion via critical language concerning Murakami's work makes it possible to imagine a future development of Japan's contemporary visual art practice.

"J" and Some of Its Aspects
The J-literature boom of the 1980s resulted from the strategy of reaffirming Japan's contemporary literature, which had incessantly been losing substance, and responded to the devaluation of Japan's cultural sphere by calling contemporary literature not "Japanese" but "J" (though many readers at the time thought the letter J stood for Japan).

A decade later, Suga Hidemi, a literary critic, proposed a radical interpretation of J. In his view, J stood not only for Japan but also for junk (he would later say that it can also mean jouissance, or joy). He declared that J-literature was not worth reading and went on to posit that after the failed revolution of 1968 Japanese culture became junk and that what we have now is a mere remnant of the junk.[19] It is easy to link his theory to that of Fukuda Kazuya. Whereas in Fukuda's discourse the junk character is affirmed ("It is good because it is junk"), Suga critiques it by referring to Wallerstein's world-system theory, among others. It was Wallerstein who wrote that liberalism, which had enjoyed a healthy growth after the French Revolution in 1789, started to suffer a complete collapse after 1968.[20] As a result, we came to a situation in which the border between high art and low art was erased and a new possibility for the avant-garde arose. According to Suga, however, what was brought about was only the fall of high art, and the world itself turned into junk; politically speaking, the left disappeared and only the right survived. In short, Suga's critique posits J-culture within a global trend, and he tries to see its contemporaneity. The very fact that artworks have turned into J is evidence that artists are fully entrenched in the processes of globalization.

Suga's theory evoked a very strong response. Uchino Tadashi, a theater critic, finds Suga's approach relevant to the analysis of the process of decline in Japan's theater culture--the same transition to J (junk)--that started in the latter half of the 1980s, slowed down a little at the beginning of the 1990s, and was accelerated after 1995. In Japan's theater culture today we can observe a severe bipolarization between the many theater collectives that insistently adhere to the insularity of J and those few exceptions, such as dumb type and Gekidan Kaitaisha, that strengthen a diasporic position when faced with the pressures of globalization.

In his "'Empire' and Theatre: Against Neo-liberalism,"[21] Uchino insists that after September 11, we need to think about the question of contemporary forms of representation in terms of Hardt and Negri's notion of Empire.[22]

18 See Alexandre Kojčve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, comp. Raymond Queneau, ed. Allan Bloom, trans. James H. Nichols Jr. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980).

19 Suga reaches this conclusion by outlining the development of Japan's contemporary visual art practices after 1968. See Suga Hidemi, "Revolution of 68 in Japan," SAP: Saison Art Program Journal 1 (1999), pp. 86-103.

20 See Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein, After Liberalism (New York: New Press, 1995).

21 See Uchino Tadashi, "'Empire' and Theatre: Against Neo-liberalism," Performing Arts 1 (June 2002).

22 See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000).