Table of Contents
Before you is the inaugural issue of the critical journal Genron. We intend to publish three times annually for at least three years, creating nine volumes. As long as I do not collapse or Genron does not go bankrupt, we will continue working at least through the summer of 2018.
Although I have just called our journal a critical one, knowing the type of magazine we are aiming to create is quite difficult. Our journal is not interested in publishing provocative words that reflect reality as is; rather, we intend to present words that seem to have momentarily distanced themselves from reality and, after reflecting various thoughts, refocus on a single point. Though we seem to be concerned with reality, we are in fact not. Or, perhaps, we seem to be unconcerned with reality when in fact we are. Consider one of the themes of our inaugural issue, “The Work of Art in the Age of Terrorism.” It appears as if it may be related to the current political situation in Japan, but in fact it is not; perhaps, it appears as if it is not related to the current political situation, but in fact it is. This is the sense of the distance to reality adopted by this journal.
To avoid the inward tendencies of academia without completely becoming journalism, such dual-natured language—what Mikhail Bakhtin would likely call polyphony—was once referred to as criticism in Japan. This journal was established in the paths of this history, and our intention of being a successor to that history is explained in the dialogue among Osawa, Ichikawa, Fukushima, and myself.
In fact, however, the term criticism is no longer used in such a fashion. We would most likely be misunderstood if we refer to this as a “critical journal.” I suspect that a majority of today’s youth would, on hearing the term criticism, imagine online content reviews or political commentary that amasses numerous “Likes,” all to be consumed and forgotten in a short span of time.
At one time, there was criticism in this country; currently, this is not the case. This journal has been introduced with the goal of reviving this criticism. We might be laughed at for our anachronistic attempt, but we will bring it back for at least the next three years.
In other words, if you are a reader of my work, you know that recently I have been contending that philosophy should resemble tourism.
Philosophy (lit. “a love of wisdom”) is, more than anything, a product of curiosity. In the course of one’s life, one meets various people and encounters various things. Philosophy originates from this simple joy. The idea of thinking through the principles of truth, virtue, or beauty only comes later. This sort of “hedonistic” characteristic of philosophy is clear when one looks at the words and actions of Socrates as recorded by Plato.
Five years ago, there was a boom of sabukaru (subculture) criticism among younger generations. There were undoubtedly many who considered this to be an irrational practice. Certainly, we cannot philosophize anime or idol groups simply by discussing them. Yet, there is a certain pleasure to be had from consuming them. Considering that pleasure as a determinant for approaching philosophy is, in a sense, the correct path of philosophy. This is because philosophy is not, from the onset, something one sets out to do, furrowing one’s brow and engaging with some greater concept. Rather, it is when one engages in something pleasurable that is not philosophy and is, unbeknownst to them, drawn in by some outside force as one grows closer to it. That other force is philosophy. This is similar to becoming trapped. It is when thinking what Derrida might call unserious thoughts that one suddenly realizes they have arrived at a serious one. Conversely, it is like the experience of the lost child: this is the essence of philosophy.
Now in 2015, such subculture criticism has disappeared. In fact, Japan is currently facing a large political and social crisis: probably, there is no time for a lost child to be discussing anime and idol groups.
Consequently, today, only serious students and people who strive to make the world a better place, want to save those in trouble, or hope to realize the dream of democracy read books on thought. Otherwise, it is a particular type of academic that simply wants to read with exactitude as many texts from the past as possible.
But, is that really what writings on thought are about? Were not writings on thought originally more free, more loose? That is, thought was considered to be a terminal of knowledge—what Derrida called the “post office”—that allowed several individuals to proceed to various spaces based on their individual interests.
This journal was conceived with such an understanding of philosophy and thought. With its publication, we hope to once again express the joy of curiosity and the experience of the lost child. In other words, this journal was created to once again make philosophy and thought unserious. I express the experience of distancing oneself from reality and losing sight of one’s goal—the joy of a puzzling piece of knowledge—as “tourism.”
If philosophy can become a space for tourism—a transformation I call tourization—then we can also philosophize tourism. I am writing this introduction having just returned from Ukraine. Since 2013, we here at Genron, in cooperation with a well-known travel agency, have been organizing annual tours to Chernobyl tailored toward a general audience. This year again, I visited Ukraine as an accompanying lecturer.
My relation with Chernobyl began with a short, week-long research trip in April 2013. The results of that trip are recorded in my publication, Chernobyl Dark Tourism Guide. Why would a complete outsider to nuclear power, such as me, set out on a research trip to the northern border of Ukraine? The answer is, of course, because of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear incident. Similarly, many tour participants developed an interest in Chernobyl following the Fukushima accident. As such, many people initially tried to compare Chernobyl to Fukushima, wondering if Chernobyl is, in fact, safe. Additionally, many wanted to know whether the victims of Chernobyl were pronuclear. However, after the tour, the majority of participants voiced completely different interests. They might have been surprised at the architecture of the power plant or workers’ housing projects steeped in Soviet-style (Russian) Futurism; awed at the strong-willed Samosely (lit. “self-settlers,” [translator’s note: residents who have illegally taken up residence within 30 kilometers of the most heavily contaminated areas around the Chernobyl Power Plant]); amazed at the lush nature within the no-entry zones. Comments never focused on the debates over whether Chernobyl was safe or if they supported or opposed nuclear energy.
