Table of Contents
Series 2 START Issue
From Investment to Donation, and to Prayer
The Challenge of SOLIO and Its Philosophy
Kazuma Ieiri + Daisuke Katsura + Hiroki Azuma
On the Foolishness of Evil,or the Problem of the Prison Camp and the Housing Complex
[From Heisei to Reiwa]
History Is a Family
Genichiro Takahashi + Hiroki Azuma
Nation, Gender, New Era
Takeshi Hara + Hiroki Azuma
[AI and the Humanities]
Artificial Intelligence Today and the Imagination of Science Fiction
[Roundtable] Nozomi Ohmori + Satoshi Hase + Youichiro Miyake
A Fermentation Model of Communication and Thought
[Book Guide] 15 Must-Reads Connecting AI and the Humanities
Takamitsu Yamamoto + Hiromitsu Yoshikawa
Religious Architecture and Sightseeing
Russia Today Seen from Tourism and Nationalism
Akiko Honda + Sanami Takahashi + Yoko Ueda
Detour Development Travelogue | 1 | Akira Takayama
Art and Cosmotechnics | 1 | For a Post-European Philosophy | Yuk Hui
Theory and Cold War | 1 | Right-Wing Sartre? | Alex Taek-Gwang Lee
On Other Surfaces | 8 | 1970s Art History in Myth | Yohei Kurose
On Independent States | 9 | American Dream, Soviet Dream | Kenro Hayamizu
Islam Read Askew | 1 | Islamic Pop and Europe | Yohei Matsuyama
Reviews and Prospects on the Promotion of National Prestige | 1 | Can the Symbolization of Politics Be Stopped? | Masanori Tsujita
Traveling the World in Russian | 9 | Will Art Change Local Cities? | Yoko Ueda
The Pigeon Clock of Dischronia│Afternoon IX│ Melon Uminekozawa
English Translations and Abstracts
The author visited “The Exhibition Hall of Evidence of Crimes Committed by Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army” in Pingfang, a district in Harbin, China. Unit 731 of the Kwantung Army conducted experiments on human bodies in Manchuria in the prewar era. This historical museum records these crimes.
The Museum exhibits a wealth of historical materials to demonstrate the crimes of Unit 731. At the same time, it functions as a place for prayer, which narrativizes the crimes of Unit 731, endowing the deaths of its victims with meaning. This function is crucial as long as the museum is curated by the Chinese, who were the Unit’s victims. The crimes of Unit 731 can be called a quantifying (trivializing) violence, which reduced its victims to trivial existences that could either be killed or not killed, stripping them of their names and intrinsic character and changing their existence into simple numbers. The Chinese must resist this violence. Thus, they tend to find a grand, deliberate design behind the crimes of Unit 731.
However, it is possible to say that what is truly terrifying about the crimes of Unit 731 is not their deliberateness, but shallowness and foolishness. We know that the experiments on human bodies actually yielded only few results useful for science or the military. We also know that the military doctors were petty men. We could say that the crimes were mostly meaningless—that this meaninglessness is actually the essence of these crimes. This meaninglessness does not appear in the exhibits at the Museum.
There is an important problem here. Perpetrators forget the harm that they have caused. Most of the perpetrators in Unit 731 forgot everything about their actions in postwar Japan, and were never even tried in court. Victims remember the harm by narrativizing it and endowing it with meaning. The Museum does this. But in both cases the fact that it was meaningless harm is forgotten. The meaninglessness of the harm disappears between the forgetful perpetrators and the victims who endow the harm with meaning. Then how might we remember this meaninglessness? In other words, how is it possible for perpetrators to remember evil?
Azuma focuses here on the fact that housing complexes are often built upon the sites of prison camps. The Museum in Harbin is built on the former site of Unit 731 research facilities. However, today it is surrounded by housing complexes. There is also a shopping mall and a subway station nearby. Though this might seem strange, Azuma notes that he encountered something similar in Krakow, Poland and Kiev, Ukraine. Krakow was once home to the Plaszow concentration camp. Today the site has been turned into a park surrounded by housing complexes. There is a valley called Babi Yar in Kiev. Over 30,000 Jews were murdered there in September, 1941. This, too, is surrounded by housing complexes.
