Category Archives: Japan

International Symposium: “HUMANITIES AFTER FUKUSHIMA: Dialogues between Cultural Studies and Philosophy in the Post-Nuclear Age of Critical Junctures” (click here to register)

Friday, 28 October 2011 – Sunday, 30 October 2011

Venue: School of Arts, Birkbeck College, University of London, 43 Gordon Square, London; 

Birkbeck Collage, Main Building, Malet Street, London

Financial Help from the Japan Foundation International Exchange Fund


Organized by Ted Motohashi (Visiting Professor at Media and Cultural Studies Department, Birkbeck College, University of London) and LAPCSF (London Asia-Pacific Cultural Studies Forum) in partnership with Centre for Media, Culture and Creative Practices

Discussion Themes and Focuses

Inspired by Nishiyama Yuji’s documentary film “The Right to Philosophy”, comprised of his interviews with those associated with “International College of Philosophy” founded in Paris by Jaques Derrida and Francois Chatelet in 1983, this small-scale international symposium, will try to address issues surrounding the past, present and future of Humanities education and research in the age of crisis. This “crisis” particularly resonates with the natural disasters on March 11, 2011 in Japan, and the following calamitous events centered on the nuclear power-plant’s meltdown at Fukushima.

What could be the roles and responsibilities of Humanities scholars facing this crisis? Can University education stand up to the multiple challenges posed by the now increasingly technologically sophisticated neoliberal/capitalist politics? What could be the viable relationship between Cultural Studies and Philosophy education? And is it too vulgar to talk about Art and Literature after “Fukushima”?

This gathering will tackle these questions from various and broad perspectives in a kind of intellectual exchange particularly among those who are concerned with the relevant issues in the present geopolitical contexts in Japan and Britain. Although the Symposium is based on the traditional format consisting of several panels with keynote speeches and commentaries, its atmosphere will be definitely friendly, non-hierarchical and improvisational, and we hope that the participants will enjoy the intellectual exchanges at their very best forms during the three days. 

Schedule and Guest Speakers

*Keynote speech is 30~45 minutes, Commentary 15~20 minutes approximately, please.

*Participation in the symposium is free of charge, but please pay £20 for food and drinks if you would like to attend the Reception on Friday 28th and the Farewell Party on Sunday 30th  (£10 for attending only one of the two; the Keynote speakers and Commentators are free).

Friday 28th October

16:00~ Registration for the Participants

17:00~20:00 Panel 1: “Cultural Studies and Philosophy Education in Asia” (Room 421, Malet st)

Keynote 1: Koichi Iwabuchi (Waseda University)

Keynote 2: Fabian Schäfer (Leipzig University)

Comment 1: David Morley (tbc) (Goldsmiths College, University of London)

Comment 2: Angus Lockyer (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London)


19:00~21:00 Reception (Room 421, Malet St)

Saturday 29th October

11:00~14:00 Film showing: “The Right to Philosophy” (Birkbeck Cinema, Gordon Sq)

Keynote:Yuji Nishiyama (Tokyo Metropolitan University)

Comment:Yusuke Miyazaki(University of Niigata)


15:00~18:00 Panel 2: “Roles and Responsibilities of Intellectuals in the Age of Neoliberal Politics” (Room B35, Malet St)

Keynote 1: Sabu Kohso (New York, Artist/Activist)

Keynote 2: Jun Hirose (Ryukoku University)

Comment 1: Angela McRobbie (Goldsmiths College, University of London)

Comment 2: Jeremy Gilbert (University of East London)


Sunday 30th October

10:00~13:00  Panel 3:  “Humanities After Crisis” (Room B04, Gordon Sq)

Keynote 1: Ryuta Imafuku (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies)

Keynote 2: Chih-Ming Wang  (Institute of European and American Studies,

Academia Sinica, Taiwan)

Comment 1: Esther Leslie (Birkbeck College, University of London)

Comment 2: Michael Gardiner (University of Warwick)


14:00~17:00  Panel 4: “The Present Conditions and Future Prospects of Humanities Education in Universities” (Room B04, Gordon Sq)

Keynote 1: Naoki Sakai (Cornell University)

Keynote 2: Gauri Viswanathan (Columbia University)

Comment 1: Costas Douzinas ( Birkbeck College, University of London)

Comment 2: John Hutnyk (Goldsmiths College, University of London)


17:00~18:30 Summary Panel (Room B04, Gordon Sq)

All the Keynote Speakers’ and Commentators’ final remarks (5 minutes each)

19:00~21:00 Farewell Party (Room B04, Gordon Sq) 


Apart from the invited speakers above (Keynote speakers and Commentators),

around 50 participants are expected mainly from Britain.

Visiting Faraway: an installation by Geoff Weary at the Art Gallery of NSW

Gael Clichy 5

This one is really from the Vault. It was printed in the Melbourne art magazine Agenda, in about 1989 or so. The totally irrelevant picture I have chosen to illustrate this is not of Weary’s art, but since Man City beat the Gunners 4-1 yesterday I thought it amusing that when I searched ‘weary’ this picture turned up, with the caption ‘a weary Arsenal…’ Apologies, but the image that illustrated this piece in its original form will be retrieved when I’ve dug still further down into the swamp…

‘Visiting Faraway: an installation by Geoff Weary at the Art Gallery of NSW’

– by John Hutnyk

There is no way that the ‘main event’ could be ignored in this tale.

