Friday, February 3, 2017

『精神の鏡、知識の地図』の和訳について

コリングウッドの『精神の鏡、知識の地図』を訳して1年あまりが経った。訳が完了した直後は、もうこの作品は二度と読む必要がないだろうといううんざり感と、コリングウッドの原文に比べ自分の訳文はなんて稚拙なんだろう、なんて下手なんだろうという劣等感を感じていた。

しかし、今日、ひょんなことで久しぶりに「プロローグ」と「科学」の章を読み返してみると、「そこまで悪くないじゃん」という気持ちが湧きあがってきた。こんなことは滅多に起こらない―というより、自分の訳文が優れていると感じたのは恐らくこれが初めてのことだ。良い仕事ができたと感じることができて素直に嬉しい。

思うに、私が知る限り、コリングウッドは哲学史上随一の名文家である。『精神の鏡』の日本語版は、たしかに他の哲学書と比べて格段に読みやすいかもしれないが、残念ながらコリングウッドの流れるような英語原文にはまだまだ到底及ばない。

哲学が日本語に訳された途端にちんぷんかんぷんになってしまうのには歴史的な理由がある。これは相当乗り越えるのが難しい理由で、ちんぷんかんぷんな哲学和訳書を世に出してしまったあまたの翻訳家たちは、何もわざとわかりにくい言葉を並べて読者を苦しめようとしているわけではないのである。どんなに善意をこめて訳をしても、よほどの労力と時間を訳につぎ込まない限り、哲学書というのは自然な日本語文に容易には訳し得ない。

もともと、西洋哲学は開国と同時期に日本に入ってきた。当時の日本の学者たちは、日本の仏教由来のものを「思想」と呼び、西洋から来たものである「哲学」と厳密に区別した。これは恣意的な判断ではなく、政治的な判断であった―つまり、当時の日本の政府は、意図的に日本の伝統と西洋の伝統とを区別するよう学者たちに指示を出したのであった。

それ以来、日本の「思想」における言葉遣いと、西洋の「哲学」における日本語との間には大きな溝が生まれ、この溝は時が経つにつれてどんどん深まっていった。つまり、時が経つにつれて、学者たちはより多くの西洋哲学書を訳すためにより多くの造語を開発し、原著を読んで理解した人にしか理解しえないような言葉に依存するようになったのである。

現在、日本の「思想・哲学」界では、二つの立場がある。

1.片一方では、「日本語の哲学」を、つまり「自然な日本語」に本来内蔵されている概念を生かした哲学が主流となるべきだ、という考え方である。これは、たとえば「もの」や「こと」、「もののあはれ」や「わびさび」、「いき」といった言葉を主軸にした考察を指す。この立場には明らかに多くの問題が存在するが、少なくともこの立場をとる人は自分が日本語哲学主義者であるということを明示する場合がほとんどなので、ある意味話が進みやすい。

2.もう一方では、「哲学は西洋のものなのだから、和訳ではなく原著を読んで勉強するしかない」という立場がある。 これは厄介な立場である。というのも、自分は非日本語主義であると堂々と宣言する学者や批評家はほとんどいないからである。しかし、かれらの語りぶりや、論の進め方、また文体などをすべてまとめて眺めてみると、なるほどこの人は非日本語主義者で、はっきりと言ってはいなくても、哲学はドイツ語や英語、フランス語やギリシア語の原著を読んで勉強すべきなのだとこの人は信じているんだな、ということが明確になることがしばしばある。

この二つの立場をどちらも批判的に捉えなおして、第三の立場に進むのが肝心だと私は思う。

3.一方で、哲学は西洋のものであり、日本語に自然に内蔵しているものではない、ということはしっかりと認めよう。しかし、だからといって、西洋の言語だけが哲学にふさわしいなどという思い込みは捨てよう。そもそも、デカルトやヘーゲルだって、フランス語やラテン語、ドイツ語などに「自然に」内蔵された思想などというものは拒絶していた。近代哲学は懐疑を基礎として成り立っている―だとすると、己の母語が「自然に」己の考えを導くのだという状態は、哲学者にとっては我慢ならないものであるべきであろう。

母語のもつ「自然な」思想の流れに逆らいつつ、しかし万人が理解できるようなわかりやすくて滑らかな文章で哲学を展開することはできないものか―そう問いを立ててみると、日本語の場合特に、哲学書の和訳という分野が一つの戦場となる。つまり、内容的には普遍的な西洋哲学思想を、歴史上明らかに反哲学的になるよう仕向けられてきた言語である日本語で表現するのが翻訳家の仕事だからである。

始めに戻って、コリングウッドを訳してみて思うのは、特に『精神の鏡、知識の地図』では、日本語として無理のない形で西洋哲学思想をしっかり展開することができたという点である。なるほど、自画自賛にしか聞こえないかもしれないが、しかし良いものは良いと言うのが一番である。本書は哲学への入り口として優れた作品なので、哲学に興味のある方には、解説書ではなくこのような本物の哲学作品をぜひじっくり読んでいただきたいと思う。

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Name is a Choice

A name is a choice. Are you Taro or Tyrone? Taro will always be seen as Japanese, Tyrone always American. One person is not allowed to have two names - the person would split up if he or she tried to have both.

But maybe there is a third way? How will Tyrone relate to his own Japanese-ness, or Taro to his American-ness?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How to Renounce One's Ideals

For quite a while now, I haven't written anything coming from my own reason and heart. Days and weeks have been spent on fulfilling the needs of material subsistence and economic stability.

Hegel writes in his Philosophy of Spirit that that the passage from Youth to Adulthood consists in renouncing one's ideals and committing to a particular vocation. I think this renunciation is crucial, and the inability to do so testifies to the falsity of the ideal. For example, someone might have the ideal of living in a world where people didn't throw away garbage. Therefore, this person might choose to only buy organic products which are recyclable. However, in doing so, this person disavows the fact that such organic products require non-organic waste in the process of their production. The ideal itself is therefore problematic: it is materially impossible to live without producing garbage.

How, then, does the Young renounce the ideal in order to become an Adult?

All depends on the style of the renunciation. The worst possible case is to revert to a kind of cynical evil. Since my ideal has no effect on how things really are in the world, and since, as a particular being, I cannot but go against my ideal, it is simply pointless to try and do good in the world. Hence, I might as well become an egoist and a hedonist. The problem with this approach is that, although there is a formal shift from good to evil, the basic underlying standpoint of the person stays the same. That is to say, the person is still not reconciled with the world, but maintains an external and formal relation to it by a subjective shift which has no effect on how the world is. Just as the world does not care about the person's good intentions, so is the world indifferent to the same person's malice. A criminal will be thrown into jail, whether he or she willed to do good or evil.

A more rational approach is to think that the world already is, in a way, a realisation of an ideal. Or rather, the true realisation of one's ideal consists in seeing the necessary connection between that ideal and the way the world is. For example, while I cannot but help producing garbage even if I intend to avoid it on a personal level, my very attempt to avoid garbage determines the way in which the garbage is produced. Before, garbage was produced at the level of my individual consumption, whereas now, thanks to my ideal and my effort to realise it, the garbage is produced at the level of production. Although the struggle goes on, my ideal did change the nature of that struggle, not only in my subjective imagination but also in the actual social and material world.

I interpret Hegel's theory of maturity (if I may call it thus) in this latter way. That is to say, the Adult does not simply forget or discard his youthful ideals. Rather, an Adult holds these ideals in suspension in order to step into the struggles which are generated by his or her commitment to precisely the ideals. The Young intends to live in a garbageless world and, upon realising that his noble intentions are not producing the desired results, either stubbornly repeats his or her efforts to live garbage-free, or laments the evils of the world and curses other people, particularly the producers of garbage, for not sharing this ideal. The Adult, on the other hand, goes a step further by trying to enter into the actual struggle. Thus, the Adult steps into the factory in which compostable bags and renewable energy generators are being produced, and contributes to their production. This does not immediately lead to the realisation of the Young's ideal - in fact, it may even appear as a positive hindrance. However, this is due to the Youth's abstract standpoint. The Adult is in fact more rational, because he or she knows that the ideal requires his or her particular commitment to its opposite in order to have an effect on the world.

These considerations can easily be linked to the Morality chapter in the Phenomenology as well as the Morality chapter in the Philosophy of Right.

The upshot of this for my practical interests is this: I must maintain my ideal without despising those (including myself) who seemingly work against the ideal. For example, I subscribe to David Graeber's point that most jobs out there today are "bullshit jobs" - jobs which produce nothing essential to our well-being as human beings. I therefore think that an economic system which forces people to either go into poverty or work their heads off in the bullshit jobs is fundamentally wrong, both from an ethical as well as a more practical perspective. However, on the other hand, this does not mean that I should somehow despise or scourn those who do work in bullshit jobs. On the contrary, I must first reflect on how this ideal - the ideal of living in a society where people are guaranteed the right to survive without being coerced to engage in meaningless competition - informs the way these bullshit jobs actually function. Indeed, this ideal does form a "subterranean" movement within these jobs, and influences the way, say, managers evaluate the performance of their juniors, or what clients and customers expect such companies to deliver.

There might be a few naive and silly consumers who try to take advantage of workers working in bullshit jobs - and these exceptional people are to be taken seriously, for it is they who tend to climb up to positions of power. But this is a topic which requires a separate reflection from a different angle. Moreover, it is thanks to the foregoing that this class of exceptional egoists come into view in the first place.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Soul Market

The Soul Market

(An homage to Gogol)

In order to keep my body alive, I had no choice but to release my soul for sale on the soul market. The competition was intense. Five people with euros were on one side, and the rest, hundreds upon hundreds of empty souls, on the other. The former surveyed the crowd and sighed, and expressed their benevolence by confessing that they did not have enough euros to buy all of our souls at face value. So we could either choose to sell our souls at a price below their value, or else we had to select which soul was to be sold and which not. We were stuck – neither option appealed to us, as there were too many of us and we could not even have a constructive discussion, let alone reach an agreement.
      But then, one of the five euro owners raised his voice and gave us a third option. He told us that, if any of us would be willing to sell our souls at a quarter of their value, then they will accept the offer without any further scruples.
      A tremor went through the crowd. A quarter! That would hardly keep our bodies in healthy shape. I was surprised, therefore, to see a dozen or so of my brothers and sisters step forward and accept this proposition.
       “Why be so foolish?” I asked by neighbor.
     “Why, because it is better than nothing!” replied she, as if she were pointing out an elementary mathematical truth.
       She had a point. More and more people stepped forth to sign up for the quarter-a-soul deal. I could feel the nervousness that was intensifying amongst the rest of us left behind. The same euro owner lifted his megaphone and reminded us that their euros were running out fast, and that in fact there might not even be enough to buy all of our souls at the promised quarter price.
       “That is not fair!” cried the remaining souls. “You promised us!”
      “Circumstances change,” replied the euro owner. “It is beyond our power to control fate. Reality is reality. We did not lie to you at the time, only you took too long to make up your minds, and the opportunity passed. It really is as much your fault as mine.”
       After the outrage subsided, there was a resigned murmur of assent. Fate, indeed.
      “But here is the good news,” said the euro owner. “We are still able to pay a fifth of your original value, if you come forward now.”
      A number of the already sold souls turned around and congratulated themselves for sliding through the door just in time to get a better deal. Now these poor remaining creatures had to be content, not with a quarter, but a fifth! That was 20% less than what they themselves got. And if the remainder hesitated even longer, then, who knows, maybe they may have to give another, possibly higher discount!
      Some of us overheard these triumphant whispers. The tension was too much, and many of us, in a panic, gladly sold their souls at one fifth of their original value. The euro owners were happy.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Note

  • Nora's mother sang The Lass of Aughrim to James when he visited her house in Galway in 1909.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Concepts of Life and Death - Abortion, Genetic Modification of Humans, and Euthanasia

Both on the birth side and the death side, humans are increasingly forced to make difficult choices. The major three practices which need to be considered are:
  • Abortion
  • Genetic Modification of Humans
  • Euthanasia
The reason why these three practices are all very difficult to conceptualize is because traditional interpretations of what is natural, what is intentional, what is living, what is dead, etc. seem to break down when we get into the finer details.