Housing complexes stand on the former sites of prison camps in Harbin, Krakow, and Kiev. This landscape reveals the dual nature of the twentieth century. The twentieth century was an age filled with war and massacre during which an unprecedented number of people were killed (the age of mass death). However, at the same time, it was also an age in which the consumer society of the masses blossomed, and an unprecedented number of people lived in happiness and material satisfaction (the age of mass life). These two characteristics are deeply related both philosophically and technologically. In his Bremen lectures in 1949, Martin Heidegger proposed that Nazi extermination camps and the food industry were in essence the same. We build our peace and prosperity of today (mass life) by inheriting the legacy of a culture of doing harm (mass death). The fact that housing complexes are built on the sites of camps symbolizes this legacy.
Prison camps are sites of mass death. Perpetrators strip victims of their names and meaning; they kill them; they forget them there. Museums are sites for recovering meaning. There (the bereaved of) victims return to the victims their names and meaning; they mourn them; they remember them. However, as mentioned above, it is the meaninglessness of the harm that is forgotten in both sites. To solve the problem, Azuma suggests that we could find a clue in the fact that people have built not only museums, but also housing complexes on the sites of camps – that is, a third kind of place for our collective oblivion and memory other than the camp and the museum. That being the case, could we not say the memory of the meaninglessness of mass death becomes possible precisely at a site of mass life, the housing complex?
In this article Azuma concludes that remembering the meaninglessness of harm done, or remembering the evil of perpetrators, is made possible not by museum exhibits, but by the literature of housing complexes. Is this really true? Azuma endeavors to demonstrate it by reading Haruki Murakami’s 1994-1995 novel The Wind-up Bird Chronicle as a rejoinder to Kojin Karatani’s 1989 critique. In Azuma’s reading, Murakami’s metaphor of “underground” and the “well” depict a new possibility for our collective memory of the foolishness of the evil.
To celebrate the launch of the new donation platform SOLIO, entrepreneurs Kazuma Ieiri and Daisuke Katsura, founders of the service, held a roundtable discussion with interviewer Hiroki Azuma.
SOLIO is a service for non-profit organizations (NPOs) that face challenges in collecting donations. It includes a “donation portfolio” service that allows users to donate not only to specific NPOs but to a group of organizations as a whole with the domain of activities they want to support. It is similar to a financial asset portfolio, and users can make their donation portfolios public. Ieiri and Katsura stated that this encourages the act of giving among users who cannot decide where to make donations.
In response to Azuma’s question as to why they focus on donations rather than investments, Katsura explained that social issues such as poverty and human rights can only be resolved through donations, because it is difficult to collect investments. Ieiri stated that he hoped SOLIO would help bring investments and donations closer together and thus increase the interaction between startups and NPOs that make investments and donations.
The discussants also raised the issue of the uncomfortable necessity of pursuing scalability on an extreme level in present-day capitalism as a context for the need for donations. In response to this situation, Ieiri said that he would like to build “small economic spheres” by assisting entrepreneurial enterprises launched by individuals and small- to medium-sized businesses in local communities through his crowd-funding service CAMPFIRE. Katsura stated that he found the act of donating similar to religious prayer in that it does not promise clear returns, in contrast to exchanges and investments.
From Heisei to Reiwa
In 2018, the author Genichiro Takahashi published Are You Lonesome Tonight?, a sequel to his 2001 novel, The Rise and Fall of Japanese Literature. Takahashi is currently working on the third volume, Hirohito. This dialogue with Hiroki Azuma discussed the connection between history and literature, centered on this trilogy.
The dialogue opened with a discussion on the relationship between war and literature. Takahashi pointed out that in postwar Japan, Obon (a traditional season for prayer to one’s family ancestors) happens to overlap with the anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II. This point connects the idea of “family” (ie) to our collective memory of war.
Takahashi and Azuma share an interest in the concept of “family.” Takahashi wrote about familial history and memories in his 2018 novel, Sleep Well, Under the Trees, while Azuma headlined the possibilities of a new community in the coincidental nature of family in Genron 0: A Philosophy of the Tourist.