In a room tucked away beneath the Guggenheim collection, which dominates attendances at the NSW Gallery this summer, Geoff Weary’s video installation waits for an audience.  Weary had been artist-in-residence at the time when Emperor Hirohito was slowly dying, in hospital and in the national press, an event which had its significances in all parts of Japan.  Now Weary is located down under the visiting treasures of American Art collection, and Japan is somehow again made ephemeral in the process.  Given a basement-like room in which to set up his elaborate commentary upon his ‘residence’, Weary’s video rolls over and over, and while it doesn’t immediately offer an easy set of linkages, it is nevertheless not too strange to attribute a narrative intentionality to the arrangements.  People want to tell stories about Japan – making meaning of the enigma.  Yet how we construct the ’empire of signs’, as Barthes called it, raises questions about storytelling and fidelity of representation that deserve more attention.  In Weary’s room a few people enter – the door is hard to find – and sit before his ‘Faraway’ – a Sony large-screen video projector, two Bose hi-fidelity speakers and some twenty-three black and white images arranged upon the walls.  At various times across the last month three videos have been shown over: ‘From Occupied Japan’, ‘Faraway’ and ‘House of Whispers’.  I saw the third of these, secreting its messages from a Japan that seemed so much more distant than the masculanist European glories haphazardly collected upstairs.  The Emperor and wartime Imperial Nippon is remote in place and time, and yet the economics of ‘whispers’ – a suggestive piece of video set in the Tokyo stock exchange – could, perhaps should, be so much closer to us than the ‘valuable’ art of Mondrian, Modigliani and so on – for all the influences of the ‘east’ that might be traced in those works.  Slamming the American Imperialism of the Guggenheim, however, is another project.

Weary tells us a story. There are seven photographs of world war two airmen, there are seven photographs of coins, and there are seven civilian faces, five of these quite obviously evocative of ‘youth’, or perhaps the ‘future’ of Japan.  There is a larger photograph of the Emperor, and another large piece which is the front page of the newspaper which announced his death: ‘The Emperor died at 6.33 am today and the 55 year old Crown Prince succeeded immediately to the Chrysanthemum throne’.  In the catalogue essay, Spivak’s comment that money resembles writing as a ‘sign of a sign’ resonates further here in the context of the empire of signs.  All but one of the coins in the photographs are caught spinning, over and over; the seventh, in the centre, is one of those coins with its centre chopped out – a device of old mints to extend coinage without producing further coins – as if the centre of value has been removed and spent elsewhere, and yet there remains a currency in Japan.  The Emperor is important even at the stock exchange, site of the economic ascendancy of the nation, even as the coin is clipped in this way.  Clipped coins are of a different, more convoluted order, but they are still money.  Why then have they become so strange, so exotic, in this context?

Weary has the exchangists tell a story.  In the video we watch accountants accounting, inscribing value upon small sheets, scribbled wealth.  Money in its most abstracted and international form in the stock exchange – yet still strange, mysterious.  Hands gesture signals to the stock board – to buy so many units, to sell so many others, to wave goodbye, to wipe away a tear – the hands dance in their language of value.  The writers inscribe.  And each interlude away from the exchange – to the landfilled area of Tokyo bay, to the world of T.V. advertising – ends with a staggered frame effect which resembles flicking through the pages of a book (wasn’t this the form of the most originary animations?).  Figures of exchange value are superimposed over a shouting face.  The camera presumes to read for us, making its images into text, through writing, through pages, and alongside the text of the death of the Emperor, the text of the war and the text of value in ‘faraway’ Japan. The contradiction of the money form which can make equivalences of everything all over the globe appears in its strangest manifestation in the very forum of international money.  The stock exchange should be the most familiar of places for us, the point at which we can calculate equivalences, since money allows us to do so – but here we cannot.

Then Weary tells us a fishing story.  Amidst the stock exchange scenes the editing has included a coloured sequence shot on the reclaimed lands of Tokyo bay.  Many people are fishing, a small fish is caught, the city is ‘faraway’ in the background.  What is value here?  Across this sequence the music is ‘traditional’, everything else had been Bach violins (Partita in D Minor).  Is fishing valuable?  As a pastime or as commodity, another coin has been clipped, on land reclaimed, as if at some point Tokyo reclaimed this as its centre, not yet constructed, developed, not yet part of the city, and still resonant with the music of an older Japan.  The huge wealthy urbanity of the metropolis, with which cinematography so likes to conjure up images of our own future, is presented from afar, from a reverent distance perhaps, so as not to succumb to the imperialism of icon building where the building of Tokyo as Empire becomes the sign of world value.  Yet if Weary does want to avoid, as it says in the catalogue, ‘the Western postmodernist definition of Japan as an archetypical cultural other’ and not enter into ‘a mindless unproblematised celebration of Japan’ as the exemplary sign-scape, then his city has to be built from some other position than that of the seduced voyeur of the traditional value of the gesture.  Fishing rods and close-ups of hands may entail a fidelity with ‘what is’, but the cliché of the Tokyo-proto-metropolis remains.  And this is what can feed Tokyo into the gluttonous exchange machine of the money-for-cultural-difference relation – even the strange can be calculated and commodified finally – coins can be found to represent its enigma.  As we so often find, stereotypes work precisely because they are stereotypes, reductively meaningful, and capable of working their effects even at a distance, even under criticism.  For all Weary’s ‘other’ Japan, it is Japan as other that is presented in very conventional ways.  Mysterious again, the place cannot be demystified under Weary’s signs of money, or of Emperor, nor of fishing.

