Criticism, or Seeing Ghosts

Table of Contents

I present Genron 5. The theme of this issue is the ghostly body. By ghostly I mean both the present and non-present; that is, things that one can and simultaneously cannot see here and now. I use ghostly to refer to such duality. The body as seen on the stage is truly ghostly. Here and now the actor is performing onstage to summon something not present. The character the actor portrays does not exist.
Generally, any narrative is the summoning of something not present through the telling of story. No culture exists without narrative. Thus, no culture can come into being without ghosts.
However, as the media supporting narrative become technologically more complex, the opacity of these ghosts also increases. Just as stage actors are ghosts, so too are screen actors and characters seen through the interfaces of computers and games. However, there are differences that cannot be disregarded. Stage actors are present on the stage. Screen actors, in contrast, are not present on the screen; rather, what exists on the screen is a copied image of the actor’s body, nothing more than a trace of their presence. Characters seen through computer interfaces do not even exist as copied images. The fundamental form of these characters is just data, and their bodies are nothing more than the output of calculations. In our age, we are surrounded by ghosts. The age of media is the age of ghosts.
In this issue, we explore ghosts in modern society from various angles, considering everything from philosophy to literary, dramatic, and film theory.
At the center of this volume is a report of a three-day seminar held in the autumn of 2016 at the mountain arts village that Tadashi Suzuki has been building over the course of forty years. As I describe in detail in a separate article, at the seminar, directors, dancers, artists, sociologists, and critics congregated, engaging in lively discussion about ghosts and the body. We have added to this issue a conversation between Norimizu Ameya and Atsushi Sasaki on non-presence and pieces on “hauntology” à la Derrida by Hidenaga Otori from the perspective of dance, Yuichi Kinoshita from the perspective of kabuki, Ryota Fukushima from the perspective of literature, and Daisuke Watanabe from the perspective of film. From these articles the reader may begin to observe how the theme of ghosts continues to appear (like ghosts). Moreover, the various methods used to summon things not present in the here and now will be demonstrated, along with how they can be perceived to be at the forefront of contemporary arts. Please enjoy.

In each of my prefaces, up until our latest issue, Genron 4, I have discussed nothing but the raison d’être of philosophy and criticism. In Japan today, philosophical thought is disregarded all too easily. Everyone analyzes only the secular reality that is present here and now. That, however, is unacceptable to me. As I have stressed repeatedly, Genron was launched to change this lamentable situation.
Yet, it might be time to stop making excuses. Over three issues, Genron 1, Genron 2, and Genron 4, we presented volumes on the history of criticism in contemporary Japan. I hope you have been convinced that criticism has long been present in Japan, that it is still needed, and that what is called criticism here is a philosophical act, different from mere social analysis and cultural review.
In addition, just before the publication of this issue, I released Genron 0: A Philosophy of the Tourist as a special issue, authored entirely by me. Therein, I attempted to describe as simply as possible my conception of contemporary society and the human condition, which supports the project of this magazine. For those agreeing with my claim that it is necessary to introduce new criticism but wonder what it should be, I attempted to provide clear answers. In Genron 4, I demonstrated that modern society required new criticism. In Genron 0, I argued that new criticism should be defined as a “touristic” way of thinking. Here, I am editing this magazine to put this touristic criticism into practice. I will send out this issue of Genron assuming these premises to be already shared among readers. In fact, I am becoming tired of explaining this magazine’s raison d’être in every issue. It is self-evident that new criticism is necessary. What is extraordinary is that this has been forgotten for the last ten years in Japan.
From now on, I will directly write and publish about criticism itself, without any unwieldy excuses for the necessity for criticism.

This issue, Genron 5, is the first of this new course. But the question of the ghostly body is not unrelated to the context of the restoration of criticism explored in previous issues. The articles in this issue can be read as independent inquiries into theatrical theory or the theory of the body, while at the same time, I must admit that the decision to make ghosts the main theme of this issue is itself deeply connected to the arguments of previous issues and Genron 0.
To reiterate, the word ghost here is used to indicate something with a dual existence; something that gives the illusion of existing here and now although it does not actually exist. If this is so, ghost can also be understood as nothing other than what our criticism takes as the object of thought.
Why? This is because criticism, or the touristic way of thinking that we are trying to introduce here, should not be understood as a discourse clinging to visible present reality, or one that develops invisible, absent ideas, but as a way of thinking in between. In my book Weak Connections and in Genron 0 I expressed this intermediateness of thought as not being the way of a villager (who sees only the visible) or that of a traveler (who sees the invisible) but that of a tourist. In other words, criticism is an act of vision. Critics should not just analyze what is visible and present (that is the job of journalists and sociologists). However, by the same token, they should also not only dream of the invisible and absent (which may be the job of artists). Critics must have unique eyes that see the invisible within the visible world. In other words, they must have an eye for ghosts.
Criticism is seeing ghosts. That is why critics are ostracized, similar to the way those who see ghosts at a haunted inn are ostracized. The owner of the inn is sure to want to say that there are no ghosts, that there is no problem whatsoever. Nevertheless, there is certainly something present there. Even if there are no ghosts physically present, there is still a condition in which you see ghosts. It is the work of a critic to mention that.

I said I would stop elaborating on criticism but went ahead and elaborated on it anyway. If I am possessed by something it must be the ghost of criticism.
I would like to briefly add a few ideas that I was unable to present at the seminar. I have talked about eyes. Critics can see ghosts, but at the same time they cannot see. To criticize, that is, to see ghosts, they need unique eyes.
But the use of this metaphor of eyes to define criticism is not unique. Paul de Man published the collection of criticism titled Blindness and Insight. Kojin Karatani, who is greatly influenced by him, argues in Transcritique that parallax is a key word for understanding criticism. Slavoj Žižek has published a book entitled Parallax View, drawing on Karatani. What is asserted there, to roughly summarize, is the observation that a critic’s insight into something is always supported by a blindness about another thing, or that, more fundamentally, a critic’s insight is something given by two superimposed visions. In other words, critics must simultaneously have one eye that sees (insight) and another that does not (blindness). This is what de Man, Karatani, and Žižek have argued in common.
I can update this metaphor of the eyes by referencing recent visual studies and media theories.
In Genron 0, ghosts were not the subject. However, the reader may remember a chapter in that issue entitled “The Uncanny.” In that chapter, I analyzed the difference between modern and postmodern subjects, using the metaphor of the eyes. This is a continuation and development of that discussion. I would like to draw you to conclude that, while the modern subject is created through the unification of the visible (the imaginary, in the Lacanian term) and the invisible (the symbolic), the postmodern subject is created through the superimposition of the
visible and the invisible. I believe that in our 21st century postmodern society, everyone should have superimposed eyes that can see ghosts; that is, everyone should become a bit of a critic. The postmodern is an age of ghosts and an age of criticism. It is also an age in which everyone needs the superposition of different eyes that see different things.
Going forward, I will develop this idea in our sister magazine, the monthly e-magazine Genron β. I hope you read it together with this issue.