Modern Japanese literature was supported by a familial community of authors. However, Takahashi spoke of his personal feeling that the community of literature disappeared around 2005. This was closely connected to the rise and fall of criticism, and Takahashi wrote Are You Lonesome Tonight? under this sense of a crisis of criticism. Azuma pointed out that the collapse of literature also means the end of a modern paradigm of thought and expression. In spaces like the Internet, where quantification occurs on a large scale, literary words cannot demonstrate their effectiveness, and humans have become like animals.
Finally, Azuma stated that it is necessary to create a “half-isolated” space for the future persistence of literature. Azuma noted that this is a community of familial giving, not exchange, and Genron, as a project, is its implementation. Takahashi responded that literature is a gift, and that he attempts to connect this sense of giving with the dead in familial relationships anew through his novels. His latest historical novel, Hirohito, is the crystallization of this attempt. As the dialogue came to a close, both recognized through their own actions the necessity of recontextualizing history through the lens of family.
This dialogue discussed the Emperor System in contemporary Japan, focusing not just on the Emperor but also the Empress. The dialogue occurred in April 2019, immediately following the announcement of the new imperial era name, “Reiwa.”
First, Takeshi Hara and Hiroki Azuma confirmed the fact that the Emperor System became stronger in the Heisei era (1989-2019). Emperor Akihito of the Heisei era is generally regarded as a “liberal” emperor. However, Hara pointed out that Akihito proactively conducted imperial visits and court rituals. He and Empress Michiko often met citizens, sometimes kneeling to ordinary people and speaking with them on the same eye level. This type of gesture, which is called “Heisei style,” made the national polity stronger in a very different manner than in the Showa era – in a “micro” manner. In addition, more prayers during court rituals in Heisei cultivated a sense of state unity.
In the background of this Heisei-style was Empress Michiko. Michiko was raised in a Catholic home. Hara suggested that the Heisei style of kneeling to express her sympathy is inspired by Catholicism. According to Hara, the Showa Emperor had already shown movements toward proactively receiving Christianity in his youth. Japan’s Emperor System prolonged itself historically by taking in other religions outside of Shinto, such as Buddhism. The wedding of Akihito and Michiko, Hara stated, can be considered as an extension of this history.
Azuma pointed out that Michiko reflects the state of gender in Japanese society. She provided a breath of fresh air by choosing to raise the Imperial children themselves, as well as taking family trips and creating a “My Home,” which was not permitted before, within the Imperial Family. In this way, she became a model for Japanese housewives of the same generation. However, Azuma also pointed out that Michiko’s behavior reinforced Japan’s conservative views on women. The post-Heisei Empress Masako is a former careerwoman, who suffered because the customs of the old Imperial household did not agree with her. Hara emphasized that the issues of gender centered around Masako themselves are the key to thinking about the Reiwa Emperor System.
As a nation, Japan has long tended to mysticize the thoughts of its Emperor, but with this opening of a new era, we should also open up discussions on the Emperor System and its future into a more vernacular and social conversation.
AI and the Humanities
In the midst of declarations of a new boom in artificial intelligence (AI), a roundtable discussion involving Nozomi Ohmori, book reviewer and science fiction (SF) translator; Satoshi Hase, SF writer; and Yoichiro Miyake, AI developer, was held at Genron Café. The theme of discussion was the current state of AI development and its relationship with SF’s imagination.
Miyake began the discussion by summarizing the history of AI. AI development focused on technologies that handled symbols like natural language processing until recently. However, today, technologies such as image recognition handle things other than just symbols.
Miyake also introduced the idea of real-world-oriented AI, which produces data related to the real world so that it is more recognizable to AI. In response to this, Hase submitted examples of smart cities developing in African urban centers and China, and pointed out that issues such as privacy and data governance could be raised by real-world-oriented AIs.
Miyake noted the interesting similarity between a type of game AI and smart cities. It is known as “meta-AI,” which controls all the characters’ behaviors in a given game.
In contrast, character AI, which controls individual characters, is made up of several modules and decision-making systems. Ohmori pointed out that characters in a novel resemble character AIs. Hase argued that events such as disasters in the climax of entertainment novels play a role similar to meta-AI, which coordinates the movements of character AIs.
Miyake admitted his study is highly influenced by SF’s imagination. This includes various other images of AI which are different from those developed in the mainstream of AI study in Europe or US, which only defines intelligence as the capacity of symbols and languages’ control. Ohmori pointed out that some important authors from Isaac Asimov to Ted Chiang came from the periphery of European culture and that their imagination could be influenced by their origins.