There is a story here that is difficult to tell. The camera – both video and photographic – begins to read for us, but we are also drawn over to ‘faraway’ Japan.  Voyeurs of our own impressions and failures of comprehension – Japan becomes a story since it is difficult to tell, because it resists our conventional narrations.  Yet we can gain a purchase on this, since our stereotypes of the war, our iconic image of an Emperor, the all-transmutable value of coins and the whispered values of the stock exchange only become stories through our sitting before these images across time.  Wandering around the Guggenheim is not very different from this, but the time-based arts of Weary tell in so many different ways than the paintings in the main exhibition that it is inappropriate to compare, and yet unavoidable, because to visit Weary is, usually, to have already visited the Guggenheim.  Value asserts its priorities again, the Emperor is dead but Weary’s Japan story remains faraway buried beneath the grand history of ART upstairs, and buried beneath the gestures of avoiding clichés, avoiding our constructions by making an object of construction – Japan as a sign of a sign of value – even as it might allow us to speak of more than this.  It is always important, I think, to look at context and its conditioning effects, and ask where value is to be found, who has put together the collection, and how.  The Emperor is dead, the coin is clipped, a hand inscribes the exchange, yet the same old imperialisms abound.  Upstairs the punters pay money to see the booty of American collectors, and value is left in a spin.

Another Asia: Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin

interasiaI’ve not posted all that much of other people’s stuff lately, but I have been catching up on reading it. This short review of Rustom Bharucha’s Another Asia, by Shuddhabrata Sengupta, neatly conveys what is great about Rustom’s book. The review is from Inter-Asian Cultural Studies (here). Rustom was our guest at Theatre Border (here):

Continental contemporaries: Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin

Shuddhabrata Sengupta: Some lives, by virtue of the broad expanses that they span, come to acquire the breadth and proportions of continents. Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet and Asia’s first Nobel Prize winner, and Okakura Tenshin, Japanese aesthete, curator and cultural intermediary between ‘East’ and ‘West’; two personalities who straddled the early twentieth century with the peripatetic itineraries of their quests, and with the restless horizons of their very different but complementary accomplishments, come close to embodying intellectual and imaginative sweeps of continental dimensions. Their biographies are also generous geographies.

Rustom Bharucha’s magisterial mapping of the worlds invoked by the Tagore-Okakura encounter – Another Asia: Rabindranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin (2007) – delivers what it promises – a displacement of our common-sense apprehension of political and personal geography, of arbitrary affiliation, even of how we conceive of the intimate maps of long distance intimacy, through a diligent and close reading of the public and hidden transcripts of the interactions between two men, who happened to be friends and contemporaries, and yet whose convictions pointed them eventually in very different directions. Bharucha’s achievement lies in the care with which he unravels the differences (even as he is mindful of the resonances) in terms of the way in which Tagore and Okakura imagined and lived the intersections between space and culture, life and thought, politics and aesthetics.

Kon Ichikawa

A place maker for a future review of Kon Ichikawa’s great funny poignant anti-imperialist film “A Billionaire”, as soon as I find a copy.

We screened a series of his films at Goldsmiths two years back. The big famous ones are deservedly praised, but A Billionaire was just great – especially the student who built her own atom bomb upstairs in her flat.

The pic shown here is from “Tokyo Olympiad”.

Kon Ichikawa 1915-2008.

Funuke domo kanashimi no Ai o Misero

AKA: Funuke, Show some love you losers!

Its really hot (humid hot). What to do? Attack the cinema (joy of air-con in a big room).

‘Funuke domo kanashimi no Ai o Misero’ is at first sight a slender tale, yet it tries to do for the dysfunctional family what “To Die For” did for love and romance (wasn’t Nicole almost good in that?). Funuke… rips it up with a weirdly dark sweetness. Everything is adorable but scary. The lead actress (Sumika, played by Eriko Sato) is obsessive but cute; incestuous and slutty, yet with innocence and charm; a gangster/yakuza moll, but also a high school sweetheart and loving sister. The rural wife is a mix of the witch/demon of Monkey stories and the castrator in Oshima’s “In the Realm of the Senses”. The male of the piece – after the debt-ridden patriarch is flattened even before his first scene (we see him in retrospect) – is a bad tempered, spoiled fool, manipulated by his half-sister (Sato), and in the end an honourable suicide. The younger sister, a manga writer just about to break big (Kiyomi: Aimi Satsukawa) turns out to be the chronicler of the very saga we have been witnessing.

So its funny. Does it tell us much about contemporary Japan [as national allegory Fred Jameson?)? Are men on the way out of the picture as this film would have it? Are women going slightly batty trying to have both a glamorous girly career and having to out-bastard even the Yakuza to get by?

The main idea is that talent/manga writing skills could be the meal ticket to the bright lights, just as once upon a time that path was via a Tokyo acting job (Sumiko’s director fantasy figure is straight out of the 60s auteur ‘I-wanna-meet-Kurosawa’ tradition – and the guy even looks a little like a young Kon Ichikawa). I guess this is plausible, but it rather ignores the interim achievements of Takeshi, Miike, Hara Kuzuo and Kon himself (at least the cinema was cool, half empty, but cool).

But that teenager was wicked, not cool. Certainly she (little sister Kiyomi) steals the show in what should have been an acting vehicle for Sato. The youngster playing Kiyomi (Satsukawa) has all the emotion. The half-brother/sister sex scenes are ok for atmosphere, but clearly/thankfully cannot be too explicit (kissing and a bare torso). Yet even this is not acting enough – the irony of the screen test scene where big sister fails to learn her lines or ‘prepare’ is telling. I guess we are supposed too enjoy this irony, but I’d be more keen to try to work out if there are any reflections to be made on the back of this psycho-social set up in the film insofar as it is related to the way the present historical conjuncture of capitalist-culture-industry Japan might be named. Not that reflection theory is all that credible – I guess a film can go against the times/or subvert the predicted allegorical code – but what if this scenario did say something profound about the country today?

