Assimilating Our Culture, That’s What They’re Doing!

I am still reading Azuma’s Otaku and I think it is time for a sharp corrective, or at least a counter-view: If we dispense with the grand narrative vs. petit recits cant, and the legends of the fall of post-war Japan and take the view that appropriation and misreading are central to the consumption and exchange of texts in modernism, then we can see otaku culture in a less damming light.

We can also make sense of the way “Japanese visual culture” romps through euroethnic cultural and religious mythologies with such spirited abandon, and steals anything not nailed down.

Shrine Maidens with witches brooms? WTF not! Why not throw in a few mini-skirted nuns locked in battle with vampires, while Jesus and Buddha try to find a decent veggie pizza in Tokyo ???? This kind of fun has been going on since Lucian and Rabelais – and the gatekeepers hated them too! (Ya didn’t think the Villon quote was all HST did you.. I’ve read Villon, and Pantagruel, and Lucian’s philosopher slave market, and…)

Adrian Piper’s
“The Logic of Modernism,” Flash Art January-February, 1993

“There are four interrelated properties of Euroethnic art that are central to understanding the development of modernism, and in particular the development of contemporary art in the United States within the last few decades:
1) its appropriative character;
2) its formalism;
3) its self-awareness; and
4) its commitment to social content.
These four properties furnish strong conceptual and strategic continuities between the history of European art–modernism in particular–and recent developments in American art with explicitly political subject matter. Relative to these lines of continuity, the peculiarly American variety of modernism known as Greenbergian formalism is an aberration.
[. . .]
By the appropriative character of Euroethnic art, I mean its tendency to draw on the art of non-Euroethnic cultures for inspiration. This may originate in the early Italian Renaissance experience of drawing on the art of an alien, temporarily remote culture–that of Hellenic Greece–for revitalization. The real lesson of the Renaissance, on this account, is not the rediscovery of perspective but rather the discovery of difference as a source of inspiration.

Other early examples of the Euroethnic appetite for appropriation include the influence of Byzantine religious art in the paintings of Duccio or Cimabue; the Islamic and Hindu influences on the art of Giotto or Fra Angelico; more recently, the influences of Japanese art on Van Gogh, of Tahitian art on Gauguin, and of African art on Picasso; and more recently still, the influences of African-American jazz on Mondrian and Stuart Davis, and of African-American graffiti art on Keith Haring and David Wojnarowicz.

It is natural that a society dependent on colonized non-Euroethnic cultures for its land, labor, and natural resources should be so for its aesthetic and cultural resources as well. But the impetus in the latter case is not necessarily imperialistic or exploitive. It may instead be a drive to self-transcendence of the limits of the socially prescribed Euroethnic self, by striving to incorporate the idiolects of the enigmatic Other within them.

Here the aim of appropriation would not be to exploit deliberately the Other’s aesthetic language, but to confound oneself by incorporating into works of art an aesthetic language one recognizes as largely opaque; as having a significance one recognizes as beyond one’s comprehension. Viewed in this way, exploitation is an unintended side-effect – the consequence of ignorance and insensitivity – of a project whose main intention is to escape those very cognitive limitations.
[. . .]
The appropriative character and formalism of Euroethnic art is, then,intrinsically connected with its self-awareness (or self-consciousness). To recognize an alien cultural practice as different from one’s own, and as inaccessible to understanding with respect to content, is implicitly to recognize one’s own cultural practice as a cultural practice, with its own rules and constraints. This just is the awareness that one’s own cultural practice is merely one among many. And the recognition that alternative cultural practices are cognitively inaccessible just is the awareness that one’s own furnish the only available conduit for interpretation of formal anomaly. So the cross-cultural appropriation of alien formal devices is a reminder of one’s own subjectivity. Self-consciousness of this kind is a necessary condition of innovation. “

Full text hiding at

Whew! Once again Art pulls Philosophy out of a burning car crash. Pomo; meet the Other – you didn’t invent him, he’s been around for a long long time, When I first read this in Flash Art, I was knocked over. I always wondered why it remained limited to use in art criticism circles. It really deserves wider application. Please note that the earlier 1992 version in Alberro leaves out most of the good stuff to concentrate on poking at Clement Greenberg. As such it is less useful – unless you need to give Clem a good shitkicking.

So: so what if Japanese visual culture ships some euroethnic stuff?
Guess they’ll take Campbell’s and like it, right?

I can also breathe easier now that I know that American women who move from slash fanfiction to Yaoi are not committing cultural suicide.

And if you tell me that (for example) that Sky Crawlers has no deeper text than moe or a coffee mug, (In a country where militarism invented kamikaze pilots !!!) I fear that you miss an important point made by the author of Genshiken through Sasahara – you have to put some care into the story and characters, or it doesn’t even work well as pr0n, let alone as a vehicle for moe, spinoffs and coffee mugs. (later , oh! I see this point is conceded, grudgingly)

Bloody Hell! If Melville was alive today, we’d have Moby Dick coffee mugs. What’s wrong with coffee mugs??? Might as well blame all of Otakudom and the decline of Japanese culture on Marconi, (thence ham radio, Darpa-net, the structure of usenet, Fidonet BBS(s), forums and web 2.0… hmmm reminds me of the last 2 eps of Paranoia Agents – Look! the policeman has smashed the bad television!)

Then again, no Japanese cultural critic ever went broke re-doing Akira.

I wonder why the folks at didn’t call this one in their review ?

Back to Azuma’s Otakus . . .

1 thought on “Assimilating Our Culture, That’s What They’re Doing!

  1. Pingback: The logic of yaoi? | HEARTS OF FURIOUS FANCIES

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