1. Abortion

First, take abortion. A major argument against abortion runs something like the following. A zygote (or the embryo or the fetus) is no longer part of the mother's body, but is rather an independent living being. Now the zygote is an independent living human being. Therefore, abortion amounts to killing a human being. But killing a human being is immoral/illegal. Hence, abortion is immoral / ought to be illegal.

The key to this argument is the premise that the zygote is an independent living human being. Here again, the argument against abortion can be refined as follows. There is a continuity between the zygote and the baby who will eventually be born. For example, take the baby Adam. Adam, when born, will be said to be the same being as the zygote which he was 12 months ago. On the other hand, one would hesitate to say that Adam was the same being as the sperm or the egg prior to fertilization. Therefore, it is plausible to make the zygote as part of the definition of a human being, in this case Adam. Q. E. D.

The key premise in that argument is the intuition that the zygote-Adam and the baby-Adam are one and the same living human being. This is where I would like to recall the point I was making earlier, namely, that abortion, qua a decision concerning life and death, is very difficult to conceptualize via traditional means. At the moment, the identity between the zygote-Adam and the baby-Adam is based only on a vague intuition. But intuitions go wrong all the time. For example, the ancient Greeks thought that the heart was the seat of the soul because all humans died when they have lost their heart. The introduction of artificial hearts now allows us to see clearly that the human mind, and the mind's identity across time and space, are not necessarily conditioned by the identity of the heart. In the same way, it is more than plausible to anticipate a future where there is little to no ground to the claim that the zygote and the baby are one and the same living human being.

The example I just highlighted about the artificial heart leads to a deeper concern, however. At present, most people believe that the brain is the seat of the identity of one's mind across time and space. However, what if someone invents an artificial, replaceable brain in the future, and succeed in transplanting it onto a human being who manages the maintain his or her sense of identity across time and space? This would radically call into question the assumption that some part of our bodies is essential to the maintenance of our identity.

To come back to the main line of argument, what the above skeptical criticism highlights is the need to define what a "living human being" is without appealing to intuitions. This means that other, alternative definitions - such as the appeals to the "capacity to feel pain" or "the capacity to use and understand language" or "the capacity to think" - which appeal to intuition are at best suspended.

This in term means that arguments both for and against abortion are suspect of overstating their conclusions. The truth seems to be that at present there is no coherent concept of life and of a living human being that will serve as a premise for or against abortion. We do not know and we need to think philosophically, that is to say, without relying on intuitions as premises - this is the real conclusion.

The question remains, of course, as to what one ought to do when one is radically ignorant of the fact of the matter.


2. Genetic Modification of Humans

What was once considered a fantasy has become real, and it seems not too unreasonable to think that in the near future, genetic modification of humans will become possible. This is perhaps the least thought-through of the three practices which I have listed here. The first question is therefore extremely abstract and basic: what does it mean to genetically modify a human being?

One visceral reaction to the prospect of genetic modification of humans is to reject it out of hand as unethical and immoral. The argument here runs something like this. The genetic makeup of human beings are naturally determined. Therefore, to genetically modify a human being is to interfere with nature. Or, from a certain theological point of view, genetic modification might be seen as a human interference into God's design. In either case, the intention of nature or God is treated as an absolute good. Therefore, to tamper with that intention is bad or even evil. Hence, genetic modification of human beings is bad or evil.

The above argument can take on an intense emotional charge when it is accompanied by images from movies such as The Matrix or The Sixth Day. The idea here is that genetic modification of human beings is grotesque.

Now, it is obvious that the argument above is not convincing. Why is our genetic makeup part of nature or God's intention, while, say, the chemical compositions of various liquids or the number of animal species and trees in the world not? After all, no one objects to synthesizing new liquids or wiping out germs, harmful bacteria, and predatory insects and beasts. We even seem to permit cross-breeding of biological species as well as the creation of new chemical compounds which serve no particular purpose. Why suddenly this reaction when the practice in question is genetic modification?

The riddle deepens when we consider that the human beings who modify each others' genetic makeup are also part of nature or of God's design. What does it mean for nature or God to turn against itself? Does it even make sense to refer to the idea of nature or of God at this point?


3. Euthanasia

Of the three practices listed above, euthanasia is probably the most universally relevant at present. A majority of old people today must think and decide what to do when their bodies enter into certain conditions. Should I ask my family to let me die if I become brain dead as a result of some accident? What if I have cancer and would need my family members to go deeply into debt just to keep me alive? What about brain tumors? Heart attacks? Alzheimer's? Under what circumstances do I ask my family to keep me alive, and under what others do I ask them to let me go?

In recent years, there are additional, more tricky questions coming up. An old person might be perfectly healthy, yet lose the ability to keep on doing whatever he or she has been doing. Moreover, it might be the case that that something which he or she had been doing was essential to what he or she is. In other words, say an old person loses his or her vocation, and sees life as pointless. It seems as if living or dying makes no difference, and in fact other family members are secretly hoping that this person passes away soon - not because they do not love him or her, but purely because the whole thing has become so monotonous to the point where nobody can find any point in prolonging the same old cycle one more day or one more year.

In both cases, the first question to be asked is: what does it mean for a human being to die? The possibility of euthanasia suggests that death, at least for humans, is not a natural phenomenon. Death needs to be seen not as a disease but rather as the realization of a will. When Sam dies, it is not that something tragic called "death" happens to Sam. Rather, Sam wills to die.

But does not this way of talking equate all forms of death with suicide or homicide? In one sense, yes, it does, because here I am defining death as something which human beings, not nature, bring about. On the other hand, there is an obvious distinction to be made between suicide/homicide and other forms of death. How to make this distinction rigorously is a philosophical problem.

Another philosophical problem is how to conceptualize life in light of this new definition of death. If death is a result of human will, then life, also, is a decision to not die. In this way, another "natural" presupposition, namely that living is normal while dying is abnormal, is called into question. If one lives, then one also decides not to die. Hence, one decides to live. Here again, ideas of nature and of God are of little help in conceptualizing life and death. Moreover, a biological definition of life would not help either, since that, again, tacitly relies upon the idea of nature and sees human life as a natural phenomenon. The task of conceptualizing life and death as products of the human will is, therefore, another philosophical problem.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

An Essay on Art After Fukushima

Note: The following text was written in January, 2013. Grammatical errors and awkward phrases abound, but the substance of the argument is not totally rubbish.
 

Art in the Wake of the Quake

If there is a future in every past that is present
Quis est qui non novit quinnigan and
Qui quae quot at Quinnigan's Quake!
Finnegans Wake, 496-7

The river is more a picture of real life [des wirklichen Lebens]:
it draws our imagination along with it into unrestricted bounds,
as into a distant future.
Clara, Or Nature's Connection to the Spirit World, 67

Introduction

The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 triggered a widespread skepticism concerning the benevolence of God. A certain naïve interpretation of the texts written by Malebranche, Leibniz, and others during the 17th century had to be revised. It is well-known that Kant, prior to the composition of his first Critique, had to experience the limits of mysticism and esoterica preached by Swedenborg, a man who claimed to have “foreseen” the disaster. Together with the writings of Hume, Kant had to undergo a radical transformation concerning his own understanding of major intellectual topics such as science, ethics, morality, freedom, beauty, theology, theodicy, and politics. The result was the birth of modern thought.

Japan's experience of the Great Tohoku Earthquake is of analogous magnitude, and it calls into question many of the background assumptions upon which Japanese culture has been operating for many decades. The tsunami itself is nothing new – such disasters have been hitting the nation since time immemorial. What is truly unique about the present case is rather the nuclear accident. It is not simply a “failure of technology” or the “end of the safety myth.” Much more profoundly, this event opens up a certain void between what we think we think, and what we actually have been thinking. There are many such previously invisible gaps which are increasingly becoming vivid.


I

A news headline reads: “Quake toll now worst disaster in postwar Japan” (Asahi Shimbun, March 16 2011). Would the conclusion then be this: disasters are terrible because they devastate a large number of people?

If it were as simple as this... but it is not the numbers themselves that matter. Rather, it is the possibility that somebody is left helpless that stirs our emotions. This is why the claim “every three seconds, a child is dying” is much less likely to motivate us to act compared to the familiar advertisement that features a close-up photograph of a lonely starving child. The fact that tens of thousands of people were displaced is not that bad if this news were to be followed up by the claim: millions of people showed their support in the disaster relief efforts. As long as there are enough people and resources to address all the survivors' needs, the scale of the disaster is not the deciding factor of how terrible it was.

This shows that scale is a measure of terror only because it gives rise to an image of helpless masses of people whose needs are left unattended. In other words, the core of our feeling of terror towards “large-scale” disasters is our psychic assimilation to one or two concrete individuals who are left all on their own to pull out of the mess. Without this image, any number of casualties would fail to produce an emotional response within us. Thus, in order to grasp the true consequences of the Great Tohoku Earthquake, we must not rest content with discovering statistical facts. Rather, we must enter the much more murky realm of subjective qualities of feeling and experience and sift through the array of reactions and responses one after the other.


A Rude Awakening

Initial reactions to the Great Tohoku Eathquake are not natural but manufactured. They are conditioned by what we learn through various telecommunications, and the material for the latter is chosen by human beings, most notably journalists, who have at least some freedom albeit being situational.

What choices were journalists making?

When I visited an evacuation centre in Minami-Sanriku city as a volunteer worker – this was in the beginning of May 2011, only two months after the day of disaster – I witnessed reporters and journalists from various newspapers and television channels coming and going quite ceaselessly. Every two or three days, I would see a team of two or three, often equipped with a voice recorder or a video camera, prowling around the school gymnasium – the temporary “bedroom” for dozens of survivors – and approaching the local people. The media's goal was simple: extract stories from the survivors, so that the rest of the nation can learn the real damage of the disaster. On first sight, it seems that the cause of these journalists were anything but sensationalism.

The results of their work were sensational. Newspapers and television news shows were filled with stories of “outraged citizens” and “shocking aftermaths.” There were images of people crying, of houses being torn down, and, sometimes, even of bodies floating on the surface of a blood-stained water puddle.

If journalists were genuinely committed to uncovering the truth, and if the result of such a commitment produced sensational images and stories, then did this mean that the truth of the disaster has been revealed by these media representations? If so, are we not entitled to understand the reality of the disaster as “outrageous” and “shocking?”

