Table of Contents
Before you is Genron 9, the publication of which marks the conclusion of the first series of Genron. This time, there is no overarching theme; instead, this issue contains three sections that serve as supplements to the three themes of the first series, while also including discussions and essays that connect with our plans for the second series.
The second series of Genron will begin with the next issue. We intend for the second series to be published biannually, beginning in spring 2019 with Genron 10.
Genron was launched in late 2015. We published it three times a year, with the initial intention of continuing for three years.
Continued publication is not especially difficult for a journal like ours with a modest circulation that might or might not pass even ten thousand. At the time of our first publication, however, I was uncertain whether we could even achieve such a humble goal. Genron was a micro-business with just a handful of employees and me, a total amateur businessman, at the helm. I was told from the onset that writings on the humanities would not sell. What can a mere critic, having just given up a university position, do in a world where well-established publishing houses are going belly-up in succession and famous bookstores known for stocking quality texts are closing their doors one after another? I’m sure that many readers cast a doubtful look my way, but I was just as skeptical as the strongest doubter.
Nevertheless, Genron was unexpectedly successful. This does not, of course, mean that we have experienced great financial success or given birth to any mainstream buzzwords. Genron is still a company of those in the know, and we’re still very much walking a financial tightrope.
Over the past three years, though, the number of people gathering around the physical Genron space and the Genron journal has increased many times over, as has the participants’ understanding of the significance of criticism. Genron’s message isn’t limited to academic readers; rather, through the cafe and school we operate, our message also circulates within a space of communication inhabited by individuals from diverse occupations and backgrounds. One reason why we’ve been able to achieve some degree of success has been our ability to gain support from a broad range of people. This fact, to me, is proof that we are on the cusp of a rebirth of criticism.
Just now I spoke of a “rebirth of criticism.” Indeed, achieving the rebirth of criticism is Genron’s very mission. In fact, Genron operates what we call a School of Criticism and Theory, and we have, across the span of three volumes of the journal, traced the history of criticism. We do these things because we believe that revitalizing criticism requires, in the first place, training the next generation of critics, a process that entails learning from the accumulated knowledge of the past.
However, the revitalization of criticism does not end with fostering the next generation of critics or educating them about the past. It is bigger than that. Rather, breathing fresh life into criticism is, in practice, the revitalization of the space of criticism. Furthermore, that space must not become a closed one where the production and reception of criticism operate within a predetermined constellation of readers and writers, nor can it require specialist knowledge.
Why is this the case? For starters, criticism is a strange phenomenon. It is neither the language of academia transmitting knowledge nor the language of entertainment transmitting pleasure. In all likelihood, then, we have no need for criticism. Criticism is a precarious thing: if those people who read it and find it necessary were to all disappear, then the fact that it was once read and considered necessary would also be forgotten.
That danger is reminiscent of love. The word philosophy has its roots in a love (philo) of wisdom (Sophia). Therefore, we can say that philosophers have long fashioned philosophy in the language of love.
Criticism, too, resembles a language of love. The language of love is not something we usually need. It is possible to exchange love and live together with someone without uttering such language explicitly. The language of love, too, is precarious: when a relationship between a speaker and a listener ends, then the fact of anything having been spoken at all is also forgotten. For many lovers and family members, though, it is precisely the disappearance of the language of love that proves that a sense of love has deepened and has become something genuine. If love continues even when the language of love is no longer uttered, this can be viewed as a demonstration of true love.
However, it is inevitable that crisis will descend upon any type of relationship. At such moments, the language of love becomes necessary. For the language of love to be exchanged at such times, a space must be retained for precisely that purpose, even if we don’t regularly utter such words. When a relationship falls into chaos, dissolution is imminent if we don’t have such a space already prepared; this is true even if we wish to utter those words anew.