What if this were an example of Otaku (nerd?) culture (manga sex/violence, superflat, Hikikomori) going mainstream? The other big film at the moment in Tokyo is transformers – I’ve said earlier that I enjoyed Toshiya Ueno’s examination of the transformation problem of former leftists into conservative producers of mass content market fare like that movie (must go see). What if there is more to be said about the gendered politics of manga authorship – relate this to the young women in battle Royale 1 & 2 – and some sort of angular version of feminism that I’m afraid is as opaque to me as the ubiquitous cos-play girls dressed up as Bo-Peep, but with lip and eye-brow piercings. There is surely a market out there for such stories/parables/mixes.

So it might make sense to ask why just now a certain version of family values are both affirmed and disrupted, as they are in this film (Funuke…). The sisters and sister-in-law all work hard at mending the family situation, damaged by, in turn, debt, distorted sexuality, and the intrusions of the culture industry: – in brief, the patriarch bequeathes debt; the wannabe actress seduces her half-brother (compensation dating – Enjo kosai – gone wrong?); the younger sister uses the family drama as material for her mainstream schlock manga debut.

There are scholars of Japanese culture and politics much better versed in all ways than I to talk about the significance of the financial crisis, family breakdowns and the culture industry (see Takashi Murakami’s “Little Boy” project and critiques thereof) but this does at least resonate with what little I do know of recent Japanese history. The years of stagnation have indeed put a strain on many families even as creative cultural production has been robust (Japan style!). This film then really does seem to conform.

And we haven’t even got to the main plot device of the film, which is a series of letters that never get delivered. Much could be made of this by Lacanians, Derrideans, but I am also interested to note that the letters sent by the fantacist actress to her imagined director are intercepted by little sister Kiyomi because she works at the post office in a part time capacity (what did Heidegger do in the war dad?). It would be wrong to restrict her labour here to precarious, since ther is no reason but maliciousness for her to intercept the letters, but its not insignificant that the plot runs on a writing machine that does not communicate to its intended audience. the ostensible lead ‘actress’ is supplanted by the scene-stealing (manga) writer. Is this then a film addressed to women or men? To aspiring actors/manga writers, or to director/editors. At the end the message is dessicated – the letters torn to scraps by Sumika and the loony in-law – but that is the point of this red-letter day. Am I as insane as witchy-cutie-doll-maker sister-in-law if I suggest that behind the code of this film is a Marxist critique of contemporary Japan? Of debt, careerism and the baleful exploitation of the precarious creative labour of youth? Unfortunately my experience of the Japanese Communist Party does not assure me that such critiques are popular within the organized left, but perhaps among filmmakers (or novelists like Yukiko Motoya who wrote the book)? By now I have somehow decided I really like this film – and that’s what’s wrong with reflection theory: you end up thinking the correspondences between capitalism and cinema are intended. Brilliant, but probably wrong.

Back to the summer now.


Back in Tokyo. This time staying in Kamata, which is a sort of central urban junction town, hence interesting. Rows and rows of those little bars, sushi and sashimi shops, yakitori, izakaya (居酒屋) and yakiniku (焼肉) places to eat. Most of them with about 12 seats, especially near the station and west (NishiKamata), but there are some much bigger ones. Its no Kabukicho, but the area exhibits a bit of a yakuza/hostess bar presence, porn shops and the like, but more interesting than the Ginza version of the same where westerners are expected to be looking for ‘special massage’ I guess. Here I’m ignored as the probably lost gaijin I am.

Learning a little more Japanese from a woman whose just flown in from Beijing with Japan Airlines on her fourth trip as cabin crew (not hostess, clearly that is another kind of work). She tells me of the Sakura trees by the Shinomi river (late April I guess) and tomorrow I am going to search out Yazawaya – since Tokyu Hands is clearly the popular more expensive version of trinket heaven, or so it seems.

In the meantime, I am happy to wander late at night in and out of little bars – jazz in one, arguing couple in another, drunken salary men who want to talk about football – Australia’s soccoroos were knocked out of the Asia Cup by Japan on penalties, but Japan ‘only’ coming fourth was a disappointment to these guys. Victory to Iraq and a political intervention by the captain… They agree its something.

The other streets in Kamata are gorged with cheap commodity stores, 100 yen shops, clothes, footwear, camera stores, obscure things where people sell things I probably shouldn’t want to buy. I had a dream that there was a river of fish flowing into Tokyo, given the massive consumption of maguro, hotate, amberjack, ika (shiso leaf), and tako (octopus).. yum yum, but sitting there eating and drinking as the road transforms from a street of wandering drunks to a busy thoroughfare for boxes and bundles – its obvious someone has to carry in all these products too, so the river of fish is awash with delivery vehicles and the narrow lanes with elegant lamps are also multifunction furrows of capital dredging for gold through the worn facades of the megacity (Hi Ryan and John).

From my hotel window in the morning I can see the city centre in the distance (I’m just guessing but I think its Rippongi and the television tower visible there) and directly outside my room a mysterious building with no windows at all (see pic 3). I find these aircon specials disturbing, even as the air outside is clearly particle-rich (notice the haze in pic 1).

