Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Last year, PM Press published a translation of Tomoyuki Hoshino's Lonely Hearts Killer, and, apparently, more translated works of international fiction are forthcoming. In Lonely Hearts, Hoshino seizes upon the Japanese identification with the Emperor as a point of entry to confront troubling questions about the nature of hierachy and the purposes that it serves within society. The brilliance of the novel lies in Hoshino's decision to put two distinctively Japanese cults in conflict with one another, the cult of the emperor and the suicide cult of seppuku and jigai.
As the novel begins, the people of Japan are mourning the loss of their young, vibrant, charismatic young emperor. The ascension of such a young person, about 40, to the throne had excited the populace with the hope that he could ignite the reinvigoration of an increasingly routinized society. But, instead, the Young Majesty died after contracting an unknown illness, plunging much of the country into an isolative despair, with the exception of two young film students, Inoue and Iroha. But Iroha's lover, Mikoto, entered a comatose state for days on end.
Upon his reawakening, Iroha introduces him to Inoue, resulting in the death of Mikoto at the hand of Inoue and Inoue's suicide in a sleeping cafe, the Dormir. Inoue leaves behind an Internet statement to the effect that, inspired by His Young Majesty, he was going to kill himself to escape this illusory, demoralizing world, going so far as to encourage mass suicide:
In his penetrating study of anarchism in China, Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution, Arif Dirlik observes that . . . anarchist ideology, in its peculiar formulation of questions of conflict and interest in society, lent itself to counterrevolution almost as easily as to revolution. In Lonely Hearts, Hoshino confronts us with the troubling insight that such an observation warrants a global instead of a site specific application by describing a reactionary public response to the deaths of Inoue and Mikoto.
I will lead the vanguard and sacrifice myself. If enough of you identify with my dream, and, we can really bring back this world to what it is truly meant to be. We can extinquish this phony world, and return to the real, natural, authentic world of the dead.
Instead of recognizing that Inoue sought to induce a rejection of hierarchy and the deference to authority that it necessarily entails, the public became more and more hostile to his memory as suicides proliferated. Predictably, the government seizes upon the crisis as an opportunity to seize greater police powers for itself, posthumously condemning Inoue as a terrorist, and thereby suppressing all of his cyberspace statements and videos. A small minority answered his call, but a majority either rejected him or remained indifferent as the state assumed more control over their lives. During the period, a woman ascends the throne for the first time as His Young Majesty's successor. Caught between the constraints of her personality, her role as empress and the requirements for reaching people through the media, she proves herself incapable of alleviating public feelings of unease and aimlessness.
To the extent that there was an individualistic response to the deaths of Inoue and Mikoto, it was in a social Darwinist direction, as people could only fall back upon past cultural experience. Suicides became love suicides and love suicides became assassination suicides, analogous to propaganda by the deed, and assassination suicides became indiscriminate love suicides, ones in which a person randomly selected someone to die with them. As you might have guessed, some responded by adopting the rationale of the war on terror, kill them before they kill us. In one celebrated incident, a young man kills his best friend because he thought his friend was running towards him to kill him. A court finds him not guilty, and he subsequently becomes a politically powerful figure.
Through this narrative, which he presents reflectively through his three primary characters, Inoue, Iroha and Mokuren, Hoshino mines a rich vein of social conformity and autocracy that the Japanese left has been unable to transcend, as explored in the films of Nagisa Oshima. But some reject the false choice between suicide and submission. After the deaths of Inoue and Mikoto, Iroha goes to live in a retreat center nestled in a cedar forest, a retreat operated by her high school friend, Mokuren. As she lives there for several years, she deals with her grief over the deaths of Inoue and Mikoto, and imperfectly strives to assert an independent identity. She does so in a way that Mokuren condemns as perpetuating the circle of cynicism, self-centered rebellion and sacrifice initiated by Inoue.
By contrast, Mokuren challenges the emerging social Darwinism in an editorial entitled, I Won't Kill, and rightists direct their rage towards her and the residents of her retreat center. Her challenge, and the violent rightist response to it, becomes the center of a media circus, reducing her attempt to emotionally reach people into yet another form of entertainment. If there is a moral to Hoshino's postmodern fable of alienation and impotence, it is that before there can be a political revolution, there must first be a social one within our hearts and minds. Or, even more, a social one renders the need for a political one superfluous.