From Marx (via Gorbachev) to Kant

Table of Contents

Published in 1983, Akira Asada’s work Structure and Power (Kozo to chikara) became a bestseller on an unprecedented scale for a book on critical thought, serving as the impetus for the “New Academism” boom in Japanese society. He has continued to contribute considerably to the history of criticism in post-1980s Japan, taking a leading role in the founding of journals such as GS, Critical Space (Hihyo kukan), and Intercommunication. Here Hiroki Azuma interviews Asada about his career thus far as well as his thoughts on present criticism.

Asada’s intellectual background prior to his debut with Structure and Power is the main topic of the first part of the interview. There, Asada provides anecdotes about his life. He developed an affinity toward technical and technocratic knowledge in childhood through stories he heard from his uncle, Takashi Asada, a key figure in the laboratory of one of the most celebrated architects of modern Japan, Kenzo Tange. After reading the works of Louis Althusser in his teens, Asada set for himself the goal of reclaiming the possibilities of Marxism from leftist activists of the day, who had grown obsessed with theories of alienation. Around the same time, he was strongly affected by the early works of Kenzaburo Oe, but later came to prefer works that embodied the “aesthetic of cool,” such as the novels of Yumiko Kurahashi, the music of Glenn Gould, and the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

The second part of the interview focuses on Asada’s view of the history of criticism in Japan since the publication of Structure and Power. According to Asada, both GS, the journal that he founded in 1984, and ZONE, which his acquaintances among American critics founded in 1986, aimed to rebuild a new leftist movement that incorporated a miscellany of things, including mass culture.

However, they could not concur with the kind of political activism that ascended globally in the wake of the Cold War and gradually shifted toward conservative elitism. After commenting on this process, Asada speaks to the kind of people who are ideal patrons of supporting culture in Japan today, citing businessman Soichiro Fukutake as an example. Lastly, in reference to the current state of criticism that seems to be short-circuited by a macro-level statistical perspective and a naïve theological perspective, Asada raises the importance of maintaining a desire for “understanding” in a Kantian sense of
the term.