This. Almost buried in Anna Tsing’s book of mushrooming (“The Mushroom at the end of the world: on the possibility of life in capitalist ruins” 2015 Princeton), a brilliant project that must be so fun.
This. Almost buried in Anna Tsing’s book of mushrooming (“The Mushroom at the end of the world: on the possibility of life in capitalist ruins” 2015 Princeton), a brilliant project that must be so fun.
http://www.eventbrite.com/event/2154622534 (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.
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.
I’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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.