Rice bran beds known as NukaDoko, originating from Japanese fermentation culture, are complex systems that function based on interactions between microbes and humans.
When raw vegetables are put inside it, fermentative bacteria such as lactic-acid bacilli create nutritive and flavor components.
In order to sustain the fermentation, human hands must stir the rice bran bed on a daily basis.
This creates a cyclical structure where the resident bacteria from the human body migrate into the rice bran, and in turn, the bacteria from the rice bran bed enter the human body upon eating the pickled vegetables.
In this article, Chen considers a comparison between rice bran beds and human creative works, communication, and thought.
The Creative Commons License, whereby authors yield their works’ copyright to the web and encourage derivation, resembles tossing vegetables in a rice bran bed for the purpose of added value.
Furthermore, the interactions between users who follow SNS rules and users who deviate from them resembles the coexistence of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria.
Moreover, Chen grasps human thought as a model of circular interactions between conscious recognition and unconscious emotion, and considers the long-term aging of ideas and thoughts.
Finally, Chen introduces “NukaBot,” a system for rice bran beds to monitor their own conditions and for humans to give feedback on their tastes.
While deepening a natural sciences-based understanding of fermentation, the system attempts to hypothesize and strengthen a co-evolutionary connection between humans and bacteria.
Through this implementation of a subjective relationship with bacteria, Chen considers the possibility of brewing a fermenting epistemology.
This article reviews the historical relationship between Artificial Intelligence (AI) studies and the humanities. It also functions as a book guide.
In the now-flourishing discourse on current artificial intelligence, it may appear that AI technology bears no relation to the humanities. Historically, AI has been a persistent dream of various philosophers who have pursued inquiries on the true nature of human beings. This is because to create intelligence artificially, we need to understand the human mind from the inside. In addition, the nature of AI is now widely examined as a question of the post-/anti-/alter-human.
The two authors first analyze the historical background of AI. The concept of AI originated in overcoming challenges to the mechanical imitation of human thought processes. After preliminary models failed, a new understanding emerged in the 1950s. This was termed the cognitive revolution and provided a new paradigm for AI studies.
Until the 1990s, theoretical and philosophical approaches to AI predominated because the calculation power of computers remained weak. The “frame problem” proposed by McCarthy and Hayes is a famous example. Nevertheless, the current emergence of new approaches prioritizes the implementation and practical use of AI, seemingly allowing no space for philosophical examinations on the nature of intelligence or human consciousness.
The two authors conclude that the humanities are characterized by three responses to the emergence of AI today: (1) resistance to or criticism of AI, (2) analysis of its practical use, and (3) attempts to create a new field of humanities.
This issue of Genron presents the inaugural Genron Seminar, a new project to publish material of high academic value from seminar events held at Genron Café.
In this Seminar, architectural historian Akiko Honda and cultural historian Sanami Takahashi gave presentations on religious architecture and tourism from the Soviet period to the present day. Russian literary scholar and Genron manager Yoko Ueda served as the moderator.
Takahashi intertwined the history of Russian pilgrimage history with the question of how churches had become tourist spots supported by strong nationalism during the Soviet era when religion was politically considered taboo. The Solovetsky Monastery in northern Russia, best known for having been converted into a prison and depicted in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago and other works, recovered its status as a monastery in 1988, and has now become a popular pilgrimage and tourist site. After the end of World War II, a reappraisal of Russian values occurred through the restoration of churches that had been destroyed during the war against Nazi Germany, and they became cultural heritage sites. Takahashi concluded that tourist locations based around these structures now mediate memories of religion and war, forming a new nationalist mythos.
Honda introduced Archstoyanie, an architectural arts festival held in a small village 200 kilometers from Moscow. Alexander Brodsky, who participated in the festival, is one of the leading figures of “paper architecture.” Brodsky is an architect but is strongly skeptical of the concept of “building.” He thinks that to build something is to destroy what previously existed. At Archstoyanie, Brodsky gathered materials brought from other lands to create works to show and embody the reproductive potential of architecture. Honda pointed out that Brodsky premises the creation of new landscape itself as a sort of fantasy.