The answer is no. Reporters and writers were in a way bound to be sensationalists, not because they actively pursued these lines, but because of the constraints within which they had to work. For one thing, there was an extremely high demand for coverage which needed to be met in such a short period of time. People wanted to know the next update on pretty much everything that was going on in the Red Zone – the situation with the nuclear power plant, the nature of the devastations experienced by the local people, the local government's plans for recovery. Forced to work in this rushed environment, journalists failed to take the time to slowly melt into the community which they were approaching for stories. Instead, they simply walked into the evacuation centres, expecting to hear authentic testimonies out of the blue. By doing so, they failed to notice how the survivors themselves were not yet ready to express their damage in a language fitting to the intensity of the experience. Journalists also failed to see how, even if survivors were ready to calmly reflect of their own situation and experience, it would be difficult for them to tell their stories to outsiders who have barely introduced themselves to the local community. As a result, survivors, when being pointed at with a voice recorder or a video camera, were often reduced to tears, and even when they were able to say something, their voices contained not a detailed account of what happened to them from an objective point of view, but rather a purely emotional cry.

Another constraint which journalists had to work under were the demand for brevity and news-value. Anyone with a voice recorder can report on what the local people had to tell the nation. Journalists actively sought to capture rare stories and images, even from the earliest stage of the post-disaster response. An ex-Asahi Shinbun journalist, who is now working for a volunteer organization for post-3.11 recovery, gave me an insider account of how journalists competed with each other to deliver the shortest yet most “valuable” pieces of information. Immediately after the tsunami hit, journalists instantly mapped out key locations where “news-worthy” photos and stories might be collected. They then re-located to these “hot-spots,” often times occupying entire buildings which could have otherwise been used as evacuation centres for the needy survivors. They constantly exchanged rumours about a “body floating on water” or a “mutilated body” or a “grotesquely disfigured house” – anything which may represent the “intensity” of the trauma. These rumours spread quickly via cell phones, and as a result journalists from a wide variety of different news sources were all pumping out sensational stories and images at a rapid pace.

What we see behind these choices made by journalists is nothing less than the complex psychology of news media competition. Each medium tries to uncover the “truth” of the disaster, yet it also tries to differentiate itself from others in terms of the content which it can present to the public. The result is an unintended sensationalism.

It is no wonder then that both the Japanese and non-Japanese public has been conditioned accordingly to experience intense emotional reactions to the aftermath of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. This is not exactly a problem, except for the fact that, due to the above sketched state of journalism, what the public ended up getting was an over-stimulation of emotion and a paralysis of our more rational faculties. It is true that there were also many objective, neutral information in the news – most notably the updates concerning radiation. But when it came to the task of interpreting this information so as to make them relevant for our daily lives, the news offered very little beyond immediate emotional messages like: “ganbaro (let's do our best)!” and “save yourself!”


Sympathy in the Beginning

When we are bombarded with words, images, and sounds that depict a disaster, a hitherto dormant emotion seems to get stirred within us: sympathy. Sympathy further translates, at a remarkable pace and intensity, into the command which we give to ourselves: do something!

And we do something. This is our first selfish reaction to a disaster, selfish precisely because it is based on our impulses rather than on careful thought and discipline.

In our day-to-day lives, the “good” things which we do seem minute in comparison to massive social problems that we confront as a global society. Contemporary first-world politics and its hollowness makes us feel that nothing good can take place on a large scale. Sensible writers and critics repeatedly remind us that instead of despairing, we must engage in piece-meal changes – driving less, not buying that next cup of coffee, or refraining from flying to Hawaii for the nth time. One might see here how deeply our moral self-esteem has become wounded.

Therefore, when disaster hits, we try to heal this wound. Politicians make speeches; corporations make massive donations; individuals sign up for one-week volunteer programs, run fund-raising events, or send whatever they can afford to send to the disaster-torn people.

What matters here is not whether these activities actually lead to real recovery. The stakes are, in this sense, extremely low. These actions ultimately aim to satisfy the call: do something! By “doing something,” we regain our moral self-esteem. Disaster becomes another convenient tool for boosting our ego. NPOs and local organizations have complained, from April 2011 onwards, that, while they appreciate the “good will” of outsiders who send various supplies, outsiders also tend to skip the step of actually researching real local needs. Thus, massive quantities of goods which were of no need were frequently brought into evacuation centres, while essential needs for warm food, clean water, sanitation, and other tools for re-building the cities were left unmet. Again, here we see that the act of charity by the outside observers were motivated by selfish principles. This truth behind the initial active reaction to the disaster is further suggested in the decline of the number of volunteers (Appendix I). Here we see that by January 2012, the number of volunteers have fallen to less than 10% of either April, May, or June of 2011. The numbers never take a dramatic increase again despite the fact that the need for basic human labor remained much the same.


Dread in the Middle

Once sympathy wears off, or once we are satisfied with what we managed to “accomplish,” the next phase is dread. We now reflect on what has taken place with a calm state of mind, and see all the risks which we were not able to see during our first fervent reactions.

A particularly noteworthy risk is radioactive contamination. As outside observers became self-conscious of their own situation, many investigative accounts concerning the true extent of radioactive contamination has been released through various media. These accounts deal with food, water, lumber, and other supplies from Tohoku and its surrounding prefectures. One article even relates a case where an overdose of radioactive substance has been found from tealeaves, produced in Shizuoka, at the French borders. In addition, general geographical information concerning the contamination of soil and water also were released in newspapers, academic journals, and online studies and analyses. Comparisons between Chernobyl were made frequently, and speculations on the actual health effects of various levels of radiation were rampant. Cultural figures and intellectuals cautioned the public to stay calm and refer to “real science,” while politicians repeated the mantra: “please respond calmly [reisei na taiou wo shitekudasai].”

The effects of this collective dread were expressed most vividly in the decline of agriculture and forestry in and around Tohoku. Farmers who lost their customers now sought desperately for new buyers. As a result, brokers were able to buy up the crops at an inhumanely low price, hurting not only the bank accounts but also the dignity and pride of those farmers. Lumberjacks faced similar situations, where buyers, out of fear and suspicion concerning the levels of radioactivity contained in wood products, decided to withdraw. Suspicion against wood products produced in North-Eastern Japan was expressed symbolically during the preparations for the “dai-mon-ji-yaki” festival in Kyoto. In this traditional festival, tons of firewood get assembles into Chinese characters on top of mountains, and are ignited on the night of the festival. For the summer of 2011, the festival management decided to refuse all firewood which came from North-Eastern Japan. This measure was taken purely on psychological grounds, where the management explains how the “voices of dread” were a major factor that pressured them to make this decision.


Indifference in the End

While in a state of dread, at least we try to think for ourselves, even if our thinking is directed by selfish material interests. However, it is very difficult for the average person to understand the entire post-Tohoku situation. Especially the risk of radioactivity is a topic which goes beyond the scientific literacy of most people.

The result is a regression to a state of indifference. Instead of ourselves, we lay our trust in an institution or an “expert” out there: the IAEA, the Prime Minister, the Yomiuri Shinbun. But by letting go of our capacity to think, we also outsource our capacity to act. We do not know, therefore we cannot act. Any act contains an unknown risk, and it is better to take anything in comparison to this something which lurks in the deep darkness of our imagination.

In this state of disavowal, we nonetheless retain a number of new general rules for our everyday decisions. They are often internalized as habit, and we habitually follow these rules. Avoiding food produced in certain prefectures, even if crops are proven to be safe. Not drinking green tea. Not eating seaweed. Collecting information about the ongoing recovery process and gossiping about it either in everyday social interactions or in the virtual space of the world wide web. Signing that next petition, going to that next demonstration.

All of these actions are carried out not because of concrete goals that we try to achieve through them. We no longer relate spontaneously to the Great Tohoku Earthquake. The disaster has, in our minds, transformed from being a problem that needs to be solved to a “reality” that can be diluted and externalized.

As we will see in the following sections, one of the aims of art is to help us break out from our habitual, routinized relation to a physical event. Art thus tries to re-awaken our capacity to freely think and act in response to concrete phases in the process of recovery. But before discussing the nature and role of art in relation to the Great Tohoku Earthquake, first we need to consider the other side of the story: the survivors.

So far we have considered the Great Tohoku Earthquake from the point of view of the average outsider. I have spelled out a general tendency which starts from sympathy, leads into dread, and finally concludes with indifference. But what of the emotional struggles on the side of the survivors?


Selflessness in the Beginning

Right after the cessation of the tsunami, survivors, who were isolated in buildings located in higher altitudes, had to face two issues. The first was how to keep warm, and the second was how to keep hydrated. Many of those survivors were elderly people who lacked the ability to improvise survival strategies. They relied on the support of their children and grandchildren. And these latter people stood up admirably to the rescue.

In Minami-Sanriku city, it snowed profusely for two days right after the tsunami. In the absence of electricity, firewood was essential for keeping everybody warm. However, this was running out rapidly. Facing this situation, the youth – and here I include those who were still in their early teens – decided to tear off the floorboards of the school building. This they did despite their fatigue. They moreover decided to burn the sculptures produced in art classes by elementary school students. These measures were taken solely in order to ensure that the elderly people were kept warm.

The profound altruism of the survivors was demonstrated most forcibly when it came to the acquisition and distribution of food and water. I have met numerous teenagers who chose to give all of their share of food and water to the more needy elders for the first week following the tsunami. And as if one week of starvation in this post-disaster situation was not enough, these same teenagers collaborated with adults in one important task. Since the breakdown of the water system, the supply of drinkable water quickly became a serious issue. Survivors noticed that, amidst the debris, vending machines were drifting on the surface of the seawater which devoured their city. It was snowing, and the water was icy cold. The current, the debris, and potential toxins all posed unknown risks. Yet, survivors decided to tie themselves to a rope, let their friends hold the rope at bay, and dived into the water to retrieve those vending machines. Teenagers took part in these salvaging sessions. Once retrieved, those machines were then destroyed by axes and the contents were distributed to the needy.

These behaviors following the disaster shows that, while survivors were willing to endure anything to increase their chances of survival, their primary concern was not individual survival, but rather the continuation of the community as a whole. Selflessness was the key emotional factor which motivated their choices to take these risks for the sake of their community members. William James, in June 1906, already testifies to our tendency to become altruistic in the wake of a disaster. In “On Some Mental Effects of the Earthquake” – referring to the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906 – James relates the following: “In California every one, to some degree, was suffering, and one's private miseries were merged in the vast general sum of privation and in the all-absorbing practical problem of general recuperation. The cheerfulness, or, at any rate, the steadfastness of tone, was universal. Not a single whine or plaintive word did I hear from the hundred [survivors] whom I spoke to. Instead of that there was a temper of helpfulness beyond the counting” (225). More than a century later, in a culture very different from early 20th century San Francisco, we see an almost identical phenomenon of selflessness expressed amongst the survivors of the Great Tohoku Earthquake.


Despair in the Middle

Once the post-survival euphoria subsides, such altruism – “universal equanimity,” in James' terms – comes to an end. Securing a certain degree of stable material supplies, and learning to habituate oneself to the new post-disaster way of life, survivors become self-reflective. They reflect on their own future prospects as well as on the magnitude of their loss. The result is despair.

