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<nettime> Japanese Techno-tribe Intellectuals in 30s
Toshiya Ueno on Mon, 28 Sep 1998 00:09:35 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> Japanese Techno-tribe Intellectuals in 30s


Japanese Techno-tribe-Intellectual in 30's Lecture at Hybrid Workspace,
Documenta X, Kassel, september 1997 By Toshiya Ueno

I suppose that it was during early 80's that the term 'appropriation'
began to be used frequently. Probably the thinker and critics around the New
York art/theory magazine "October" began to use the word in the context of 
contemporary art. If I would put example of art, there were the currents of 
Neo-geo and Simulationism. Generally speaking, in the context of art and
subculture, there are a lots of techniques and methodologies concerning
appropriation--for example, citing, quoting, collage, bricolage, cut'n'
mix, simulation, etc. But what is imporatnt for us by using this term is
that we can be very conscious and sensitive about the political-economical
implication in this words. As I've already explained, appropriation is
related to economic exploitation and spatial seizing. 

The frontier and fields as object for cultural appropriation are spreading
in global world. One can cite, simulate, appropriate any cultural elements
wheater it is music, visual arts, pop icon, animation, or a whole
subculture. Especially since Meiji periode, Japan has so far strongly
developed appropriation of theories, (sub)cultures, life-styles, etc. As
once Roland Barthes said, Japan is the empire of sign, rather than, now
Japan is colony of appropriation. By saying so, those who are very
opportunistic and sometimes conservative like to confirm and emphasize
that originally Japan has been post-modern territory. In eclecticism and
syncretism, the things and also cultural elements drawn, applied, and
adopted from numerous cultures and modes have seen as original cultural
tactics of Japan. But of course this idea is completly reactionary and
ideological. In fact from 30's to early 40's there were discussions
on "Overcoming Modernity" (Kindai no Tyoukoku) in which many Japanese
intellectuals committed and shared such ideological visions to authorize
or even legitimize ideologically the colonialism against another Asian
countries and regions. And it is really suprising that there are still
some critics and thoreticians who described Japan as empire of postmodern. 
I think it is new version of discourse of imperialism or colonialism. 

However I don't wish to play the role of "native informant". Though I
would refer to one Japanese intellectual in 30's, I don't want to
overestimate the importance and the precedence of Japanese philosphy or
art at all. Rather than that, I would like locate one intellecual in the
30's in Japan within the global and actual context. (This is also
"retro-perspective" against current reactionairy situation)

Nakai was born in 1901 in Hiroshima. He studied philosophy and aesthetic
theory at Kyoto University. In those days, Kyoto University had many
influential scholars and philosophers (they are still influential for
Japanese intellectuals). Actually he was also one of students of Kitaro
Nishida, who was Japanese-buddhism hybrid Hegelian and committed to
imperialistic or facist policy in 30's through his theoretical works. (It
reminds me of the connection with Heidegger's Nazi commitment). Of course 
there were other important thinkers there, but that is another story. I 
would exclusively focus on Nakai's thinking by dealing with his theory and
practices as such. Nakai was a leftist. But he was not dogmatic Marxist
because of his philosophical background based on the philosophy of
Heidegger and E. Cassirer (which is also a funny combination because both
philosophers didn't like each other theoretically, politically, or even
personally.) During early 30's, in the age of imperialism and facism,
Nakai committed to anti-facism movements in Kyoto. In the occasion that
some of scholars were expelled from university, Nakai became one of
organizers for movement resisting such control and repression to university 
done by state power.