The ensuing discussion focused on Brodsky and his philosophy that architecture is a forgetting of the past. Takahashi argued that it reminded her of churches endeavouring to erase the memory of the conversion of religious architecture into museums. Ueda mentioned that the secular transformation and adoption of the religious was widely observed in the Soviet era. The influence of religion paradoxically strengthened due to its annihilation by communism.
Beginning with Genron 10, theater director Akira Takayama will serialize his theory of theater, borrowing the form of the travelogue. Takayama’s theater works are not onstage theater performances. Rather, he specializes in participatory theater, based on his exhaustive research of the city that allows the audience to vicariously experience the results of his labors. Within this category is tour-type theater, in which participants experience the city by touring it, led by maps while listening to explanations, and school-type theater, where participants listen to radio lectures by immigrants, refugees, homeless people, and others in unexpected venues across the city.
Takayama’s masterpiece school-type theatrical work, McDonald’s Radio University, created an opportunity for the theater director to be invited to the Bauhaus centenary festival, “School FUNDAMENTAL.” The festival gathered alternative schools from around the world to consider the nature of the “school.”
Takayama expresses doubt over the education undertaken by workshop participants, in which violence was excluded and concealed. For Takayama, this recalls the Bertolt Brecht-influenced play he wrote 22 years earlier, The House of Education, Number 20. In this play, written after Takayama had wandered Europe and trained in theater, he points out how theater problematizes violence onstage, tames social problems, castrates the power of theater, and steals the diversity of the audience. Those concerns do not change, even in McDonald’s Radio University.
McDonald’s Radio University was inspired by Cedric Price’s Potteries Thinkbelt. It broadcasts live lectures by refugees acting as professors in McDonald’s restaurants along the evacuation routes of refugees. In this way, Takayama attempts to connect cities along routes of thought that cross national boundaries. McDonald’s, which takes in a diverse group of immigrants as both employees and customers, becomes a doubled performance space between fast food restaurant/university and customer/student. What form of performativity remains when theater stops being something to view and approaches the functions of a city? In order to pursue this question, the author’s journey continues.
Art and Cosmotechnics is a series of articles exploring the variety of experience of art through the concept of cosmotechnics, which I formulated in The Question Concerning Technology in China. Through new interpretations of, for example, the difference between European and Chinese art, these articles will attempt to explore the contribution of cosmotechnics to rethinking the future of art and philosophy in this technological era. The first article, “For a Post-European Philosophy,” presents an outline of the project at large and its continuity from ideas sketched out in earlier work, in particular, Recursivity and Contingency. It begins with a brief exploration of the relationship between what Martin Heidegger called the “end of philosophy” and his later interest in the paintings of Paul Cézanne and Paul Klee as non-metaphysics. An exploration of this relationship allows for a reflection on the necessity of both a pluralist post-European philosophy, and the ways in which an interpretation of art can provide opportunities to speculate on such possibilities.
From the end of World War II to the 1960s, contemporary Japanese art enjoyed a revival and a prospering of the avant-garde. In contrast, Japanese art in the 1970s was getting more and more insular. Responding to the end of rapid economic growth and the resolution of the student movement, the avant-garde movement fell apart, and a spirit of gloomy introspection, as well as de-socialized and idealistic discourses, became mainstream.
The “Mono-ha” movement is often held up as representative of 1970s Japanese art. According to Ufan Lee, an ideologue of Mono-ha, this movement rejected the cocept of creation and claimed to release a “world as it is” in order to radically criticize the modernity and symbolism associated with the 1960s onwards.
However, the Mono-ha discourses represented by Lee concealed the contemporaneity and sociality that Mono-ha works originally possessed. Mono-ha’s praxis did not stop at criticizing modernity in a narrow sense, but synchronized with a broader range of issues that reached at the domain of politics and society beyond art criticism in the 1970s, such as the thought of civil engineering and national land planning.
In this article, Kurose traces the birth of the existing “Mono-ha myth” back to the end of the 1960s, analyzes Nobuo Sekine’s Phase—Mother Earth (1968) and Jin Nomura’s Tardiology (1969), and reexamines their statements. Kurose finally corrects the factual errors of the “Mono-ha myth,” and reveals the art of the 1970s as not merely an insular criticism of modernity, but as reflection of broader cultural trends of the age.
