1989, the Year of Critical Displacement

Table of Contents

In 1989, due to the influence of the ideological confrontation between East and West and the significant events occurring in Western society regarding the resolution of that confrontation, Japanese criticism, too, reached a turning point. The cult of productionism—that is, the unwavering faith in the act of production—, long at the center of Japanese society, quickly lost steam and a consumer-based society began to settle in. At this juncture a new definition of femininity hitherto alienated from production began to assume a central position within this new value system; here, femininity redefined itself as a fetishism of consumption. The axis of criticism also shifted from a set of norms and ethics employed for the sake of production to the question of how to understand consumption and illusion. At the center of this shift were two thinkers: Eiji Otsuka, who discussed in The Generation of M (M-no sedai, 1989) the serial kidnapping and murders of young girls by Tsutomu Miyazaki, and the then up-and-coming sociologist Shinji Miyadai, who discussed both the practice of “compensated dating” (enjo kosai) by school girls and the 1995 Tokyo sarin subway attack by Aum Shinrikyo.

Just as manga artist Yoshinori Kobayashi pointed out early on, the new actors of the swelling consumer society developed a desire to be respected as a reader, a sentiment that also bled into to the world of criticism. However, with the conclusion of the Cold War, it became clear that this was not an end-of-time scenario in which people— or the individual— were to take center stage. Having lost this central positioning, many people felt as if it were the beginning of an “endless everyday” (owarinaki nichijo). The dream of experiencing glory as the lead actor within the drama known as modernization and productionism—a dream dreamt since the Meiji Period—suddenly vanished.

Through the importation of Western culture the modernism of Japan sought to ensure a complete human subject. One result of this desire, however, was the creation of an infinite number of statistical subjects, i.e., individuals. Such a development, which would continue through the twenty-first century, is linked to the emergence of a sociological and statistical practice that quantifies the individuals.

The fall of criticism was also predicated on this movement towards analyzing the indiv idual. As a result of this change the critical discourse by hitherto ignored (as the subject of criticism) female writers was brought to the forefront. Within Japan’s production-capitalist society women were regarded as those who lacked promise. Thus, when it became the norm that the indiv idual was no longer the main player, many women—who had long been accustomed to such a condition—found a space for themselves to become involved. Accompanying this newly decentralized mode of criticism was a large cohort of female thinkers, including writers such as the sociologist Chizuko Ueno, the science fiction critic Mari Kotani, and manga critic Yukari Fujimoto. Each dismantled the boundaries of genre, attempting to break into an already existing culture.

These changes also rewrote the context of traditional Japanese criticism. Critics including Kojin K aratani, who were active in shouldering a normative modernit y, lost sight of the “enemy” they were poised to fight against in 1990s. Traditional criticism, which tended to focus on professional authors, became to be regarded as nothing more than personal expression. On the other hand, the newly established disciplines of sociolog y and statistics lacked the abilit y to move beyond an analysis of the contemporar y world. The publication of Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals (2001: 2009)by Hiroki A zuma at the turn of the twenty-first centur y would offer a resolution to this crisis of representation within the critical world. One might say that the appearance of such a thinker was the result of the age.