Despair was expressed in selfish or indifferent acts. Many survivors took to drinking or smoking heavily. Others simply stayed in their partitioned “private space” within evacuation centres. Still others stole goods from storage. Based on my personal observations as well as on testimonies given by local survivors and volunteer workers, it is clear that, generally speaking, the less one was involved in labor, the more likely it became for such a person to fall into despair. With an excess of freedom within a situation where prospects cannot be imagined, it was only natural for the already exhausted survivors to end up in this state.

An article titled “Japanese Politely Giving Up Their Lives,” published online at Fukushima Diary, aptly articulates the characteristic features of this despair. The article features a snapshot from a new video clip, where a group of Japanese men smile at a Geiger-Muller counter which shows that the radiation level in the air is 1.4 times that of the immediate peripheries of reactor 4 at Chernobyl. As the writer of this article points out, this picture brings out the core elements which make Japanese despair unique. Ignorance concerning the implications of measurements. The tendency to keep up an appearance of contentment – a smile, a calm posture, or a neat self-organization of bodies. A passive submission to existing circumstances, extinguishing the desire to survive. Lack of self-will, political mobilization, and radical resistance.

Of course, not all survivors within a given community despair at once. Reflecting on their despairing selves, or observing the behaviour of despairing others, survivors come to learn how to take a distance from these unhealthy, unhappy states. Nonetheless, it is also true that the need to survive, as well as the unreliability of large-scale decision makers in the arena of politics and economics, continue to ground their grim predicament. When the present is dominated by endless labor for overcoming hunger, thirst, cold, and filth, and when the future seems to offer no clear prospect of recovery, survivors turn to their past as the only place where they can feel at home.


Nostalgia in the End

In The Shock Doctrine Naomi Klein describes a conflict in Africa between a fishing village and a global tourist corporation. Here, Klein is correct to point out the violence inflicted upon the villagers by the combination of natural disasters and global corporatist projects. After all, the construction of a mega-tourist retreat had a purely destructive effect upon their ways of life. On the other hand, Klein remains one-sided in her account when she rhetorically describes the village as a passive, tranquil, self-contained and content culture. After all, tsunamis are a real threat to every seaside habitation. Therefore the fragile huts and fishing equipment of the villagers also are required to change. A more holistic approach to this incident would have been to recognize that the true problem lay in something that was shared by both the villagers and the neoliberal institutions: a stubborn mind-set that clings onto practices which they already know. The reason why the villagers would rather have their village re-constructed after the tsunami is not because such a re-construction would somehow allow them to better withstand another tsunami. Instead of such a habitual re-construction, the real aim for the villagers ought to have been to find a third way – neither a simple re-construction nor a total submission to an external authority – which would allow them to make progress in becoming more resistant towards another tsunami in the future.

A similar apathy towards change has often been portrayed as desperate heroism in the literature concerning the Great Tohoku Earthquake. For example, consider the portrayal of the “last man in the Forbidden Zone” from Reconstructing 3/11: Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown:

Naoto Matsumura in Tomioka City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan – the last man standing in Fukushima’s Forbidden Zone. He will not leave; he risks an early death because his defiance of Tokyo Electric Power Company and the government is his life now. He is not crazy, but he is not going. He remains there to remind people of the human costs of nuclear accidents. He is the King of The Forbidden Zone, its protector. He is the caretaker of empty houses, a point of contact for those citizens who can’t return. He takes care of the animals, “the sentient beings” that remain behind, because no one else will. He is the Buddha of the forbidden zone.

The voice of Mr. Matsumura himself concludes this “story” – a voice which confirms that his portrait in the above cited text is indeed an appropriate one:

My father is 80 years old, my grandmother lived until she was a hundred years old, so I had the hope to live at least until I get to my 80s. With the radioactivity, I think I will live until my 60s, at best. Tomioka, for me, is the most beautiful place in the world. There is the ocean, the mountains and the forest. My family has been living here for five generations. Nothing will make me leave this soil.”

Here it is clear that, both through concrete actions (taking care of empty houses, keeping the animals, etc.) and inner conviction (“nothing will make me leave my soil” etc.), Mr. Matsumoto refuses to imagine a third way which is neither corporatism nor a simple return. Instead, Mr. Matsumoto's motivations for remaining in the “Forbidden Zone” clearly shows that he opts for the latter, nostalgic option, where his dream to “see Tomioka returned to normality before his death” (location 509) appears as a justification for his self-sacrifice.

There is no doubt about the importance to “remind people of the human costs of nuclear accidents.” However, while the presence of a man such as Mr. Matsumoto may continue to fuel our critical attitude toward certain social decisions which prepared the grounds for the accident, it also sustains our nostalgic attitudes toward things which have been lost. There are many problems with building and running a nuclear power plant in a country like Japan, where earthquakes and tsunamis are practical affairs of the day. It is however equally problematic for survivors to believe that a simple return to their old ways of life, of living in relatively fragile houses by the seashores, is the only option for recovery. Instead of seeing tradition as an absolutely sacrosanct substance which needs to be defended at all costs, survivors will benefit by relating to their past as a fluid idea which can be changed according to the needs of their own historical situation. Exactly how to proceed with this third way will be one of the implicit topics of the next part.



II

What the above contrast between the mind-set of the outside observers and that of the involved survivors shows is this: while the observers change their mind-set in relation to things outside themselves, the survivors tend to change in relation to things that take place within themselves. The difference here is in the category of objects that trigger the emotional reactions of each side. For the outside observers, important things include the bodies and villages of the victims and survivors, food and water, wood, minerals, and other material for producing goods, and the various statements made by various people and institutions – words which are presented as something independent of the speaker's immediate private interests. For the inside survivors, on the other hand, the things which they care are the memories of their dead relatives, the traces of their own lives before the disaster, their own plans for further action, and their own everyday attitude towards people who live both inside and outside the Red Zone. Here we see the fundamental barrier for mutual understanding. Just as it is difficult for outsiders to imagine the felt intensity of post-disaster internal struggles, so it is the case when survivors try to understand how their own outward appearances might be perceived objectively.

The first task of art is to provide a tangible medium through which these two side are given a better chance of understanding the predicament of one another. Not only is art the direct material preserver of the experiences of sympathy, dread, indifference, selflessness, despair, and nostalgia. Art also is a representation of a possible relation between these aspects in one consciousness. In this manner, art tries to overcome the limitation of each consciousness – that of the observer and that of the survivor – and thus, as a side-effect, also awaken both consciousnesses from their skepticism, despair, and apathy.

This leads into the second task of art, which is to serve as a condensed object which teaches and reminds us of what the effects of the disaster have been for our consciousness. In other words, art is a memory-object, a relic of the disaster. In being such an object, a work of art further define for the observers and survivors alike what the motivating factor behind their post-disaster life is. Here, it is not difficult to imagine how such a memory-object would have deep political implications. For example, after Fukushima, the Japanese people – observers and survivors alike – have been continuously mobilized to perform mass-demonstrations against the government's pro-nuclear policies and apathy. However, when considered abstractly, the reason behind such a demonstration may appear to be arbitrary, and the mob might be symbolized – unfairly of course – in the figure of a baby who is screaming because her mother's breasts one day produced ink instead of milk. One could even adopt a pseudo-Buddhist attitude, claiming that if we let go of our desires to re-produce, as well as of living for a long time, then it is relatively easy to accept the prospect of a nuclear annihilation of the human species. These abstract considerations miss the point of the demonstrations completely, since they have not been able to take into account the real motivating factors behind the movement. Art brings forth a concrete, condensed representation of the reality that drives mothers to migrate all the way from Fukushima to camp in front of the parliamentary building for weeks on end.


How Art Communicates

At this point we must leave the terrain of political psychology and enter into the deeper considerations of philosophy. Before examining the particular works of art which deal with the Great Tohoku Earthquake, it is important to clarify what we can demand for art in general. By clarifying our demands, we can then justify our choice when it comes to selecting the works for deeper consideration. The last thing we want is to spend page after page on a relatively mediocre work which is just not capable of satisfying our desire to understand the disaster.

As a memory-object, art is a representation of ourselves. Whatever enters our past memories, current thoughts, and future prospects, art must exhibit it in material form. As long as this exhibition remains ambiguous or incomplete, a work of art falls short of our demand to see ourselves in that very work. For example, after the disaster, many schools – both in and outside Japan – encouraged students to send paintings to the disaster-torn areas. I have personally delivered such works – produced by U.S. elementary school students – to an evacuation centre which I visited in Minami-Sanriku. These paintings comprise a typical example of a work of art which falls short of our inner demands. One painting depicted a clumsily drawn tree and a big wave attacking it; another had a man weeping and a girl smiling encouragingly at him. These images are far from capable of allowing their viewers to feel that everything related to the disaster and its effects on humanity is there. On the contrary, to claim that these paintings represent all the emotional turmoil of the observers and survivors would be an insult.

Now perhaps the actual survivors who received these paintings as a gift would have felt that the children actually did do a good job at imagining the post-disaster situation. But in this case, the survivors are simply being charitable to the painters out of sympathy. Moreover, if the paintings, by chance, trigger a series of thoughts in the survivor's mind which eventually leads to satisfaction, then this satisfaction is again not so much due to the talent of the artist but rather caused by the strength of the viewer's mind to supplement the feeble artwork with his or her own creative thought-process.

A truly satisfying work of art must not rely on the ability of its viewers for the presentation of their content. Rather, art must be a guide to those who are having difficulty coming to terms with their own experience. In this sense, we can demand art to produce an artwork which, just by virtue of its material organization, illuminates before our senses a complete worldview which follows convincingly from the day when the earthquake and tsunami hit.

An idea dawns upon us. It is the truth, but it is as fleeting as anything could ever be. Was it real? We feel the need to stage a temporal unfolding of everything that was contained in that moment. This will relieve our doubts concerning the reality of the initial moment, a moment too important for the person to forgo. But this will also allow us to dilute and dissect the idea in the hope of digesting it piece-by-piece. This temporal object, an object which carefully and patiently re-traces the contours of an initial, traumatic, excessive, and intense moment, this is the ideal which is also called the work of art.

However, this does not mean that the simple act of recording and preserving everything is the ultimate task of the artist. On the contrary, the most important task of the artist is to choose what to not include in the work. Here, in order to economically continue with this analysis, I would like to introduce two philosophical terms. A complete worldview, which is capable of being understood by all humans, and in which all the parts are intelligible only in virtue of their connection as a whole, is what we call an “idea.” The material counterpart of the idea, in which the worldview in our heads unfolds before us concretely, is what we call an “ideal.” For example, the idea of a student – which involves a series of images and thoughts such as desks, pens, professors, libraries, etc. and which allows each part to find its meaning only in relation to the whole worldview of a student – finds its ideal in a classroom, a library, a study at home, or in certain types of social interactions. Here, the arrangement of objects in the material world, i.e. the ideal, mirrors the arrangement of thoughts and images in the student's mind, i.e. the idea. Notice that neither the idea nor the ideal contains everything which a human being, sees, hears, feels, smells, and tastes. Rather, the idea allows a human being to become a student by removing a whole array of material things as well as thoughts and images from that person's consciousness. This function of removing allows this person to focus on what is important for him or her if he or she is to be a student. It is in this sense that a work of art also is to be considered as an ideal. That is to say, a work of art also removes a great many things from our mind in order to guide our attention to certain essential thoughts, images, and material objects which, when arranged in a certain way via the idea, allows its viewers to share that which motivates certain people to live with an inseparable connection to the experience of the Great Tohoku Earthquake.