>From the current point of view, Nakai seems to be a sort of media activist.
On the one hand, he was philosopher and aesthetician, on the other hand, he
published several journals and zines for their cultural political movement
as editor. The title of their zines are quite interesting for us, one was
titled "Beauty/Criticism" (Bi/Hihyou), and another one was called "Global
Culture" or just "World Culture" (Sekai Bunka). Especially "Global
Culture" was the node of gathering groupe of radical intelecutuals
concerning art, philosophy, literature critics, history and science. This
group used tactics similar to "popular front" in French in those day. 
And their style of movement or activism are quite interesting for us
because their activity were not so much militant but they used various
media and spaces in a very actual way. (That is why I called him media
activist). Nakai and his colleagues had another small journal whose name
was "Saturday" appropriated from French magazine "Friday". They organized
the "cafe-movement" in Kyoto in middle 30's in which they were enjoying
discussion and dancing and screening films. Of course, as you may know, in
Europian society, the cafe has been the proto-model of the public sphere
in the modernaization. But historically speaking, Japanese society has
not had public sphere in the sense of Europian society and still doesn't
have it, so that it is very rare case that leftists and activists were
using cafe as tactical tool and space for organizing their movement. They
called this activity " Cafe-movement" (Kissaten-Undou), in which they
invented project of the publishing and editing magazine, made 8mm
experimantal independent films and also organized political meetings. At
that time it was already impossible to have political manifestations or
demonstrations on the streets and squares in Japan. For them, the cafe was
a workspace for plural media and a sort of "temporary autonomous zone" 
which could always appear and then already could be vanishing without
being caught by any instituitions or systems. I've seen several films made
by their groupe. Their style was deeply inspired by Dziga Vertov,
Eisenstein, Walter Luttman, Moholy Nagi, etc, and they appropriated these
method into their pieces. Nakai's theory was also inflenced by montage
theory or documentalism in films and Bauhaus and Neuesachalichkeit in art. 
For them, the filmmaking was not pure artistic work as well as their
publishing and cafe-movement were also not just editing, writing and
meetings. When they were screening their films they played record player
as to listen jazz music. Or when they had outdoor picnic party in the
natural landscape (it reminds me of outside rave party in Techno), having
always dancing, they made also a film featuring it. But in 1937 he was
arrested by the political service and lost the post of lecturer in Kyoto
University. He was sent to prison and, consequently, could not publish 
the zine any more. The group and their autonomy was completely destroyed
by state. But it is important that their movements were totally developing
cultural politics which located completely opposite side of the culture
for the politics.  Even after he was released from prison, the imperial war
still going on, so he could not write or publish his articles, or even
work in his preferred style. He had no choice but to write essays in the way
which he didn't like. Moreover, sometimes he had to write unpleasant
contents or use complicated rhetoric to avoid to be arrested again. He
could never call himself leftist or dissident in those days. In certain
sense he succumed to conservative politics. In Japan such kind of the
effect of repression on intellectuals is called the "political conversion"
(Tenkou). It is said that Nakai also had the political conversion because,
after he was arrested, he began to write article about Japan analyzing the
originality of Japanese culture. Later I would like to mention this topic
again. After the Second World War, he went back to his hometown Onomichi,
and there he began to teach philosophy and art theory for ordinary people
in this town. He just entered in the enlightenment and educational
movement as one of process of modernization. At glance it was not
political one any more but for him, it was still and at the very least a
cultural politics. Actually, he later ran in election for Hiroshima
prefecture from letist side (he was defeated). And in 1950 he became the
vice president of National Library and published several works about art
and philosophy. He died in 1952. Although he could not see the tremendous
effects of electronic media and new kinds of technology, his discourse and
his activity is said to be already a media theory, also concerning with
media activism. Because in a way, he was first media thoretician who also
tried to use media (film, space, magazines) in an alternative way by
himself. 

Nakai already set forth his definition of beauty in his 1936 lecture "The
Aesthetic of Transformative Age." There, he defined beauty as the drift 
from the self. But in this context, the self is not restricted to the 
personal and psychological self; it could also be collective and
technological one. Nakai was crazy about sports: he loved to play rugby
and boating. He was a good spectator and observer and at same time player 
of sports. In the 30's he wrote and published several articles about sports. 
He emphasized the concept of 'form' in any kind of sports. But form doesn't 
come from, nor is it forced from, outside. Form can always be located in 
itself. In playing and enjoying sports, swimming, running, whatever, the 
body is not necessarily controlled by mind. The form could come and occur 
from body itself spontaneously.