The same can be said of criticism. Criticism isn’t something we usually need. Even if criticism ceased to exist, academia would continue to move forward, art would be produced, and culture would still develop. Indeed, for many consumers, the very absence of criticism proves the success of culture. This situation is parallel to what we have just said about the language of love. However, culture too, like love, will experience various crises. The time will come when we must use language to justify the need for learning and art. If there is no venue in which to exchange words when culture falls into chaos, then culture will simply dissolve.
For this reason, then, we can say that the rebirth of criticism—actually, the rebirth of a space of criticism—is an absolute necessity even for those who have never previously thought about criticism. In other words, it is similar to the idea that one must absolutely maintain a space for the language of love, even for those lovers and family members who don’t usually utter such language.
The rebirth of criticism is by no means the rebirth of some arcane, theoretical language. Nor is it the revitalization of some amateurish intellectual competition. It is securing and maintaining a space where one can clearly explain to another what one loves when culture has fallen into some form of crisis.
Genron strives, to the best of our ability, to secure and maintain such a space within the logic of the market. In other words, we are attempting to secure and maintain a space that should only be deemed necessary when the everyday has fallen into crisis. One quickly forgets the need for a language of love; for that reason, such a space should exist in as close proximity as possible to our everyday lives, in which communication is always exposed to the peril of an existential falling (Verfallen). In this way, Genron resembles a security firm, or perhaps an insurance company. To that extent, my struggles during these past few years as an entrepreneur are not completely removed from my struggles as a critic. I did not stop being a critic and become an entrepreneur; rather, I became an entrepreneur so that I might continue being a critic.
Love does not need words. This is true so long as love endures. The problem is always when love ceases to continue.
Just as the language of love is silly, so too is the language of criticism. However, if we don’t have the courage to look silly sometimes, we cannot make progress in life or in culture. Lately, I’ve begun thinking that understanding the necessity of criticism means understanding the silliness of human existence.
The reason why, up to this point, I’ve written in this somewhat abstract and sentimental manner is that I have decided that this essay will be the final opening remarks included in Genron.
Since beginning Genron eight years ago, I’ve dedicated much time and effort to writing opening remarks for each issue. Combined with Shisouchizu beta, the forerunner to Genron, I’ve written 14 such pieces, in addition to remarks for other publishers’ books and letters to our Genron members, discussing the significance of Genron’s publications. All these essays have been, to some degree, manifestations of the same question: what is criticism? Probably no other critic of my generation has so obstinately continued to write criticism about criticism.
However, this is an extremely suffocating position for a critic. While focusing on writing the opening remarks for each issue of Shisouchizu beta and Genron, I haven’t been able to write on other topics that interest me. Instead, whether as an editor, moderator of roundtable discussions, or commentator on a given essay, my writings have been limited to explaining why it is important for a particular text to be published. In other words, all I have penned recently is texts on criticism, not actual critical texts about those things that truly interest me. Using the analogy described above, all I’ve spoken is the language of love; I’ve been caught in a situation where I can’t put into practice my real interest, the language of the everyday.
I wish to be released from such a situation. To that end, I have decided against writing opening remarks for the second series. I have also decided to refrain from choosing an overarching theme for each volume, because selecting a theme would compel me to make opening remarks to explain the reasoning behind that selection. I no longer wish to write such a text.
Instead, I will commit to writing at least one relatively long piece for each issue that will serve as an expression of my own thoughts. I have no idea how such a text will manifest itself. It could be a supplemental piece to A Philosophy of the Tourist, some preliminary text on a new book I am working on, or another report on investigative tourism / touristic investigations post-Chernobyl. Since I am the editor-in-chief, the content of what I write will resonate with the other pieces by other contributors to the same issue. I will not, however, explicate the relationship between my text and each of the others.
This shift in editorial policy does not merely reflect my personal wishes. The first series of Genron was overflowing with answers to questions. I insisted on including a rationale for why we chose to include certain contributions. In retrospect, I feel that I was writing not out of sheer kindness, but out of instinctive distrust in our readers.