From Architecture to Music

In the beginning, art tries to present the disaster “as it is.” The direct preservation of the site of the aftermath – this is the dream of an artist whose first priority is to keep the purity of his object. The Isozaki Project is precisely such a dream.

Much like the Hiroshima Atom Bomb Dome, architect Arata Isozaki's idea is to encase a portion of the debris in order to preserve it for generations. A gigantic, transparent box will thus be installed around the debris, and visitors in the future will have access to the most “direct” evidence of the scale of this disaster.

If art is the act of excluding irrelevant details from the world, then the Isozaki Project can be seen as the exclusion of this exclusion. The encasement expresses a wish that nothing be excluded from the initial aftermath, and nothing added, either. In doing so, however, the work achieves the opposite of what it aims explicitly. In being encased in this manner, the debris is detached from the perpetual evolution of our emotions. The artwork itself, in its repose, is thus no longer in active relation to its perceivers. Just as it is impossible for an adult to divine his past emotions by gazing into a picture of himself taken during his childhood, so it is the case with the Project. Instead of being a pure memory-object, therefore, the Isozaki Project would have come to function as a pure projectile of the most diverse fantasies. Visitors are not told how to relate to this object. They are not given a clue. Referring to the Hiroshima Atom Bomb Dome, a foreigner in Hiroshima mon amour repeats “I have seen everything in Hiroshima,” while a Japanese repeats “you have seen nothing in Hiroshima.” Because everybody knows that the object is the pure preservation of an aftermath, perceivers feel like they “have seen everything,” that they are in the full presence of the experience of the original catastrophe. But the reality is the opposite, for the object is silent, and there is nothing in its which triggers a determinate emotion or thought in the viewer.

The lesson to be learned from the Isozaki Project is that an immediate preservation of an “objective” scene of an aftermath is not a viable option for art. Art must exclude or mutate certain details of its target object. An artist must thus have an idea of what his or her artwork will allow the perceivers to experience, and in striving towards the realization of this idea in an ideal object, the artist must step in and take risks, be active.

The emphasis now shifts from pure representation to the satisfaction of the perceiver. An art-work must not only preserve the memory of the disaster in itself, but also has to direct the perceiver's attention in certain specific ways that will allow the latter to participate in its original traumatic experience. The work itself must be the vehicle of this experience. It must be dynamic, and it must also address the fundamental concerns of humanity.

Now one such concern is death. In the wake of the Great Tohoku Earthquake, survivors have lost their past livelihood – homes, work equipment, landscapes, roads – and their partners – friends, family members, beloveds. If there is an irreconcilable gap between the survivors and the dead, then this must be brought out forcefully in art, while if there is a possible reconciliation, this too should also receive treatment. Either way, one of the first issues which art ought to address is the topic of death, its essence, its particular manifestation in the case of this present disaster.

Lucy Walker's Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom is one of the first steps towards a representation of the relation between the dead and the living. The movie contains a tension between two streams. On the one hand, the sudden shock experienced by the survivors is vividly portrayed. The movie opens with a shot taken by a hand-camera by one of the survivors. Here we see the tsunami devouring the city, the people running up the hill to save their lives, while shouts can be heard over the tumultuous sound of the waves – “everything is crushed!” “all gone!” “get up here, quickly!” “I can't believe this!” etc. Viewers are then presented with a series of interviews with survivors, so many reflections on the devastation. On the other hand, there is the as it were “divine” stream of images and sounds. We are here introduced to a gardener whose main occupation is to preserve the oldest cherry blossoms in Japan. In one interview, the gardener tells us that the “Japanese have believed that, when a cherry blossom tree survives for a thousand years, it will be the abode of the divine spirit.” The message here is clear: while lives are destroyed in the transitoriness of time, nature, in its divinity, silently and indifferently maintains its own seasonal repose.

Walker's film thus can be interpreted as an attempt to shift the gaze of the survivors from their own particular losses to the “divine” order of things on a larger scale. The idea is to make room for tranquility by distancing oneself from the original trauma of the tsunami. The cherry blossom is beautiful, it is a plant which has crossed through space and time over many generations of the Japanese people, and it has been regarded as a divine object. To fix one's gaze onto its timelessness will hopefully allow one to realize the pettiness of one's own misery, even that which is triggered by a disaster of such magnitude.

But this momentary tranquility is an opiate, an illusion. Instead of allowing the viewers to actively relate to the real damage caused by the tsunami, the escapism implied in Walker's film merely prolongs the pain. There is no real relation between the dead and the living here. Rather, here the dead is seen as something or someone from which the living must turn away. The result is a cat-and-mouse game between two perspectives. The survivors confront the dead, and all the pains are brought back into experience. They then desperately turn away towards loftier thoughts which allude to things beyond this world – the divine. But then, the fact remains that they are failing to relate to the dead, and this failure is merely suppressed. Small things will repeatedly remind everyone of their real losses. Thus we are brought back to the first step without making any progress1.

The problem with Walker's film is thus the indifference between the cherry blossom – which is the source of tranquility – and the real losses of the survivors – which constitute their desperate situations. More precisely, here death remains outside of the sphere of satisfaction. A more authentic treatment of death must thus allow death to be inscribed into the moment of satisfaction2.




Futuristic Film: Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea

Elements of symbolic art, architecture, sculpture, ritual, painting, and music are all integrated in Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea.

Central to the movie is the attraction between Sosuke and Ponyo. Prior to the Great Tohoku Earthquake, the tsunami depicted in the film would have played a subordinate role to love. In other words, the tsunami would have been a symbol of love, allowing the viewers to feel the intensity of Ponyo's feelings. However, after the disaster, the tsunami emerges in the movie as a “subject” in the Hegelian sense of the word. Instead of the proposition “love is tsunami,” the truth appears in the reverse form: “tsunami is love.” Obscene though this proposition may seem at first sight, the experience of viewing the movie triggers a reversal in the way we usually experience the total destruction of a city by seawater.

How is it possible to transform the grim prospect of total destruction into a state of absolute delight? In order to find an answer, we only need to focus on the moment within the film when the characters die. Although death is not explicitly presented as an event, it is clear that all the characters are dead when Ponyo and Sosuke wake up in the morning following the tsunami. We are told that the entire world has regressed to the “Debon Age” and the entire eco-system has transformed accordingly. The sea-side town, now underwater, appears as an Atlantis, and ancient-looking creatures freely populate this space. What is more, nobody is anxious of death. Those “survivors” whom Ponyo and Sosuke meet during their voyage across the city are all concerned with their own tasks. We never encounter a person breaking down because everything has been lost, because he or she will also eventually expire. This lack of anxiety only makes sense if, in more than one sense, we see all the characters as already dead.

What does it mean for these “survivors” to have died? Here, death is not to be understood as a process by which an organic body turns into inorganic matter. Rather, death must be grasped subjectively as the absolute termination of the experiences of a person. With death, we lose consciousness, and with consciousness also our own persons. Thus, death cannot be predicated to a person, precisely because in the moment of predication the subject vanishes, and with it the predicate also. In this sense, death can be now grasped as absolute annihilation without trace. Since any trace is absent, another subject emerging after death would have no commonality whatsoever with the person who has died. With these considerations, the “death” of the characters in Ponyo starts to make sense. Although everybody seem to remain in the film as bodies, their consciousnesses have already been annihilated with the tsunami. When they have regained consciousness after the disaster, they are completely no longer the same person. It is as if the whole world has gone to bed with Ponyo and Sosuke, only to find that, upon waking up, it has forgotten that it has existed prior to its sleep. This is the first sense in which the characters “die.” Furthermore, the newly reborn characters, by lacking any negative attitudes toward the prospect of their own annihilation, signal that they are already “at home” with death. Consider the almost grotesque tranquility of the characters, and it is clear that they do not yet experience themselves as subjects of annihilation.

Yet, amongst the dead, Sosuke is not quite dead yet. This is why Fujimoto, Granmanmare, and other characters related to Sosuke, call Sosuke and Ponyo the “key to healing the breach in the world [sekai no hokorobi wo naosu kagi].” “World” here refers to the world of the dead. In order for death to complete its dominion over the people, all relations between the dead and the living must be severed, so that all traces vanish. Here we see that Sosuke and Ponyo have actually survived. When they embark upon their voyage, they do so as living survivors. Eventually, the dark “waves,” Fujimoto's lackey, devour Sosuke, and Sosuke also enters the world of dead people. When Sosuke accepts Ponyo as a mermaid, he implicitly consents to the death of all the rules which govern the world of the living. Here, death takes over on the side of Ponyo as well. Ponyo “dies” as a mermaid, and becomes fully human, losing all of her magical powers. It is in this way that, by means of the total annihilation of the world of the living, the two protagonists are brought together in a “happy ending.” This is the monstrous, even scandalous interpretation of the event of a tsunami which Miyazaki sketches for us.

Amidst the intensity of pathos – intensified by the organic quality of images, sound, and narrative – we see here the relation between the pre- and post- tsunami worlds as a key motif in Ponyo. In particular, Sosuke's “test” with regards to Ponyo is a riddle which symbolically captures the riddles which current disaster-relief workers have to face in relation to the survivors of the Great Tohoku Earthquake.

However, in Ponyo, the world of the dead is presented as just another version of the world of the living. Instead of seeing death as an absolute separation between two worlds, Miyazaki uses death as a gimmick for allowing the characters in the film to realize their fantasies – the women get to run, Ponyo is turned into a human being, and the fishermen row in a characteristically Japanese marshal spirit. Here, what remains untouched is the inner, psychic relation between the living and the dead. When Miyazaki chooses Sosuke, the innocent five year old, as the ambassador from the living world, he implicitly alienates the real survivors who, still dwelling in the world of the living, must find a way to relate to their dead relatives without dying themselves. Instead of being able to heal the “breach in the world” by dying themselves, these survivors are destined to indefinitely continue a voyage in the ambiguous space between life and death which, in the case of Sosuke and Ponyo, terminate in a death wish. If the predicament of the survivors of the Great Tohoku Earthquake were to be addressed concretely, then one must find a way not only to affirm this voyage itself, but also must take into account the inner dimension of the aftermath. Poetry, and more precisely poetry expressed from the standpoint of the survivors of a nuclear accident, will be the new art in which an inner voyage will find its elaboration.


Genbakushi,” or Nuclear Bomb Poetry

Genbakushi is a genre of poetry which tarries with the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bomb attacks in August 6th and 9th of 1945. In the wake of the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, Japanese intellectuals and critics have repeatedly suggested that Genbakushi be revisited from a contemporary point of view.

A survey of this genre quickly suggests that the individual poems fall into one of two categories: therapy or art proper. Therapy aims to provide comfort or a political voice to victims and other needy people, whereas art proper concentrates its focus primarily on the artistic quality of the work as poetry. Thus, while therapists search for words and facts that they feel would give comfort to their readers, artists strive for a way of presenting Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Fukushima in ways that bring out all the potential of poetry.