I’m up early to seek out the movies of Kon Ichikawa. If you have never seen “Fires on the Plain” or “Harp of Burma” (Biruma no tategoto) you shoul, but for mine his great under-acknowledged masterpiece is “The Billionaire” (Okuman Choja 1954):

“Author: Robert Keser ( from Chicago
This scathing satire plays like Ichikawa’s attempt to slap Japan out of its postwar malaise. A hopelessly naïve junior tax collector crosses paths with an assortment of quirky characters, including a young woman working on a home-made A-bomb, a spoon tycoon on his way to the U.S., a poor boy aspiring to become a movie star, and a fast-talking geisha scheming to extort corrupt politicians. A running joke throughout is the absurd overpopulation: everyone seems to have an absolute minimum of twelve children. This consistently original work remains fresh and funny, thanks to vigorous performances and Ichikawa’s precise framing.”

Just started reading Eric Cazdyn’s “The Flash of Capital: Film and Geopolitics in Japan” – my copy is inscribed on the inside cover by Eric to Masao ‘without whom… nothing’ Feb 2003 (handwritten – pic 3). Masao Miyoshi is acknowledged first for his ‘critical infectiousness’ in a very generous opening paragraph of the text proper. But I bought the book second hand in Labyrinth New York. Anyway – go figure. Looks good so far – Jameson inspired, only a very brief reference to Kon Ichikawa, but an intriging mention on page 32 of the war films of Shibata Tsunekichi, who at the time of the Russo-Japanese conflict (1904-5)travelled to actual locations to film, and mention also of home made “‘docu-dramas’ (fake documentaries about the war)” (Cazdyn 2002:32) which deserve further investigation. But I’ll need to read more Kanji than I do to cope with that. So it goes. Back to Blighty in a week.

Writing Controls

The beautiful arabesques of the writing of Raymond Roussel, still evident in translation, are most interesting as discipline (contrivance, organisation, code, device), and made all the more alluring by the discovery, in 1989, of a trunk full of manuscripts. I have always been interested in the manufacture of text, and the versionings required. First draft, second draft, the processes of revision… The mechanizations we invent in attempting to get around the ways words are always already prefigured, so as to say the same thing anew.

Writing as a craft is not besmirched by a patent ‘method’. Roussel wrote according to a calculus, as has often been remarked (Ford 2000, Foucault 1963). There are sentences with parentheses inside parentheses that multiply into entire books. Meanings are deferred and referred back to each other, and the first word is both clue and angular destination. Sure, there are cryptograms in Jules Verne – and these fascinated Roussel so much he went to meet that author in 1898 (Ford 2000:17) – but experimental writing was never more elaborate before Roussel, or so it seems from the cache found in the attic in 89.

Unleash the word hoard. Cubist, Dada, Oulipo, Lettriste. Experimental writing, even where obscure, retains a special critical potential; perhaps best outlined in English by Burroughs as a work against control. The word cut-ups were something he considered a useful way to expose control orders. Burroughs as political oracle may seem reckless – an extravagant, untamed, rampant, enthusiasm – and a writing greedy for meaning (thanks Tinzar) – but isn’t this just what might sidestep control?

The orders of language certainly have us in a tight squeeze – grammar, spelling, typography, layout, html, the aesthetic use of empty space (black here, white there). What do we need to do so as to sidestep this pious complex? Nietzsche proud as punch to write such good books? Ginsberg running hysterical naked in the negro streets at dawn [Moloch still being dragged to heaven]? Kathy Acker attacks on high school and on Don Quixote? Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave harmonic mumbling even? Amidst the welter of words there is precious little time to stop and consider our faith – an experimental church, with a god-botherin clergy raging at our misdemeanours, and demanding sacrifice on altars. With Roussel as the fallen high priest become demonic victim, and hero.

Ford, Mark 2000 Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams, London: Faber and Faber
Foucault 1963/1989 Death and the Labyrinth, Editions Surkamp

The pics are of a Japanese Communist Party rally in Tokyo. Pink t-shirts! Talked with the comrades about war, and housing. Still translating their policy document.

Nagoya-Bird&Rabbit-4-Tim Stelfox-Griffen

So I am posting these pics to Ellen, but they can also rest here for a while. Bird and Rabbit went to Japan. To Nagoya in fact. They came with me to give a talk at Nagoya City University – the talk was about Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian lad murdered by police on the tube at Stockwell two years ago this week. No police charged, (perhaps Cressida Dick will be censured on Health and Safety grounds – executions of members of the public inside a tube carriage being considered that serious). The talk was about repetition, violence, the manufacture of terror, scapegoats and fear – and the social construction of the figure of the ‘suicide bomber’ – for all that critique of that process may or may not help us. Recently I have been reading Talal Asad’s excellent new book “On Suicide Bombing” [Columbia Uni Press] and I find his arguments compelling. Spivak has a good paper on the topic too – [‘Terror’ in Boundary 2, summer 2004].

Anyway, Nagoya City University is where I taught for six months in 2003 as visiting professor. I wrote much of the book “Bad Marxism” there, and taught a course on film in the Intercultural Studies department – I was screening lots of Hollywood gangster films and things like The Godfather trilogy. The students were great – though by the end of the term there had probably been a bit too much late night Karaoke and I can only thanks the gods no-one ever recorded me singing Dylan’s “Times Are a Changin'”.

So, this is the place Rabbit and Bird came to visit their friends Manekineko and, as the night wore on, some dudes they were seen hanging out with at a fairly disreputable back street surfer bar in the very small hours. That’s very fine scotch whiskey they are drinking there. The ambient tones courtesy of some obscure Blondie tracks. It was about the fifth bar they visited that evening, but frankly, some of the pictures from the other places are too blurred for the public record (Rabbit does look a bit dishevelled). “Futatsu beeru onagaishimasu!”

