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Open Access Publications from the University of California

"Our Dissolution:" Subjectivity, Collectivity, and the Politics of Form in 1960s Japan

  • Author(s): Noonan, Patrick James
  • Advisor(s): Tansman, Alan
  • et al.

This dissertation argues that conceptions and representations of subjectivity in the Japanese 1960s negotiated a precarious balance between social critique and an extremism embracing violence against others and one's self. I define subjectivity as the modes of perception, affective responses, and self-consciousness that shape identity and motivate human beings to act. At one extreme, reflections on subjectivity in 1960s Japan revealed how individuals were complicit with social structures and institutions of power. At another, it led thinkers and artists to call for the rejection of the self so as to undermine the very structures shaping and limiting personal agency.

The conflicts of 1960s Japan grew out of Japan's history of capitalist modernization and the global relations, economic developments, and social transformations specific to the postwar era. Japan's rapid recovery from the end of the Pacific War through the 1960s required mobilizing the Japanese citizenry to rebuild social institutions and to compete within a thriving global economy. For artists and thinkers alike, I argue, the exploration of perception, affect, and shifting grounds of consciousness held the potential to disrupt individuals' assimilation into dominant narratives of personal and social development compelled by Japan's domestic expansion and global aspirations.

My first chapter examines how the critic Yoshimoto Taka'aki, in his theories of language, argued for a notion of political agency rooted not in abstract ideas or theories of revolution, but unsystematic visceral experience. I then consider in the second chapter how the poet, playwright, and raconteur Terayama Shūji's ideas and representations of "action poetry" corresponded to a form of collective social revolt based in the emotions and affective experience. The third chapter analyzes how the New Wave filmmaker Yoshida Kijū considered the "objecthood" of narrative cinema - sensuous perception, the body, and the image - as the basis for creating a form of cinema that treated filmmaker, actors, and spectators as autonomous agents. In the last chapter, I examine two films by the filmmaker Adachi Masao to show a shift from representing subjectivity as a means to critique 1960s capitalism to forging a revolutionary subjectivity, or consciousness, aimed at overthrowing capitalist imperialism at this time. Together, these chapters show how subjectivity was a vital and contradictory concept across media and political inclinations throughout the 1960s.

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