Sankichi Toge is regarded as the canonical figure in this genre. However, many of his poems in fact fall short of the demands which one may legitimately make on poetry. Poetry ought to allow its readers to delve deep into the inner aspects of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. Despite this potential of poetry, many of Toge's well-known works tend to remain on the surface and outer aspects of the disaster such as the disfiguration of the victimized bodies and their cries of rancor. For example, his well-known “Give Back the Human” presents a highly simplified reaction by the victims:

Give back my father, give back my mother
Give back the elders
Give back the children

Give me back myself
Give back the human who is related to me

As long as a human, a human world exists
Give back peace,
Indestructible peace

Although this short poem depicts the voice of the victims, it does not present a model for the outsiders to relate to this voice. Just as a mutilated body by itself cannot determine the way in which it ought to relate to and be related by another, a pure cry such as the one depicted in this poem also cannot by itself establish a relation with its potential receiver. As such, it is as if this cry rings all on its own in an empty funeral centre: no matter how sincere and intense it may be, its demands remain abstract, its effects obscure. A similar one-sidedness is found in another canonical piece, “Wail,” written by Kazuko Ohira:

Since the dead cannot return
Since the dead cannot cry
Since the dead cannot grieve

What should the survived do
What should the survived understand

Shredding their sadness the survived walk
Freezing their memories the survived walk
Holding their stupefied mask the survived walk

Contrary to Toge, Ohira's poem treats the dead purely negatively, and focuses instead on the way in which the living react to the aftermath of Hiroshima. The living here dwell in a state of paralysis, treating the dead as something absolutely outside their scope of knowledge and imagination. But to depict the dead in this manner is to not depict them at all. What Ohira forgets is that the dead do not exist for themselves as conscious living beings. Rather, the dead exist merely as pure notions or as our own mental representations, meaning that they are accessible to our knowledge. Without suggesting a way of spiritually relating to our own ideas of the dead, we regress into a state of subjective enclosure and indifference.

Instead of merely engaging in a subjective self-brooding, which sets the keynote for the works cited above, poetry ought to fully exert its capacity to grapple with the relation between such subjects. This higher and deeper dimension of poetry is actualized in “Prayer” written by Koya Asakura:

Could a prayer
Truly take effect?

Humans have prayed from their heart
From the moment they have arrived on Earth
In all times
From sunrise until sundown
They have prayed
To live in bliss
To be in peace

Prayers minuscule
Shine forth fiery and nebulous
And should have already
Let fearful atomic and hydrogen bombs
Vanish

Here, Asakura presents a tension existing not between the living and the dead, but rather between humanity as a whole and its invention, i.e. nuclear technology. In the first two stanzas, the voices of the living and the dead merge. To wonder whether a prayer really can take effect, or to continue to pray for peace through all ages, are acts which share a certain universality, traversing across particular bodily and cultural circumstances. The aforementioned voices presented by Toge and Ohira can thus be re-interpreted, from a higher standpoint, as particular kinds of prayer. Moreover, by figuratively representing a prayer as fire and nebula, Asakura allows the prayers to stand on equal ground with the real fire caused by nuclear technology. In the wake of this conflict, the poem continues:

Fukushima of 2011
Not a natural cataclysm
Hell painted by men
Apocalypse written for men

Therefore
It is impossible to be without
Prayer, wish, and promise
Rest in peace
For follies will not be repeated

The utterance “rest in peace” – which is here presented simultaneously as prayer, wish, and promise – can once again be interpreted as the words of the living for the dead and vice versa. In this sense, both the living and the dead come to partake in taking responsibility for the “follies,” the “hell painted by men.” Here, while the opposition still is between humanity and nuclear technology, Asakura nonetheless treats the latter as something intrinsic to human activity, a condition for an “apocalypse” which is written for and by men. This depiction gives further weight to the prayer “rest in peace,” for if men are responsible for this “hell,” then this insight also gives men the possibility of achieving peace by their own hands. This is the impression which Asakura leaves for the reader at the conclusion of the poem:

All men with their feet at the edge of the cliff
As homo sapiens
Before anything else
Cleanse thy hands
Place thy palm on thy bosom
Contemplate deeply

And
The wish of all the living
May arrive to humans
May become real through humans
So repeat
The last prayer

Despite its reconciliation between the living and the dead in the unity of a praying subject, Asakura's poem nonetheless still leaves untouched the objective aspects of the struggle with nuclear technology. By centralizing prayer and contemplation as the main way in which humanity relates to its own invention, Asakura implicitly affirms a passive spirit, a spiritual attitude which is withdrawn into its own thoughts and feelings. This spirit is what Hegel calls the “beautiful soul,” a soul who, by representing itself to itself as beautiful, excuses itself from performing the dirty work of action and concrete resistance. This lack is to a certain extent addressed and overcome in “Fukushima is Mine” by Kasei Kazayama:

No matter where you are
Fukushima is yours
Come to Fukushima, and
Take Fukushima with you


Fukushima is Mine
I place a chair onto the soil of Fukushima
And taking seat hang my head loose
Begging please condemn my infidelity to Fukushima
But Fukushima is Mine
Within my soul I let the spring churn
But, let us fix our gaze onto
Things deserving damnation
Dancing hither and thither

In these verses, both “you” and “I” are called to “fix our gaze onto things deserving damnation.” Kazayama's virtue lies in the fact that this act of turning one's gaze outward is preceded by an internal struggle, whereby “Fukushima,” left here as an ambiguous proper name, must somehow register in consciousness as a shared, universal representation. Fukushima is the property of everybody, and as such demands a response by all. To stop at the level of subjective contemplation and prayer will result in “infidelity” which the poem explicitly condemns and turns its back by a decisive “But.”

From this point onwards, the development of our spiritual relation to the disaster must take place in the sphere of concrete action and its feedback onto our feelings and thoughts. This loop is too complex and dynamic for poetry to handle. Thus, Genbakushi can only hint at or allude to such a struggle while remaining at its edge, unable to dive into the heart of the matter.


Short Stories with a Mythological Flavor

Thus far we have seen how Ponyo fails to represent the ongoing struggle between the living and the dead, while poems from the Genbakushi genre presents a series of one-sided, merely internal reflections. Since the conflict here is between the internal prayer, wish, and promise of humanity and its external situation qua “nuclear dread,” the next task for art is to create an ideal image of such personal and political struggles by showing how humans interact with their situations. In order to do so, humans must express their thoughts and feelings in such way that will have an influence in the external world. Thus, the key focus of art at this stage becomes human action.

Human action is a special kind of activity which involves the coincidence of the acting person and the result of this action. This is thus also a free action, where this freedom consists in this coincidence. This idea of freedom is already present in the common way we speak about the boundaries between “our own action” and the action of others. For instance, when a dog runs, we see this action as not due to our freedom, since we are not in command of the direction, speed, or duration of the run. However, if we say that we “let the dog run,” then this is an act of freedom, since whatever the manner is in which the dog chooses to run, it is acting in accordance with what we expect the dog to do. Here we see that freedom is a matter of our ideas concerning a given situation, and that it is up to us to see anything as either free or unfree, a truth which is inscribed even into our most ordinary everyday experience.

Prose is thus an act whereby the reader and writer alike are set free by the work. A work is a kind of machinery in which our perception of the world is set free through a series of ideas powerful enough to “let things be” in their new conditions. Once the writer or the reader grasps these ideas, the latter becomes active in our everyday interaction with certain things. The influence of a prosaic work becomes real when we experience something as our own doing which previously appeared as a result of an alien cause. In other words, artistic prose allows its reader to own a previously alien situation. From this insight it follows that one of the most important points to be communicated in prose is the style or manner in which one may take ownership of one's situation.

Yoko Tawada's “The Island of Eternal Life” is a futuristic short story set in the year 2017. Despite being only six years after Fukushima, the story opens with the narrator – quite possibly Tawada's alter-ego – being discriminated for being Japanese: “Back in 2011 the word Japan elicited sympathy, but since 2017 sympathy had changed to prejudice” (3-4). But this superficial distinction between “us non-Japanese” and “them Japanese” quickly melts away when the reader is told how the narrator, a Japanese, is also alienated from her own country's present situation. We are told: “Since 2015, when direct information from Japan was cut off, rumors and myths had been multiplying like maggots, which had hatched into flies now winging their way across the world” (4). The narrator herself has been living in Europe for some time now, and, apart from an account provided by a certain “Portuguese writer” – whose credibility remains dubious – she has hardly any access to inside information.

The book written by the Portuguese writer is called “The Strange Journey of the Grandson of Ferano Mendes Pinto” (8). Mendes Pinto is of course famous for writing a book, The Travels of Mendes Pinto, which features Pinto himself and is written in an autobiographical style, yet cannot be determined as to whether the landscape and culture depicted here are mere flights of fancy or are genuine pieces of anthropological evidence. In a similar way, the imaginary book mentioned in Tawada's story reinforces the image of a secluded Japan, the mysterious land scorched by nuclear accidents, both attractive and abject, realistic and unreal.

The portrait of Japan which emerges from The Strange Journey is shocking. Tawada writes:

This is the situation as he describes it. All those who were over a hundred years old at the time of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in 2011 are still alive; miraculously, not one has died. This is true not only of Fukushima, but of all the twenty-two locations in the central Kanto area that were designated as hot spots in the following years. The oldest woman, who was 120 years of age back then and is much older now, is still very much alive. When Pinto, through an interpreter, complimented her on how well she looked, she replied, “I can’t die.” It isn’t that she has somehow been rejuvenated; it seems, rather, that the radioactive material in the air has robbed her of the ability to die. Unable to sleep at night, she wakes up every morning feeling exhausted, but still has to get up and work. People who were children in 2011, however, are now falling ill one after another, and are not only unable to work, but need constant care. For even if the particles of radiation one is exposed to every day are very small, once they get into your cells and start multiplying, there are soon hundreds of times as many as before. So the younger you are, the greater the damage (8-9)

Tawada then proceeds by describing in detail the bodily mutilations of the Japanese people and the geographical decay of the country. The story ends with the mention of “[d]octors determined to save the lives of victims of radiation” who “gather swarms of fireflies and by this insect light continue after dark to pore over scientific studies and perform experiments, searching for an answer” (12). While these doctors thus work diligently, or rather, blindly and desperately, for a possible cure, the rest of the people are said to be immersed in virtual games.

By making use of fantastic yet strangely erotic imagery, Tawada succeeds in giving a vivid expression to the fear which we might feel towards the future implications of Fukushima. The fact that the story is framed through the lens of a dubious anthropology book further enhances a sense of uncertainty. More importantly, Tawada's story is a unique interpretation of life and death after Fukushima. The old are not able to die, while the young die – this reversal of the biological order of things is Tawada's way of forcing the “nuclear power generation” to feel its own responsibility. In this way, Tawada broadens the scope of the survivors' vision. Instead of a subjective lamentation, here the survivors are forced to face an even more grim future. In reality, what befalls the old in this fiction is to be experienced by the coming generation. The absurdity of making an innocent generation suffer, and of multiplying the dead in this way, comes across very clearly.

What is lacking in Tawada's story is the involvement of the narrator. Both the narrator and the book are placed outside the country, and, as such, the reader is also allowed to assume a certain safe distance from what is really taking place at the site of disaster.

We get a fully involved actor's perspective for the first time in Kazushige Abe's “Ride on Time.” This story starts with an anonymous surfer expressing his boredom: “[a]nother day of uninspiring waves” (183). Instead of a chronological unfolding of events, the narrator is here engaged in a re-construction of his own cultural foundation. Albeit being a short story, the immanence of the subject-matter gives a peculiar weight and gravitas to each sentence.