The questions of whether the remains of the disaster site are safe and whether one should support the further implementation of nuclear power are, of course, important. These issues will continue to reverberate as important points of consideration for each participant on the tour. However, now, nearly 30 years from the 1986 catastrophe—local researchers refer to the incident at Chernobyl not as an “accident” (авария) but as a “catastrophe” (катастрофa)—people in Ukraine actually have many superfluous thoughts in the vast, uninhabited land nearly the size of the sprawling metropolis that is Tokyo. I consider those very superfluous thoughts to be the essence of philosophy as tourism because this is precisely the experience of the lost child.
Since the 2011 disaster, Japan has become a country with no room to breathe and no flexibility. This is not only from the pro-establishment/pro-government perspective but also from the anti-establishment perspective. If you want to talk of sophisticated theories, you better first make your way to a demonstration: Japan has become a country that demands you take to the streets, sweat, and scream at the top of your lungs. I find this to be extremely suffocating. Rather, more than the growing right-wing tendencies of the current administration, I feel that such an atmosphere of excessive activism is closer to the pre-war atmosphere than anything else. To think about reality, I want to distance myself from reality. To think about the accident, I want to distance myself from the accident. It is the luxury of giving one’s time to thinking that, as a critic, I want to give to future generations. Thus, I established Genron and take people to Chernobyl every year. These two projects are uncompromisingly linked in my mind.
I am uncertain if philosophy is serious or unserious and whether going to Chernobyl is serious or unserious. An experience that causes the boundary between the serious and the unserious to falter was Socrates’ practice, the polyphony of Bakhtin, and what Derrida called deconstruction.
At one time, the Japanese economy was still going strong. Sometime around the accompanying boom in postmodermism in the colorful 1980s, people talked about Japan as if it lacked a European-style architecture. In addition, since its political institutions were riddled with holes, it was argued that there was no need for deconstruction. Thirty years later, we can see that this was a completely incorrect assessment. Japan is a rigid country full of boundaries. We have not experienced enough deconstruction.
This journal has been established as a critical endeavor intended to serve as the successor of both Shisouchizu beta, a journal available at general bookstores, and Genron Communications, a journal of sorts for members of the Genron community, Genron Tomonokai. Thus, while the journal is aimed at the general reader, it shares characteristics with our Genron Tomonokai publication. One portion of the table of contents is a continuation of that journal; as such, despite being the inaugural issue of Genron, one will find the 8th installment, 14th installment, or 16th installment of certain pieces. We ask for your understanding in this matter.
The circulation of this journal will be more conservative than that of Shisouchizu beta, and the bookstores that will carry it are few. If you want to secure your copy, I recommend you to become a member of the Genron community. Considering a large print run, we plan to publish an e-book version nearly simultaneously with the release of the physical edition.
I opted to limit the publication quantity because I do not necessarily desire a wide readership for the journal. I distance myself from reality to think about reality, alter the boundary between the serious and the unserious, and sink into thought. Unfortunately, not many people can understand such expressions. These introductory remarks are scheduled to be published online. This will virtually guarantee that a few lines will be pulled out of context as well as the appearance of criticism claiming that Azuma only writes excuses without political action or that he is turning Fukushima into some sort of unserious fodder for discussion. Such reactions can no longer be considered to be mere misunderstandings. They originate due to the reader’s inability to comprehend, a defense mechanism of sorts. This cannot be corrected through explanation. Anyway, if I were to respond to all forms of criticism and questioning, I would not be able to publish anything. Therefore, I would be content if only those who are capable of understanding it understand it and if only those who have a need for criticism and thought pick up this journal.
As noted at the beginning of this article, the inauguration of this journal is an extremely anachronistic endeavor. Most people no longer find a need for either criticism or thought. Yet, it is my heartfelt hope that this journal will reach the few readers who indeed still find a need for both criticism and thought.
In writing these comments, I reread my words five years ago, the preface accompanying the inaugural issue of Shisouchizu beta. The enthusiasm and faith in a readership I had then exists no longer. However, the concluding lines are still alive within me: Philosophy that, like Crocs, moves beyond national borders and, like the Food Republic, erases the boundaries between real and imitation: That is my ideal. With the tours to Chernobyl, I have only changed the form, intending to apply it.
For me, the nuclear accident was an experience that transcends national borders and erases the boundaries between real and artificial objects. Though Genron does not specifically focus on the nuclear accident, its spirit begins there.