I guess you should know that this adventure travel Rabbit and Bird thing is a tribute to the memory of Tim Stelfox-Griffin, a friend who died far too young, about a month or so ago. At Tim’s wake, Ellen handed out some pages with markings on, which, when cut out and assembled, became bird and rabbit. Apparently Tim quite liked this sort of thing – gotta admit the guy was somewhat eccentric, and I guess that’s what I miss most. So, with a little help from Kaori who took the pics and provided scissors (and some glue for bird’s beak), here they are, adventure travelling in Japan as perhaps Tim might well have done. Should have done. Peace. On the anniversary of the death of Jean Charles as well. Sad, mad, bad planet.

Ubiquitous Media

The conference theme (TCS 25th anniversary meet at Todai U Tokyo) has set loose a plague whose epidemiology can only be described as the onset of a ‘digital Adorno’ virus (I adapt this from Anthony King – I see Adorno referenced but not read, glossed via secondary readings, named but ignored, as ever it always has been…) and, worse, the conference alibis what looks like isolated individualism positing a corresponding technological determinism, such that new gadgets directly relate – without other mediation – to ‘subjects’ independent of corporate, commercial, or co-ordinating engagements (King again). The avoidance of politics seems to sum up what was wrong when it went wrong (plus the painful moment[s] when Hansen went on and on in a narcoleptic tone), but on the whole the conference was very very good. Despite typhoons and earthquakes, there was hardly a session that was not full of good papers; it was well organised, and the local food fabulous (okinawa bar – thanks Shinji). I’m pleased to know more about Bernard Steigler (from Ben and Jeremy) and to have met Dave, Mia, Tania, plus Shaun, Sean and Tomoko again. Toshiya’s argument that Transformers transformations are linked to the transformation problem of former leftists who went into cultural work was quite brilliant, and of course the best bits happened in between sessions and late at night in obscure bars.

My presentation had to do with ubiquitous paranoia, on the anniversary of the London 7/7 bombings, the fear/scapegoat manufacture of sleeper cells and tube bombers in England excuses an annual ‘event’ related to the efficient production of paranoia. ‘He’s behind you’ is the panto-demonization response, but the court cases and car bombs that coincided this year (2007), and the ‘suicide rapper’ routine of last year (2006), deserve a more detailed response. I have pursued this using the idea of ubiquitous narrative, ubiquitous critique, and retelling the story of that very mild mannered suicide rapper (aka Aki Nawaz) and the bed-time tales of Scheherezade – now captured, renditioned, detained and forced to tell stories to interrogators at Guantanamo for the rest of her days – one thousand and one nights is overdetermined, akin to infinity plus one…

My case is that the incomplete character of Scheherezade’s stories is what saves her. So when it comes to Fun^da^mental’s presentation of a recipe for bombs (readily available on the internet, but somehow also ‘secret’), there is a curious coincidence of interest in secrets on ‘both sides’. The ambiguous space of politics lies here – really lies – the gaps, the appearance and disappearance, the unknowns – this is what we might look at. The lie and deception are structured into story (they call this ‘spin’) and this seems to be an increasingly potent site of struggle.

So the fact that the conference had a great deal to say about repositories of secrets: about archives, about the empire of signs, investigations of code, attention to all kinds of message – this makes me want to ask questions. For example: is it mere coincidence that the proliferation of scholarly interest in code and archive – and of course the desire of google to document EVERYTHING – seems to be symbiotically related to the demands of the security forces that there be no secrets at all, that all information be admissible in court, that every bag be searched at the airport… No-one should have anything to hide – certainly not any Middle Eastern looking Brazilians on the tube….

These parallel information obsessions (archive/security; interpretation/interrogation) amount to what I’ll call the hermeneutics of anxiety. Isn’t it the case that worrying about the known unknowns has reinvigorated scholarship and vibrant debates about non-representation, cognitive systems, archives and code? And is this, not insignificantly, aligned to the homeland security demand to know the whole story, as most clearly and viciously enacted in the endless banality of the interrogation cells at Guantanamo.

The trouble with combating stereotypes is that they continue to bounce back up at you the more you knock them down. The suicide rapper (Aki Aki Aki, ) is not enough to counter the ideological hegemony of the spinsters; but what is? What is adequate to win, where the stereotype and the demon are known knowns, deployed knowingly as objects of paranoia, as necessary targets of a fear that binds the nation (I mean here Eurasia, Oceania, etc., those blocs Orwell had described in the nightmare of 84).

Ubiquitous digispeak. Ubik. Tokyo July 16.

[Photo by Naoko Sakurai]

And it was still raining…

Heaven and Earth

Once more in Shimokitazawa, where there is a small 5th floor club called Heaven & Earth, and where, after dancing sweaty hot electro and hip hop all night (and gospel for Charlie K), you can sit on the balcony as the typhoon rolls in over Tokyo and then you can get noddles on the way home with the salary men on their way to work. Its my favourite hedoistic hideaway adn always a lot lot lot of fun. Feel lucky to land there (another planet).

But it was not all play – I did at least do a little bit of a presentation for Tech/Animation (and sang) before the all night mad dancing come split level mutli-sited chaos-relief from the rigours of the TCS conference and reception (after Kittler’s talk) and much jet lag come self-induced sleeplessness took over. Walking home an epiphany about the styles of writing, and pleasure at meeting new comrades, getting gift books (“Culture on Drugs” looks good [Dave Boothroyd, MUP 2006] – and I was only just before taking notes on Freud’s guilt about the fate of Max von Flieschl-Marxow…).