And sometimes it could happen that in sports you can naturally achieve
some forms which you could not do before. If you don't have clear image of
form in your mind, you can do it unconsciously, without intention to do
it. It is not special experience in body exercise. But Nakai sees
carefully this logic. In sports the active and the passive are mutual and
interactive. Just as the perfect design of machine or buildings based on
function without any facade can constitite the beauty of machine, the
body and the nature also, if abondoned whole intention can put a sort of
the beauty of technology. By referring to Kant's _The Critique of Judgment_, 
Nakai thought that Form in sports came from the technology of Nature 
(Technik der Natur). According to Kant, it meant that the rational
law of Reason is being inside object, not in subject. In turn it also
meant that it is possible to find out the 'technology' in nature itself. In
his argument of this "technology of nature" is mediator between theory
and practice, subject and object. For Nakai loving the paradox put by
Oscar Wilde that "Nature imitates art", the beauty of technology and the
beauty of machines had close relation with the beauty of nature. He
mentioned also Oskar Schlemmer's mechanical ballet to explain this
bio-morph and living form. In that way he described generating form. He
said "Though it (living form) is infinitely one's own movement, it seems
to be drifting into something other. Doing is just done. The self drifts
in the other".

He called this situation "the space of hyper phenomenon" in which the
action itself can become subject and the form can be subtracted from
antagonism with others. But he thought that only in that situation,
the practical subject take place in becoming. "The form is the
self-producing mapping schema and the technology behind under the ghost
of human and fighting spirit elaborated by nature". This definition of
form is not based on mysticism at all but rather than, is similar to the
logic of auto-poeisis or self-organization in the recent natural science.
Anyway for Nakai, sports were an interaction between the "order having
desire" and the "desire having order" so that he analyzed the heterogenous
concepts like nature, technology, spirit and machine on the same field and
context. Once sports based on personal skill and individual factor but
modern sports are different from ancient or old one, which try to  
organize people in forms and formations. Sports have been developed from
power of individual to tight organization, from the fall of the hero (in
modern age) into the organisation. That is why Nakai stressed the close 
relationship between sports and socie ty itself. In fact, sports have 
contributed to construction of nation-state as discipline for the
body of people and become the model of collectivity. "To put something in
the formation" is most important key concept for Nakai. He thought the
social organization on the same horizon of information. Of course this
thinking has similar phase to mobilization of facism. Especially on the
one hand, it is apparent that his interesting into technology and
machines (battleship, aircraft, dynamo, etc.) has same sturucture within
futurist and pro-fascist. But, on the other hand, he emphasized that the
singular movement and the form of body could make effect and change
virtually the form and formation of society and collectivity. Namely, he
see there is transversality between individual body and collective
body (and also identity). For Nakai, all the organization take place as
the self-movement (auto-movement) and is not directed by external forces.
This self-movement comes from, and is overcoming of, the antagonism within
any organism itself, not reactive opposition to external power. His
arguments are totally diferent from the social organic theory or the
bio-policy of mobilization of bodies within the fascist regime. Instead,
in inextricably commiting with the political situation of 30's, he was
desperately elaborating the new type of formation and solidarity. 

To interpret the concept of the form in Nakai's phlosophy, I have already
used the terms, the information. It is not coincidence but it has just
the very meaning of the media information. Actually not only did Nakai 
make films but also he analyzed media and information in a contemporary 
way. His arguments concerning films and photography are so close to the 
media theory of Walter Benjamin. They were contemporaries, and both
proposed many interesting theses in a similar way of thinking. I would
examine some points they might share with each other. First, Nakai
emphasized the effect of shock that technology or machine could cause to
the human body and mentalility, within which new technology in each age
or era has influenced human sensibility and their perceptions, so as to
make possible new expressive cultures which have not ever exsited before.
For example, a huge battleship, high-speed train, gigantic building,
these modern machines and the technologies were felt as object of fear,
shock, anxiety from the gaze of people who had never seen such a new
products. There could be a sort of the sublime effect just as, in past,
people felt the sublime feeling by seeing a huge power or dynamism of the
Nature. In modern age, the Techno-sublime has been found, which, in a
certain sense, might be the sublime of the Artificial Nature. Nakai
was very conscious about this problem, as Benjamin was in his works.
Second, Nakai remarked the importance of the activity of audiences and its
collectivity in modern communication technologies like film. According to
his analysis of film, film art doesn't have a "copula" in general,
which means articulation "being" in a passage like A is B, being pretty
different from the literature and theater play which have "copula"
articlation. Audiences and recipients of film art have to fill "copula"
into the gap between one scene and another by themselves. As new media in
early 20th-C, the film needed the active perception and to be seen by
collective audiences. And at the same time, the film is always seen by
crowds or many people, and the film itself is always made and producted
by many man or plural commities. Activity and collectivity of subject of
gaze is a basis of film art. By seeing film, audiences have to participate
in the effects of montage and locate themselves in productive commities 
(collectivity) that make films. There will be interesting comparison
between film technology and electronic technology. But what is crucial
for us is that electronic technology does not suddenly get the phase of
interactivity, and the interactive collective subject of art has had its
own pre-history. In that sense, the 30's is still important decade for us.  
We should also note that Benjamin also recognized the importance of activity 
of audiences and he used almost same term, communities, collectivity, etc. 