The ordinary interpretation of the Great Tohoku Earthquake is that it was an “unexpected catastrophe” of an “unprecedented magnitude,” that the people were “totally taken off-guard” and were left “helpless.” Abe's story challenges each of these pre-conceptions. The surfers see a continuity between their ordinary, everyday life and the coming of the “big wave,” i.e. the tsunami. They are thus not victims, and whether they live or die as a result of their encounter with the waves, they are not helpless, nor are they in any way taken off-guard. In short, the disaster is not a tragedy for the surfers. Their attitude is one of amor fati which is not just a capricious shift of perspective, but rather a strength grounded in their culture which goes beyond individual whims. In this sense Abe writes:

Each time the dragon wakes, always in early spring, it swallows a few of us, then vanishes again for years. The same terrible scene has played out over and over. And each time, the locals tell the newcomers all they’ve witnessed, and make them listen. The sharper the account, the better the listener. The better the listener, the less meaningless death is. Because when those memories are passed on, they point the way, and make it less likely that so many will go down the next time. A decade ago, we were knocked off our boards, it’s true, but everyone made it back to shore. Because we had learned something from the past. The experiences of the old surfers, handed down from one generation to the next, were leading us closer to matching the force of that huge wave (186-187)

At the closing scene of the story, the narrator switches from an explanatory attitude to a more chronological, event-oriented way of speaking. He shifts his focus onto his present situation, where the tsunami – most likely the one on March 11, 2011 – is approaching.

One surfer breaks from the group and dashes into the surf. Another follows, then a third. They’re paddling toward the wave. The dragon responds by revealing more and more of itself, spreading its wings to strike at these pathetic humans. The surfers try to ride and slide from the crest into a superlong ride. They all go down. That doesn’t stop other surfers from running into the sea, boards in hand, slapping them down into the water … I know we can do it. Here I go (188)

We are not told as to whether the narrator has survived the wave or not, but it is appropriate of Abe to cut the story at precisely this point. The fate of the surfer is left as a riddle for the reader. The result of the struggle – either survival or death – seems irrelevant, since this, as the narrator already tells us explicitly, is not something which the surfer considers important. It is his willingness to confront the big wave that distinguishes a good surfer, not his fear of death or his rational calculation in terms of the probability to survive. After all, only so many “dragons” exist, and there is no telling when the next opportunity will arise.

Here, in Abe's imagination, we encounter a concrete case of a free human action. Abe provides one paradigm towards a comedic, free relation to life and death after the tsunami. Instead of a passive lamentation or a detached contemplation, Abe here shows how certain cultures do not lose their identity but rather strengthens it in response to a seemingly devastating event. The force which brings devastation is here welcomed by those who are allegedly “destroyed” by it.

This attitude – of fully and freely assuming the fate which befalls the individual – is one of comedy, and it expresses the highest point at which one could relate to both the dead victims and the living survivors of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. The sharpness of Abe's story lies in how well it expresses this attitude without wasting words for other, lower expressions of immediate emotions. However, Abe's narrator nonetheless relies on the cultural code of the surfers in order to establish his comedic, positive relation towards the tsunami. To this extent the story is limited, since readers who do not take part in this culture are unable to directly incorporate these ideas into their own relation to their surrounding world. In order to become universally relevant, prose ought to free the individual – both the characters in the story and the readers of this story – from his or her dependency upon a particular culture. The pursuit of a universal comedy – this will be the next central challenge of prosaic art.


At the Edge of In Late Style

Kenzaburo Oe's In Late Style is a work of prose par excellence whose grand project is to portray and express a comedic involvement with the aftermath of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. As such, Oe's work-in-progress deserves a much more detailed interpretation than the one which will be provided here. Instead of diving into the work itself and thus letting the work speak for itself, here a mere overview of the work from its outside will be presented.

The style of the work has several noteworthy characteristics. Oe frequently uses the literary method of defamiliarization, where he makes subtle alterations to ordinary words in order to produce a fresh experience of otherwise mundane events. Japanese is a language especially adept at doing this, for it contains hiragana, katakana, and kanji (not to mention the alphabets, which often are used to form “English” words which would most likely be unintelligible outside the Japanese world.) The variety which exists at the graphic level of language allows Japanese to play with a word in many different ways. The readers can thus recognize the intended meaning of the word at the phonetic level while simultaneously experiencing the word as something unfamiliar at the graphic level.

As a corollary to this play with the Japanese language, Oe manages to turn general or mundane events into singular, unique moments. Merely by altering the name, by bringing forth a novel way of organizing events and thoughts, this conversion is also achieved. This is again something which is commonly done in our ordinary experience as well, yet is not often consciously understood. The calendar is perhaps the most vivid example of such raising of a general object to the status of uniqueness. A day is any other day, and as such, is a general object. However, once a day is seen as one's own birthday, then the same day is singled out from all other days on the calendar. It becomes unique, and there are possibilities which can only be realized on that day alone. One could moreover single out a day in a particular year – August 6th, 1945 – and raise this day through a re-naming – the day when Hiroshima was attacked by an atom bomb – of it. The change in our way of naming things, which seems to be a superficial, “subjective” decision, is actually woven into the fabric of reality, since things are organized materially in different ways according to how we name things. Names even affect the very core of our emotional involvement with these days. Oe re-names moments, people, and places constantly, and thus raises each of these into a unique sphere of experience.

Oe moreover inserts references to other works written by himself or by other authors. These references and allusions gives the present work a sense of historical continuity. It also raises the stakes of the work, since it must respond responsibly to a wider range of events in the past. This method also allows Oe to suggest that the current work is also subject to repeated re-interpretation in the future. In Late Style thus acquires a fluid texture, as opposed to being a work which tries to conclusively state its own content by itself.

At the level of narration, Oe is known for making self-referential comments which tell the readers what kind of narrative style he is currently adopting, for what reasons he has made this choice, and how this will affect the depicted content. The story is further complicated by the fact that characters often talk about other characters with an air of omniscience, which also means that Oe introduces the thoughts of one character through the voice of another. This produces an interesting effect, where the possibility of a self-enclosed mind is denied perpetually. No character is allowed to form a loop of self-knowledge, and as such everyone is forced to be open towards others. What another person thinks of oneself counts just as much as what one thinks of oneself. Thus, until everyone gets to have a say in each other's dealings, there is no conclusive meaning given to the story.

Lastly, the central theme of the work is the relation between the dead and the living. This is not so much a speculative theme, where some “correct” or “true” relation is supposed to be found, but rather a question of style. For instance, in the September installment of the novel, Oe addressed himself through the mouth of one Ms. Shimaura, a Japanese journalist living in Berlin:

In truth, the poem which you have written... That is, do you remember that you have made a plan for reading the poems written by a female German poet and a Japanese poet (in this case, you as an author) as an accompaniment to Mozart's Requiem conducted by a young musician who came from Düsseldorf as a guest conductor. I have heard that in Ueno you yourself read it as a work written by a Japanese person, but in the concert conducted in Germany, a professional actor read a German translation of it... It was not me, but a more experienced translator who did this work, but the translator had uncertainties when it came to the parts concerning your forest's folklore and your mother's words for narrating it, so I was asked to help. I read the original text many times until it stuck in my memory, the part where, on the day when the war ended, the village head spoke to you children in a certain way, and your mother critiques his words.

In the presence of children listening
We cannot re-live,
Are words we might not be permitted to utter?
And my mother to me
Eternally enigmatic words she spoke.
I cannot re-live. But
We can re-live.

I, something else other than this... read that passage where your mother tells the childhood you when you were sick, even if you die, I will once again, give birth to you, so it's okay, and I was moved so much that when I went to your house I translated it from the German and got Chikashi-san to listen to it.3

In terms of the living's relation to the dead, the highlight in this passage is Oe's mother's utterances “I cannot re-live. But / We can re-live” and “even if you die, I will once again, give birth to you.” The first quote is an “eternally enigmatic” possibility, or an idea, while the latter is the mother's own individual interpretation of this idea, which is to give birth to another child and treat that same child as Oe's double. The “I” vanishes while the “We” remains – this is the first postulate of Oe's attitude towards death in this novel.

However, the converse, namely, the “We” vanishes while the “I” remains, is also asserted. In the July installment, Oe complicates the relation between parent and child in the episode where his own son, Akari, buys a new pair of spectacles. Maki, Akari's sister, reports:

Akari-san's amblyopia, which has previously been deemed incurable, was actually not like that at all! Although there certainly is an extreme astigmatism and myopia, but he nonetheless found that it still is something which can be corrected! And so Akari-san had to seriously respond to the words of the doctor whom, in order to make a new pair of spectacles, was replacing lens after lens with elaborate machinery. It was the translation of my life! And eventually the spectacles became Akari-san's first ever effective tool. Everything which Akari-san sees now has been made anew, and the relation between him and the world has also been changed... or so I would like to think.4

As a result of obtaining this “first ever effective tool,” Akari comes to play the piano on his own for the first time, too. Maki further reports to her father: “right after making a pair of spectacles suited for himself, he has started to play on his own the piano compositions which he has memorized by ear.”5 In another episode, during an interview session with Oe, a young filmmaker named “Gī Jr.,” who is also the chairman of the “catastrophe committee” – a committee whose mission is to honor those who are “living a catastrophe” – suggests to Oe the real reason behind Akari's cure:

—… Akari doesn't have the ability to perform in front of an audience.
While you, Choko-san [Oe's alter-ego], believed in what you have just said, you also have overestimated the extent of his amblyopia and astigmatism, and so you have not been told by experts about the possibility of their correction. Through such a process, albeit as a result, it has hindered Akari-san's as it were self-emancipation or self-realization. Maki-san thinks that there really was a long succession of such days.6

Not to mention the pun between “I” and “eye,” here we see that it was the parent's interpretation of the situation of his son which prevented the son from “going live,” “living” in the presence of an audience, in front of the public. And Oe, as a story-teller and a novelist, is further criticized by Maki-san by citing a series of questions written in the postcards sent to Oe from his readers:

1. … From its very beginning, the mainstream novel took the speaking “I” as its starting-point, and he [jibun, I, in this case Oe] will also write in this style. If this is the case, then is it not only natural that the “I” gets to speak longer than any other character portrayed in the story? It seems that the “I” of his novel intends to live longer than any of the characters which he portrays...

2. Maybe that is so, indeed, it may be the case that a writer has the freedom to either live or die in a literary sense. But me and Akari-san are both deeply involved in our respective “new life (vita nuova)” which expands before us. And we are resolved to continue living after papa's death.7

The “We” in a novel – the characters portrayed – cannot live longer than the “I” or the narrator – this is the second postulate. If we now try to unify the two postulates, we get a contradictory result. On the one hand, the “We” will live beyond the “I” in the sense that a species survives its individuals. However, on the other hand, the “I” as a narrator will live beyond any particular individual included in the “We” – a species will go extinct unless there is at least one individual who perceives it as this particular species. In this contradiction, we see a loop-like movement of thought which alternates between the “I” and the “We” and which sustains the sphere of the living. Death arrives when this circle is breached, when the one side is no longer recognized by the other. The inclusion of the “I” into a “We” is just as necessary as the inclusion of the “We” under the perception of the “I.” This is the basic concept of life which is the foundation of the more specific political paradoxes and tensions which Oe depicts in this novel.