After the three-year cycle of the first series, I can now say confidently that such distrust toward the community that surrounds the Genron space and the Genron journal is not needed. I believe that the community has experienced great growth. Therefore, for the second series I believe that we can include contributions without any written justification from the editors as to why we felt a particular essay or discussion was worth including. We will leave it to our readers to assess the value of each piece. This is how most journals operate. They trust their readership. We will follow their example.
That’s also why, in these opening remarks, I have not included an explanation of the editorial policy underlying this issue. Why did I invite Tadashi Karube and Akinaka Senzaki, both of whom are regarded as conservative critics, to participate in a roundtable discussion as a supplement to our issue on “Criticism in Contemporary Japan”? Why have I chosen to translate drafts of nearly fifty-year-old texts by Bakhtin and not works of contemporary thinkers, even though the latter might seem more directly supplementary to our issue on “Russian Contemporary Thought”? Why have I asked Masanori Tsujita, known for his research on wartime propaganda and not a specialist in video games, to contribute an additional essay for our “The Age of Games” issue? I could easily explain our rationale for any of those decisions, and I imagine that doing so would make the issue’s overall aim much clearer to our readers; however, I also feel that we’ve reached the stage where doing so would be unrefined.
It is often noted that critique and crisis share the same etymology. Indeed, the language of criticism exists for the sake of crises. However, that doesn’t mean that a critic always welcomes a crisis. It would of course be preferable for a crisis not to occur. The reason why thinking about a crisis is necessary is that the day when we have forgotten about a crisis is both valuable and of great importance. It is never the opposite.
It goes without saying that a crisis might also happen amidst everyday life. However, even if we know that to be the case, all we can do is to try to reclaim our everyday life. That is the mission of the language of love. I continued writing opening remarks for each issue up to now because I felt that criticism had fallen into crisis. The first series of Genron was established with the purpose of overcoming the crisis of criticism. That situation, however, is gradually changing. That’s why the second series of Genron—sans opening remarks—will be, in a manner of speaking, published with the intent of reclaiming the everyday of criticism. This issue will serve as a pivot point between the two series.
Seven years ago, in the opening remarks to Genron’s first publication (Shisouchizu beta 1), I said: “Philosophy that moves beyond national boundaries like the Crocs and that eliminates the boundaries between real and fake like the Food Republic. That is my ideal.”1 I’ve quoted this line of mine numerous times; indeed, it is one of my favorites. However, the idea expressed there has not come to fruition. On the contrary, during the last seven years, I’ve been always writing opening remarks and have gradually moved further and further away from that ideal. One reason is that immediately after I had written the above words, Japan experienced both a natural disaster and a nuclear accident. That combination of blows served as the catalyst causing me to perceive strongly the crisis that criticism is facing.
Since March 2011, I have thought continuously about the crisis of criticism. I have continued to seek to prove the existence of criticism. All I’ve written is the language of love—that is, silly explanations of why criticism and critics are indispensable to the world.
At present, however, I feel as if I needn’t profess the language of love. Over the past seven years, we’ve actually done a lot more than just writing opening remarks. Genron has planted a variety of seeds in numerous ventures, such as publishing, art schools, and managing live venues for public talks. We believe that some of them will lead us to Crocs or to Food Republic. We can begin to harvest their fruit in the second series, during which I would like to once again pursue my ideal goal: the actualization of a truly open and free humanistic knowledge. Seven years have now passed since the earthquake, and I believe that I’ve finally been able to reconstruct such conditions.
I will once again return to the ideal of Shisouchizu beta 1. We will return to a language that moves beyond national boundaries and eliminates the boundaries between real and fake.
At this point, I anticipate that the second series of Genron will likely have a very different flavor from the first series. Criticism has been reborn. At the very least, the path to rebirth has been visualized. There is no need to continue writing the language of love for the sake of breathing new life into criticism. Henceforth what matters is not the reason of criticism but its product. That is criticism, or love, put into practice. We hope you’ll stick with us for the new Genron.
1 Shisouchizu beta, vol. 1, 2011, Contectures (Genron), p. 323.