Third, all technologies and machines have their own rhythm by which human 
are caught and thrown into the formation and the organization of technology. 
But there also could be some correspondence and interaction between man and
machine. The rhythm is not only in machine but it could be generated
through plural rhythms from both man and machine. One rhythm can be
overrlapping into another one and can change another rhythm. Human subjects
cannot control this rhythm, but instead subject is constituted by
differential of several rythms. Nakai explained even the historical
process as difference of plural rhythms. It reminds me the explanation about
the Brechtian way of playing according to Benjamin, in which he proposed the 
concept of interruption of the historical rhythm. 

For Nakai, human subject and collective subject (community, council,
committee, social body) has a similar structure.  I examined how the
self-movement of form can take place spontaneously--but where does movement
come from? His thinking about the drift from self which is self-movement
had already the idea and concept of unconsciousness. In other words, he
affirmed that in human subject, there were some splitting and layers by
which self-movement in form was driven. Nakai rejected the view that
subject of consciousness is substance, instead he tried to interpret the
subject as functional relations which had some stages. For a hypothesis, he
used the concept of "project mapping" or "shadow mapping" drawn from
mathematics. According to him, body and subject are space of mirror in
which all informational elements (image,sound, taste...) interact.

(1) Direct mapping which is just biological reflex action, and
    this is under consciousness.

(2) supermapping which means consciousness and reflexion in normal sense,
    but this is inflected and overdeterminated by ideology.

(3) basic mapping which is simulaion(or copie) of the stock of repressed 
    and images and is very close to the Freudian unconscious. Given that 
    it is related to repressed desire, this concept is useful for critism 
    against ideology.
 
Anyway, Nakai proposed such spilitting and gap between some layers in
human subject. The drift from self, which he defined as beauty, is
interaction and interrelation within these three stages. It is this
distance of subject from itself that new technology and machine can
create the new perceptual spaces. Technology can make new perceptions and
changing map of human sense. But his thinking was not determinism of
technology. One can refer to his argument about community and committee, 
so it it fairly easy to see that he is not a strict determinist.

The article _ Logic of Committee_ was written and published in 1936 (the
same year in which Benjamin's famous article _The Work of Art in the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction_ was published). The concept "Committee" which he 
uses is closely related to council socialism. In this article, Nakai looks
retrospectively back to historical mutual relationship between means of 
legalistic communication and the space elaborated by it. He presented three 
phases in its logic structure. 

The first is "the logic of speach," which is oral communication and
persuasive logic. This logic supposes space like square in ancient Greek
politics as its corresponding social structure. The second is "the logic
of writing," which is meditation and manipulation of idea. The model of
this communication is the space like a medieval church;it depends upon
individual philosophical thinking. For social structure, feudalism fits
into this logic. The third is "the logic of printing," which is logic of
exprience in print publishing. This logic is developed in production and
technology. The dispersion and distribution of print media caused by
developing of transport and commerce system can change the meaning of
past meditation. The individual meditation is expanded to social space. 