Hence the rather subdued interventions at the conference today, but probably that’s probably good thing eh. Probably it was raucous enough as it was, this ubiquitous media routine. Jeremy Gilbert on Steigler tomorrow, in the presence of the man hisself, should be better.

Many thanks to Toshiya for organising (pic 1) and to the enthusiasts who turned up for the second year in a row (i am overwhelmed – pic 2) and to Midnight Snacks (here somewhat obscured, except for t-shirt slogan, in pic number 3).

And it was a fine thing that there were a good number of Goldsmiths CCS and associates in the crowd, and various other digniied (and as the night wore on elegantly un-dignified) peoples, and lots of very fine sounds, people willing to talk endlessly about interesting projects (Tokyo pirate radio post soon; anmation special; and perhaps reviews of Ian Condry and Dave B’s books – though probably just shout outs as they look quite good and don’t need to be trashed by me: “shortcircuiting the exasperating detourof communication” [Boothroyd 2006:47]). On the whole a fun nght had by all. But as a consequence, I’m skipping tonight’s visit with SL to La Jetee’ cafe-bar (sumimasen Chris Marker).

Some of this may seem a tad cryptic. When the jet lag subsides I may turn this diary entry into more proper commentary.

Indian curry powder – theory of translation

I am first of all against translation as it is mad, its impossible, it cannot ever be true to origins, its a kind of violence, it is always political, it transforms, it is creative, it is heroic to try, it is the essence of communicability, it is exchange, it disrupts parochialism, it is the foundation of internationalism, it is what we all should be trying to do, it is the most revolutionary activity, it is social, it is life itself, I am for it. [Thanks Kaori for trinkets from Japan].

NIMB – Shimokitazawa

Not in my backyard used to be the somewhat mocking slogan attributed to (but rarely adopted by) suburbanites and urban yuppies who were opposed to developments like, I dunno, the inner Sydney airport runway; the relocation of some prison/asylum/shopping centre; the technopolisation of some research and development Project. NIMBY protests then seemed to fade off my radar a little, except in England where asylum centres raised the same sort of vigilante hackles as did paedophiles or such like. Clearly the spectrum of anti-development and urban cleansing projects is wide and diverse, but the opposition limited and often cack-handed. [sorry, not a technical term, but you will know what I mean]. I do have a certain nostalgia for some of the more creative adventures that belonged to Left-wing versions of such NIMBy sentiments – protests by anarchists against urban yuppie fortress home renovations (anti-new architecture by any other name – it as funny to see things trashed with style) and the Reclaim the Streets actions when they transformed the city into a wild disruptive – no-sign-of-them-going-home-soon party zone (this was before 24 hour inner-city O’Neil’s style yob club/pubs took over the high streets, and before RTS became just a friday bike ride…). Something has faded for mine, since back then – oh nostalgia for the g.o. days – Reclaim the Streets used to be especially critical when they linked up with the Liverpool Dockers. I remember particularly how hard the Police thugs cracked down on that pointedly political alliance when it began.

So, I am keen to follow the campaign that’s emerged in Tokyo to save the playground of the trendiest of youth culture club scene creative types. Shimokitizawa is a place where I had the good fortune to be often invited several years back when I was Visiting Prof at Nagoya City Uni, and more recently last April I gave a big talk in a crowded club that had bizarrely stopped to discuss hip hop, politics and the war on terror. Strangely fluid simultaneous translation in Japanese by my good friends Toshiya Ueno and Yoshitaka Mouri, and a dynamic debate that was electric, critical, engaging and went on long past the alloted time – then a TRON type race across the city in Toshiya’s manga-style sports car. So I’d found it more than ironic that, at the talk, people in the audience brought up the plan to ‘redevelop’ the very area we were in by running a huge motorway through the centre of the suburb. I’d heard such things before – thought it was another tribal-youth type NIMBy concern, but was surprised to hear of a raft of RTS type actions in planning; plenty of energy amongst the activist set… (though there are other parts of Tokyo I also enjoyed – peculiar little bars left over somehow from the 40s, 50s, 60s – they are not in the way of a highway [yet]).

Today the campaign has hit the front page of the New York Times. Check it out. In the absence of much else newsworthy, I am pleased to see this make a splash, and hope it translates to renewed RTS-enthusiasm that can aslo plumb the activism of the old Tokyo airport campaign and the like. Something to learn, I still think there is much good to be said for what happened in the Anti-roads and Reclaim the Streets UK protests in the mid 1990s, even if they were reclaimed for capital in the end – for that I blame in part the opportunist prat George Moonbot, speaking this week at the Conservative Party conference where he and his Guardian reading friends belong. For insight into those times, check early issues of Aufheben on the Criminal Justice Act and Anti-Roads.

I will shop till you drop

Its grey and drizzling in Nagoya but there is no way that the Sakura is going to disappoint. Where is the umeshu? The best thing – many agree, I would guess, after my first visit here in April three years ago – is to drink umeshu while admiring the blossoms, but I prefer Sapporo beer, onegaishimasu.

Anyway, I am giving a talk on monday in Tokyo, and its to be streamed live on the net (no, I do not yet know the url, and anyway it will still be trinketised waffle in Japanese translation).