Translation involves ripping a theory from its original context and shifting it to another. In this way, translation necessarily distorts theory to a certain extent. In this article, Lee considers this distortion through the example of the reception of French contemporary philosophy in South Korea.
In an attempt to overcome the trauma of the Korean War, South Korean intellectuals turned to French thought, such as the existentialism of Sartre. However, due to their strong aversion to communism, they deliberately erased its leftist nuance by, for example, replacing “revolution” with “resistance” in their translations. This brought about a situation whereby theories of the French left were used to critique the South Korean left. A similar development transpired in the reception of postmodernism in the 1990s. In South Korea, anti-communists were the adopters of postmodern thought.
Furthermore, the fact that South Korean intellectuals used French rather than American theory to criticize leftists, has roots in Japanese colonial era education. Japanese Pan-Asianist ideals brought pain and disillusionment to the people of Asia, but they also left a legacy of anti-American sentiment.
In this way, South Korean critical theory and its history is an example of the dislocating tendencies of translation, wherein the contexts and relations of the original theory are neutralized.
The famed animator of Mobile Suit Gundam, Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, has claimed that “the American Dream and Soviet Dream coexisted” in Japan after World War II.
The “American Dream” refers to the fact that one could now freely own possessions and travel abroad unhindered. This came about through US Occupation policies. In contrast, the “Soviet Dream” refers to a postwar scenario that might have been, had a portion of Japan been occupied by the Soviet Union or if Japan had joined the Communist Bloc.
Located within sight of the border with the Soviet Union, Hokkaido could have very well become a buffer zone between the Eastern and Western Blocs. For this reason, it has served as the setting place for many fictional works exploring the “what-ifs” of history. For example, the 2019 NHK drama Natsuzora is set in postwar Hokkaido. The work depicts the two contrasting characters of Taiju, who reclaims a large swath of land and builds a massive farm, and Takeo, who attempts a bulk purchase of milk in order to protect small and medium-sized farms. Taiju is like a cowboy and embodies the “American Dream.” Takeo’s plan resembles the Kolkhoz collective farm, and strives toward the “Soviet Dream.”
Hideo Furukawa’s novel Miraimirai is another notable work set in Hokkaido. In it, Hokkaido is occupied by the Soviet Union after the end of the World War II, and follows a historical trajectory different from Honshu. The issue of Japan’s possession of nuclear weapons is the theme at the climax of the novel. It probes a “future” (mirai) different from either the “American Dream” or the “Soviet Dream.”
The year is 2029, and in post-earthquake Japan, people can predict future events with a mysterious quantum computer, while living in a phantasmal society created by augmented reality. In the city of Tokimeguri, a Special Zone for Reconstruction in the Tohoku area, strange dealings and life-or-death struggles take place among the elusive and wealthy Tokihori family, who show an unusually strong interest in time, the police, and an artificial intelligence that creeps in the shadows—each for their own reasons. On the night of the summer festival, the protagonist, Torihiko Shiratori, meets Yuyuka, daughter of the Tokihori family, and is dragged into the conflict.
Shogo Kiritani, Ikuno Shinomiya, and their support android Shokeiko Yamada chase after Yuyuka, believing she is a serial killer. As part of their search, they attempt to contact an unknown informant. They each uncover the informant’s identity through different methods, but find there three different ciphers.
As they attempt to solve these ciphers, they receive orders from their higher-ups and go to investigate the Tokihori home. Though suspicious of their GPS pointing to a location in the middle of the sea, they get into an autonomous vehicle that takes them to a radioactive waste processing site along a breakwater. There they are met by the Tokihoris’ maid, whose instructions they follow, rotating fidget spinners as they pass through the breakwater’s tunnel. For some reason, they find a forest before them, and night has turned to day.
Once they pass through the forest and arrive at the family residence, they find Yuyuka’s mother, Miyu, waiting for them. During their conversation with her, Ikuno brings up the possibility that she is the informant, which Miyu admits to. Shocked by Ikuno’s actions, Kiritani begins to check the answers to the ciphers. Doing so brings up three answers: Miyu, the quantum computer known as IZANAMI, and Torihiko…