>From these distinctions, the argument of McLuhan and Ong concerning media
comes to mind. Actually, in another article, Nakai had already added the
fourth logic, which is "the logic of electronic". So it is very clear that
his motivation of thinking is going toward media theory. Among each
stages, there are gaps and contradictions in which a new stage can be
set and put new space which had not existed before. The emergence of new
logic needs the fall down of old institution and recomposition of media
and space. "The logic of committee" is the logic of articulation and
mediation within the passage from one stage to the other. How does this
logic articulate each stage of communication? It bases on lying. Nakai
distinguishes belief and insistence. Belief is just thinking inside self 
and identity. But to insist is to elaborate discourse and argument outside
the subject, toward others. When subjects would become practical and go 
beyond individual ego, subjects might be splitting and have duplicity. A
statement that can be told in a situation is not necessary af firmed in
another situation. Sometimes one cannot speak and insist opinion without
lying or rhetoric. And then lying could be politcal act, not political 
conversion or defeat.

This logic of lying is the logic of translation. So many lies contributed
to the progression of science and society. Galileo, Decartes, and Kant
could not write as they liked, and could not make statement as they want to
do. They have chose another tactical expression. And this type of lying
is basis of dialogic or communication and generator of community. For
intellectuals in 30's like Nakai, political conversion was a sort of 
survival technic and rhetoric. Generally, Tenkou meant political conversion
forced by state police in Japanese society 1930's. It points mainly the
conversion of Leftist to right-wing or conservative. But by this
lying (the guise and camoflauge of political turn), one can maintain one's
own political thinking and policy. In his provocative lecture at Kunsthalle 
for 100 days lecture, Geert Lovink used the term UTO (unidentified theoretical 
objects) to position virtual intellectual. I think that the logic of lying or
rhetoric is the tactics to become a UTO in some political context. It is
obvious that we need such a kind of logic to make connection or community
in the net or in the global context. I think that on the web, in mailing
lists and groupware, this "logic of committee" and tactics of lying for
dialogic have still crucial function. Nakai was a person who lived in
the pre-electronic age but he already imaged the model of tele-communication. 
In _Introduction of Aesthetic thory_(1952), he posed library or information 
center as committee and collective subject in future. He said that through 
organization of information node, various elements that were separated in 
each disiplines and science of past theory will be collected together in one 
as gigantic ghost. And he supposed that the library and the archive will 
change from authoritarian architecture to machinic library like factory or 
department store, and in future this library will become memory bank of 
gigantic artificial man to collect the data of global culture. Actually 
he has already imaged a sort of database and network system by thinking 
about "the logic of committee".  His idea and image of future library and 
information center is quite interesting for us. 

As a conclusion, I would mention Nakai's "Return to Japan" here.  As
many intellectuals did in 30's, Nakai also emphasized the originality and
singularity of Japanese culture. He estimated and loved very much
traditional Japanese culture. One can say that he also had the turn into
Japan by having political conversion. But it should not be forgotten that
the tactic of lying functions in his discourse. He defined the aesthetic of 
Japan as drifting, exodus, breakthrough from somewhere. He presented many 
examples that Japanese aesthetic has depended on traveling, exile and 
dispersion. Basho, Saigyo, a lot of poets and artists made their own 
work by having traveled. It easy to translate these spatial moving to
"in-between", "Ma" and one can see the importance of void and emptiness
within Japanese cultures. But I'm very skeptical about those way of
thinking, because these singular aspects in Japanese cultrue have discovered
red and invented through discourse of foreign thinkers like Bruno Taut, Le
Corbusier referring Japanese traditional architectures. Nakai was very
sensitive and serious about it. He recognized very clearly that his
discourse about Japanese culture and beauty has been constructed by
Euro-Western discourse. In other words, the beauty of Japanese aesthetics
that he proposed was elaborated and described by Western theory in a 
global context. This is not unconcious eclecticism, or merely juxtapositions, 
but tactical syncretism. That is why the "Japan" that he put was already 
a hybrid construction. Nakai did not suppose the singularity of Japan in 
trans-historic substance but founded in some movements or dynamism. This 
drifting from the self also had intensive relationship with current 
technology. He invented and discovered "illusory Japan" as effect of 
discourses and from theoretical and political drifting. On the one hand, he 
might be caught in the ideology of techno-orientalism, on the other hand, 
he was a pioneer of the critique against such type of discourse. He loved 
sports, popular music, films, machines and new technology in general, with 
its rhythms and vibrations and subcultures. He imagined a new type of 
communication with a style of committee or council. In that sense, I would 
like to call him "Techno-tribe-intellectual". His importance lies not only 
in 30's but also in our global information age and society. 
---
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