These are the main stylistic and thematic features of Oe's work. From this list, we see that the essence of Oe's literary action, or the free self-styling of human beings, is one of transfiguration through death. But what does this expression mean?

In raising a particular event or character above the rest as a single, irreplaceable individual, Oe's act of writing – which really is the act of constructing a long name – as well as the reader's act of reading perform two functions at once. On the one hand, the particular, or that which is mundane, is lost, it is completely left behind. Thus, a pair of spectacles is no longer just a tool for looking, but rather that single pair in the hands of Akari and thus is something which is absolutely alien to all others of its kind. On the other hand, there is a kind of birth in this moment of naming, where the moment, object, or person is given the right to take on a unique significance. Here, the particular thing is transfigured into something singular.

Such as transfiguration, however, is not merely confined to the scope of things existing directly in the novel. Oe's references and allusions to other works here implies that these works – by virtue of being brought under the heading of the name “In Late Style” – are also re-christened, that is, given a new significance afresh. Moreover, this effect pours out into the world of the dead as well. In the maternal postulate: “the I vanishes in the We,” and conversely in the author's postulate: “the We vanishes in the I,” we see the alteration between death and life, between things beyond consciousness (the “We” which is no “I”) and things existing for consciousness (the “I” and all its experiences.)

It is the anticipation of death which allows the narrator to reflect upon his mother's words and thus bring forth implicitly the two postulates which form a kind of circle. And, in being named, things “die” as materially present things, and instead become transposed into the sphere of the mind. Death here has the significance of a moment of transition, and this is a positive phenomenon. It is in this sense that Oe is busy working through a series of transfigurations through death.

Admittedly, what is here presented as the outcome of Oe's literary style and theme in In Late Style is abstract. This is because it is formulated at the edge of the work instead of being demonstrated in the actual experience of reading this fertile text. This latter task is left to the reader to perform, and to judge for him or her self how such an experience squares with Oe's project of building afresh a new and unique relation between the living and the dead. For now, suffice it to say that the image which underlies much of Oe's story is that of the mother who is the transitional figure between life and death.

In Late Style is still a work in progress, and the precise extent to which it pushes the boundaries of our attitude concerning the relation between life and death, apropos of the Great Tohoku Eathquake, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, one could speculate that, as far as Oe narrates in this or that particular style from the point of view of this or that character, the novel will only ever suggest an absolute formulation of the said relation. Each formulation will be afflicted by the bias of a particular character, and as such, will not automatically carry the weight which it ought to have for all other characters and reader alike. A pure, absolute expression of such a relation is thus to be sought in a style of expression which is not that of narration. It is here that a transition from narration to speculation is to be effected. This, however, is a new task which has not yet begun in Japan.


Conclusion

As a result of our systematic survey of art after the disaster, we have reached a point where a new demand can be brought to view, that of expressing the chasm between the living survivors and the dead victims in a speculative language, i.e. philosophy. But this does not mean that one, monumental work of pure philosophy will suddenly change the scene. The self-education of our minds must come about gradually.

There are precedents. The transition from artistic expression to pure speculation is exemplified in, for instance, Schelling's Clara, Or Nature's Connection to the Spirit World. This is a work which is written in the form of a story, yet which expresses a stream of speculation concerning the relation between nature and spirit, not merely within the human soul, but rather in all things. Schelling writes:

And what would in the end be so bad, she said, about that composition? Doesn’t the novel really tend a lot toward dialogue in its life that hovers between the dramatic and the epic? So, it would come back to the question again of whether any form is more natural for our time than that of philosophical discussion.

I don’t know, I said, but in its very nature the novel contradicts the unity of time and action; whereas it seems to me that in philosophical discussions this unity is as essential as it is in tragedies, for here everything proceeds so completely internally and everything has to be decided on the spot, as it were, without moving away from the original location because of the narrow context of thought (65-66)

And he continues:

Especially, she added, I don’t think much of a philosopher who can’t make their basic view comprehensible to any educated human being; indeed, if necessary, to any intelligent and well-behaved child. And what is this current separation of academics from the people supposed to bring? Truly, I can see the time come when the people, having had to become thereby more and more ignorant about the highest things, will rise up and make those philosophers account for themselves, saying: You should be the salt of your nation; so why don’t you salt us? Give us the spirit’s baptism of fire again; we feel that we need it and that we have come back far enough (66)

[S]uch as in the transition from wakefulness to sleep and vice versa; life’s rotation does not itself stop in sleep, it is just transferred from one medium into another. Or from many signs don’t we tend to attribute the spirit as being busy with thoughts, inventions, and other activities in sleep, even if we don’t remember them afterwards? (39)

What appears dormant, that is, merely natural, might thus be permeated with a kind of spirituality which may strike as mysterious or unreal to some. But Schelling poses these questions in an accessible, relatively simple language in order to invite us to speculate on these matters from a free, philosophical point of view. Now we are moreover told that “life's rotation” as it is mentioned here is made active by death. Clara, the interlocutor in this piece, converses with her father:

Death, she said, is the release of the inner form of life from the external one that keeps it suppressed?
Excellent, I said.
And death is necessary because those two forms of life that couldn’t exist together at the same time had to exist one after the other instead, once nature had sunk down into the purely external?
Absolutely right, I said, and you have expressed it so marvelously (41)

Clara proceeds in this style, where Schelling's speculation concerning the interaction between the body and the mind (what he calls “spirit”) is directly addressed to Clara as part of her education. As she is introduced to these fresh ideas, Clara is at the same time initiated into a new way of thinking. It is this didactic spice which allows Schelling's work to be an excellent example of a form of speculative art, something which the Great Tohoku Earthquake is quite probably about to give rise in Japan.

[M]any other magnificent things could be predicted about that place, not by just making it up as takes our fancy, but by following through firmly grounded concepts. Although those living here would find most of them incredible, as is to be concluded from how many mourn for the dead; not only for themselves, in having been left behind by those whom they most loved of all in life, but also for the sake of the deceased person, too, as if they too were now robbed of many friends they could have enjoyed here. However, I will never be able to persuade myself either that any excellent thing that even the present, subordinated life offers us to enjoy won’t be found there much more magnificently and purely, or that—far from the future life’s being the better one for good people—the future life should rather be a lower and worse one. If, on the other hand, it’s true that something spiritual lies at the basis of all sensible existence and that what is actually excellent is within the spiritual, this must necessarily remain so, such that I can’t even consider death to be, as they say, a mortal leap and, truth be said, nor can I even consider it to be a simple transition into the spiritual condition, but only one into a much more spiritual one (73)


I’ve known some people who, though otherwise spiritual, never let their imagination rest by day or night, and who tried all means, as they said, to link with their departed loved ones through ecstasy; but they were never blessed with that wish. Instead, it seems that throughout time immemorial those who didn’t try anything like this, but who were simple and pious, were those who were deemed worthy of receiving openings from another world. In this sense I consider the decree that man should never seek a link to the spirits to be one that is good and just (75)

Shouldn’t we generally more often observe the same sensitivity to the departed that we believe we owe to the living? Who knows whether they partake more deeply with us than we think; whether the pain we feel so intensely, the excess of tears we weep for them, isn’t capable of unsettling them? (76)


I even believe that it is divine intention that also after death, in the inner being of man, a certain sympathy remains for the Earth of which he was a part; that this parting from it will really be felt, for otherwise death would not be death; and that this feeling is truly embedded in the very depths of our being (76)

Just as Schelling wrote in Kant's wake, Kant in that of the Lisbon disaster, so the chain of influences can come to mature in the case of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. But in the absence of a concrete work which goes beyond what we already have with Oe's In Late Style, the author of this essay must now close his speech and patiently wait in silence for more tidings from the future.





1This is what Hegel calls the “bad infinite” in the qualitative sense.
2On the transition from the appeal to natural divinities to a more concrete, mindful relation to death, Hegel writes: “death has a double meaning: (a) it is precisely the immediate passing away of the natural, (b) it is the death of the purely natural and therefore the birth of something higher, namely the spiritual realm to which the merely natural dies in the sense that the spirit has this element of death in itself as belonging to its essence … But therefore the natural shape in its immediacy and sensuous existence can no longer be interpreted as coinciding with the meaning glimpsed in it, because the meaning of the external itself just consists in its dying in its real existence and transcending itself” (p.349).
3The original Japanese passage is as follows: “じつはあなたの書かれた詩を……それは東京のシンフォニーの客員指揮者をしたデュッセルドルフの若い音楽家が、モーツァルトの『レクイエム』をドイツと日本で振るにあたって、ドイツの女性詩人の詩と、日本の詩人(この場合作家のあなたです)の詩とを朗読する、そのプランを作りましたね。日本人による作品として、上野ではあなた御自身が読まれたそうですが、ドイツに帰って指揮した演奏会では、ドイツ語に訳したものを俳優が朗読することになって……私が訳したのじゃなく、翻訳の経験の深い方がそれをなさったんですが、あなたの森のなかの土地の伝承と、それをあなたのお母さんが話された言葉のところ、自信がないので、というわれてお手伝いしたことがあります。何度も原文を読んでいるうちに覚えてしまってますが、戦争の終った日に、村長さんがあなた方、村の子どもらに話された言葉を、お母さんが批評されるところでした。
 《子供たちの聞いておる所で、/私らは生き直すことができない、/と言うてもよいものか? /そして母親は私に/永く謎となる言葉を続けた。/私は生き直すことができない。しかし/私らは生き直すことができる。》
 私は、これとは違う、もうひとつの……お母さんが病気だったこどものあなたに、もしあなたが死んでも、私がもう一度、生んであげるから、大丈夫、といわれた、あの文章を読んで感動して、あなたのお家に行った時、千樫さんにドイツ語から訳して聞いてもらったのでした(288).
4これまで根本的に、矯正することはできないとされて来たアカリさんの視力薄弱は、そうじゃなかったんです! それは強度の乱視と近視であるけれど、矯正できるものだ、と見ぬかれました! そして先生が新しい眼鏡を作るために、精巧な機器で幾枚ものレンズを取り替えては問いかけられる言葉に、アカリさんは本気になって答えることになりました。私の人生で、最大の通訳でした! そして、ついに眼鏡はアカリさんに初めて有効な道具となりました。アカリさんの見るすべてのものは新しいものとなり、かれと世界との関係は変った……そういいたいくらいです (291).
5本当に自分に合う眼鏡を作ってから、すぐにひとりで、耳で覚えているピアノ曲を弾くようになった(297).
6(中略)アカリに、聴衆の前でピアノを弾くという能力があるのではない。
   ―長江さんがそう思い込んでいる一方で、弱視と乱視の程度を重く見過ぎて、その矯正の可能性を専門家に聴かれなかった。それらが重なって、結果としてであれ、アカリさんの自己解放というか、自己実現というか、それを妨げてきた(296).
71。(中略)小説が始まって以来、その書き手が「私」は、といってしゃべり始めるのが小説の主流、自分もその語り方で書く。それなら小説に書かれているどの人物よりも、書いている「私」が長い間しゃべることになるのは当然じゃないか?
   (中略)2。そうかもしれません、確かに小説家は小説論的に生き死にする自由もあるのでしょう。しかしアカリさんと私は、いまそれぞれの、これからの「新生」を実感しています。そして私らは、パパの死後も生き残る覚悟です(293).