I spent a morning at the former ‘comfort women’s’ weekly demonstration outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul one Wednesday during the northern summer of 2008, and have never been sure how to write about the experience. The women gathered under the banner ‘The Wednesday Demonstration for Resolving the Issue of Comfort Women Enslaved for the Japanese Military,’ and, flanked by supporters from trade unions, women’s groups, and international solidarity campaigns, re-iterate a series of very simple demands. An apology, a proper one. Decent compensation. Acknowledgement. Reparation.
Uman ribu was an explosively radical, restless, artfully angry constellation of women’s liberation groups and collective thinkers who emerged out of Japan’s New Left in the 1970s. Ribu aimed, in its fusing of life experiences, activist intervention and theoretical reflection, to offer ways out of some familiar Left impasses.
At the centre of resistance is a tent outside the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, a reclaiming of public space that has been defying official warnings, police threat, attacks from rightists and the weather for well over a year. It’s quite a sight in Tokyo, where busking, political leafleting or postering are almost impossible.
Pop Idol Minami Minegishi of AKB48, begging forgiveness of her fans and managers, her long hair shaved, her face contorted by grief and shame. The YouTube video of her confession and recantation – viewed more than 3 million times on AKB48’s official channel, but currently private at the time of writing this – makes for horrible viewing. She begs, cries, bows before the camera, distraught and obviously emotionally damaged.
Literary criticism discusses its objects always in the present tense, I tell my students when correcting their attempts to follow the discipline’s odder habits, because literature is always happening.
In 2009, the last year I lived in Japan, it was 新 – the new – that became word of the year: a new government, with the Liberal Democrats defeated and in disarray, and new hopes.
The term ‘terrorist,’ Alain Badiou argues in ‘On September 11: Philosophy and the ‘War Against Terrorism’ has become ‘an essentially empty term,’ a ‘non-existent substance, an empty name,’ a void which is ‘precious because it can be filled’. The predicate ‘Islamic’ (or, in the past week ‘Palestinian’) has, for Badiou, no ‘other function than to give ostensible content to that form’.
Is the internet making us all stupider? Are we cursed to a lifetime of intellectual paddling in the shallows? Are young people now culturally bereft and cursed with short attention spans? Is this the age of cultural amnesia? Is the book dead? Is everyone forgetting everything? Are we going to be cursed with total recall? Does no-one out there on the internet realise I’m a dog?
i.m. Alison Stoddart (1980–2012)
It’s a sign of the full force and audacity of the Modernists (I’m using this term, slackly perhaps, both for the writers themselves and for their institutionalisation via Kenner and the rest) that, even now, and after all of what’s been, theirs are the lines I reach for in self-justification.