Notes on Azuma’s Otaku Database Animals (2. Simulacra and Metanarratives)

Part One

The nucleus of otaku culture is the derivative works market (keep in mind my conclusion from the last installment that this interpretation of otaku culture is specific to modern Japanese otaku, and that applicability to those of us in other countries who call ourselves otaku might vary). Failing to consider these derivative works means we can’t grasp the trends of otaku culture. Baudrillard predicts that in a postmodern society, the distinction between original and copy weakens, and the “simulacrum”, neither original nor copy, becomes dominant. Even the originals are simulacra if they create worlds through citation and imitation of other works (instead of real life). Thus, the insular nature of otaku culture propagates simulacra.

The word “otaku” is actually quite interesting, because it literally translates to ‘your home’ or ‘your family’. It’s a very formal way of saying ‘you’, one that identifies one not by personal relations but by a relationship to one’s territory. This territory is sort of like a snail-shell, it’s the books, magazines, scraps, and whatnot that they carry around. It’s just a natural impulse really; once paternal and national authority have been toppled, they still must search for a group to which they belong. They carry their world with them defensively, their affiliation of a group keeping them mentally stable. For them, fictional reality trumps social reality.

Here, Azuma suddenly jumps to the defence of the otaku. They “generally possess the ability to distinguish fiction from reality”, he offers, and explains that for them, fiction is simply more effective. They shut themselves in a hobby community because, as social values and standards are dysfunctional, they feel a pressing need to construct alternative values and standards.

The replacement of a single and vast social standard with countless smaller ones is just like the replacement of the “grand narrative” with small narratives. This tale of narrative decay is told by French philosopher Jean- François Lyotard as the tale of postmodernism. The postmodernists no longer trust grand narratives such as “the history of man is class warfare” (Marxism) or “man is fundamentally a rational being” (Enlightenment). While the modern period was ruled by the grand narrative, the post modern period was traumatized by its absence.

The otaku’s “construction of shells of themselves out of materials from junk subcultures” is a behavior pattern that can fill this void. God and society are taken away, and replaced with junk subculture. This sounds like a bad thing, but only from a modernist perspective. For the modernist still clings to the grand narrative, making him perhaps the more delusional one.

Azuma poses two questions in the light of this:

1. In modernity, the cause of birth of an original was the author. What is the cause of birth of the simulacra? How do they overtake the originals and copies?

2. In modernity, god and society secured humanity. How will humans live in a world where “god” and “society” must be fabricated from junk subcultures? What becomes of their humanity?

How Azuma addresses the first of these questions will be explored in the next blog entry. The thing I was left wondering about after this is his peculiar turn of phrase “junk subcultures”. So, I’m going to take a stab at what I think this means:

I think the junk he’s referring to constitute simulacra. A simulacrum is not an original creation, it is constructed through citation and imitation of original creations. An imitation of an original is just junk. It would be nothing in comparison unless it somehow exceeded the original. Not discussing whether this is possible (sorry Nisemonogatari, you’ll get a blog post another day perhaps), we can just generally assume that a mere imitation is inferior. These inferior bits are the constituents that we can build simulacra with, thus the subculture of simulacra is also the subculture of junk. Fiction is the recycled bits of reality.

That said, I really am not sure what Azuma means by “junk subculture”, and I hope that it will become more clear the further I read into this.

Part Three

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