Before that, a few hours in the trinket paradise of Osu – the covered markets south of Sakai – where the bargain buys are wonderously mad nick nacks and monster Manekinekkos (is that how you pluralise the waving cat?) . Souvenirs, the stock in trade of tourism, the detritus of the world, made ironically relevant by referencing in films (Chris Marker) and exotica bookshops in galleries that, well, ought to know better. Maybe there should be a global repatriation of trinkets? All those cobwebbed attics full of kitsch ought to be seen, or better yet, returned to point of sale so the poor bastards that had to make the junk in some sweatshop someplace could resell the things all over. The craze for the obsolete and the curio is never going to achieve a cash-in that would redistribute the wealth of those that tour to those that are toured, but maybe there is good reason to make it compulsory for folks to angst just a little about who had to make all that shit. When all is said and done, my purchase of a few bits of cloth and the occasional dippy ornament is not as compromised, for mine, as the organised christmas catalogues of gifts paraded by charity outfits like Oxfam and the like.

I guess its easter (which passes unmentioned here thank Elmo), so is today an ok time to trash the dubious moralism that makes it seem legitimate to salve your conscience by buying official oxfam merchandise? I mean, why is it ok to ‘give’ gifts from charity outfits – just because some alt-bureaucrat type somewhere funds a social programme with a tiny portion of the organisation’s operating costs, and we overlook the mass production of the very goods in the catalogues that keep alibi’d consciences in clover (has anyone seen the accounts on this?) . Charity is not a fight for a substantial kind of change now is it? In the absence of a redistribution programme that can win, there seems no reason to prefer charity products over other mass produced gunk – the sort of stuff we amass on that other god-bothering festival day they have in December (to teach kids to love capitalism)? I know, I know, its sweet to give things, but a sweatshop job is still a boring sweatshop no matter how much the god-bothering rebranding turns commercialism into ethical trading. I guess that should be ethNical trading, eh?

Therefore, hypocrital as ever, I am off to the shops (actually, to buy a cowboy belt in one of those great Tex-Mex-Nippon stores, then for Korean b-b-q cos believe it or not I’m fed up with sashimi).

(pic by Miya – great navigator of Edo ‘posts’)

Turning Japanese – I really think so – dada da-da da da

Kaori Sugishita has a commentary on Japanese anthropology in the New Encyclopaedia Project (NEP) about to come out from TCS/Sage (my part is here, NEP has had a run in Tokyo – here – and in Singapore – here – among other places). In the meantime I started looking though an old file of photocopies I’ve been keeping on anthropology of Japan. Also provoked to do so by the recent visit of Rupert Cox to Goldsmiths, and the impending arrival of Michael Richardson, scholar of surrealism on monday. All in all it amounts to me feeling far too lazy and guilty about having neglected my language texts – watashi wa nihongo ga wakarimasen. [I think that’s correct – there are better versions to learn – thanks Jen – but that would be cheating, and I better hit the books myself]. Anyway, anth in Japan had its own ‘turn’ to politics and deserves a feature in the jungle book I’m writing.

So I start to look over the texts… In the disciplines that study difference there is a memory of empire preserved in a way that should cause concern. It is not without significance that Tomiyama, in an excellent discussion of Japanese anthropology for example, has noted that the a critique of the uses of ‘scientific research’ by Japanese imperialism sets up a distinction between academia and its applications that reduces the domain of the political, and alibis academics vis a vis colonialism. He writes: ‘What needs to be questioned is the academic discourse that analyses cultural differences included within the empire’ (Tomiyama 1995:369). The lesson may have to do with wartime Japan, but a reverse export to the case of European imperialism is equally useful.

‘… medical discourse was also an anthropological discourse that constructed the
“islanders” from a variety of signs. From the signs of an “abnormal” sexuality or an “unclean” diet, the islanders were constituted as diseased … The romantic “native woman” … no longer appears … All that is left is a thoroughly scrutinised sexual practice seen as “perversity”, viewed by a pathological gaze … [which] … could also be found in discourses related to labour proficiency, discussed in the terms of colonial administration studies and labour sciences. In these sciences, the native view of work was observed and theorised as the source of the low labour capacity of the people of the South Sea Islands. The peoples’ activities, put under observation, were constituted as an “indolent” native culture … At that point, the epistemological narrative of “What are they?” and the practical narrative of “What do we do to them?” adhered together, much as they do in the doctor who both observes the source of infection and also considers ways to heal the patient’ (Tomiyama 1995:380-1)

Tomiyama proposes we call the islanders ‘patient-islanders’ from this point on. But the consequence of the above moves, of course, meant forced labour – and in this the critique of Japanese colonialism should not be missed for its significant parallel lessons for the European cases.It is interesting then that Tomiyama notes that religious movements against forced labour, and against the logic that saw the Islanders as “indolent”, were also observed by the Japanese. In the Palau Islands one such movement was called Modekngei, reported as a major uprising (Tomiyama 1995:382) and insofar as this did not fit with the model of indolence, was understood as clearly a ‘deviation’ from the ‘islanders’ original native culture, attributable, in the argument of Sugiura Ken’ichi, to the influence of outside religions and political manipulations (in Tomiyama 1995:382).

The theme of the Lazy wakes us up to politics once again. And why do TV people keep ringing me up wanting to do exoticist documentaries on the former, not the latter? I am/am not looking for the languid.

Ref: Tomiyama Ichirð 1995 ‘Colonialism and the Sciences of the Tropical Zone: the Academic Analysis of Difference in ‘the Island Peoples’ Positions 3(2):367-391.
See also his “On Becoming ‘a Japanese'” here.