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cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

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cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

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cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

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cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Robots as Subalterns 2: New Type

Posted by Bill Benzon on 04/02/09 at 04:13 PM

This is a brief coda to my earlier essay on Osamu Tezuka’s thematic use of robots in Astro Boy. As I argued then, those stories are grounded in Tezuka’s experiences of discrimination during the post-war American occupation. In effect, the robots are proxies for the Japanese while the humans are proxies for the occupying forces.

But why deal with those relationships in this displaced and distanced way? Why not tell stories directly about relationships between Japanese and Americans and, in particular, about Americans abusing their power and authority as victors and occupiers? Without bothering to consider various possibilities, let me suggest one: The displacement allowed Tezuka to tell his stories free of historical entanglements.

In Astro Boy’s world the robots have a subaltern status, not because they lost a war, but because humans created them to serve humans. The robots are thus in no way complicit in or responsible for their situation, but they have to live through it. If this is so, then one might be tempted to critique Tezuka and his audience for evading and suppressing the moral and ethical complexities of Japanese history. Such evasions, after all, are common among us. But then, so are critiques of them.

I’m interested in something else. Are such evasions a necessary imaginative vehicle for escaping the recriminating action-reaction bonds of historical conflict? What have the Japanese done with the themes and motifs Tezuka developed in his Astro Boy stories? What is the world doing with the many and various worlds the Japanese have created in anime and manga? Does imaginative fiction give us the means to escape the old patterns and create new ones?

That is what Takashi Murakami seems to be suggesting in “Earth in my Window,” his long essay in Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture (p. 148):

Robots are refined to a level at which they compensate for the inadequacy of human communication, expand human capabilities, and even possess self-consciousness. With the aid of such robots, humans can evolve into superhuman New Types. People themselves become a black hole: life in death, transformation, repeated mutation. Thought stops and the child never grows up. Sucked in by kawaii, you lose initiative, or laugh at your own lethargy and take a robot for a real-world partner. And yet, amidst it all, people awaken and evolve toward a new humanity.


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