Nations in shame and art’s shame: toward a radical politics of image and affect around “Okinawa”
ABSTRACT This article first examines the resurgence of popular, semi-academic nationalist discourses that solidify the figures of “Japan” and “Okinawa” within post-1945 U.S.-led formation of nation-states across the Asia-Pacific. It critiques two discourses that are symptomatic of such a return to the figure of the nation: developmental economist Matsushima Yasukatsu’s thesis of “Ryukyu’s independence” and philosopher Takahashi Tetsuya’s call to relocate U.S. military bases from Okinawa to mainland Japan. These symptomatic instances of the mutually transferential nationalisms in Okinawa and mainland Japan rely upon crudely culturalist assumptions about the self and the others and are thus surprisingly oblivious to how the very nation-forms have been instituted as part of imperial modernity. Their implicit figurations of the exemplary national subjects partake in the biopolitical assumptions as to whose lives must be “made to live” and “made to die” within and outside the border of the national. Ultimately, such nationalist discourses about Japan and Okinawa engage in a zero-sum exchange of imperial shame and colonial shame, a process that further stabilizes the co-operative placement of local nation-forms within the U.S.-led inter-state regime of warfare and biopolitics. But insofar these discourses require the images of the nations that they seek to represent, their (re)production of what Naoki Sakai calls “a schema of co-figurative” nationalities needs to be critiqued through an exploration of a radical aesthetics and affect that pertain to image production.
The second part of the article presents my interpretation of artist Nema Satoko’s recent book of photography titled Paradigm, a work in which both bodies and objects explore their potential transformations in the midst of their precarious exposure to one another. I argue that Nema’s images of fragile bodies and objects in the present landscape of Okinawa are poised on the cusp between the past that invokes a sense of shame and this past’s potential future that necessitates an ethical posture of humility. In the vicinity of Adorno’s notion of “art’s shame,” Nema’s photographic images illuminate an amorphous realm of fragile beings, whose linkage and exposure to one another opens a space of viability that is obscured by the biopolitical imaginaries of nation-forms.
KEYWORDS: Okinawa; Japan; nationalism; biopolitics; affect; aesthetics
Notes on contributor
Mayumo Inoue is an associate professor of comparative literature at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. His current work deals with a poetics of “inoperative community” within the transnational biopolitical space that has formed across the United States and East Asia since 1945. His work in English has appeared in journals such as Criticism, Discourse, and American Quarterly. His essays in Japanese have been published in venues including Gendai Shiso, Ecce, and las barcas. He is a co-editor of an edited collection of essays on politics and aesthetics in East Asia titled Beyond Imperial Aesthetics: Theories of Art and Politics in East Asia (Hong Kong University Press. Forthcoming in Spring 2019). He held visiting appointments at University of Southern California (2016) and University of California at Berkeley (2017-2018). He is one of the founding editors of las barcas, an Okinawa-based journal that is devoted to new art forms and critiques.