Demon, Wolf, and Robot The Nonhuman: Spirits, Animals, Technology Victoria, BC, Canada - September 21-24, 2018

Keynotes

Chris Goto-Jones

Chris Goto-Jones
Chris Goto-Jones

Educated in Cambridge, Keio (Tokyo), and Oxford Universities, Chris is Professor in Philosophy and Dean of Humanities at the University of Victoria. He is also a Professorial Research Fellow at SOAS, University of London, and a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for International Studies at Oxford University. He was previously Professor of Comparative Philosophy & Political Thought and Professor of Modern Japan Studies at Leiden University (The Netherlands). Recent publications include Conjuring Asia: Magic, Orientalism, and the Making of the Modern World (Cambridge UP, 2016); The Virtual Ninja Manifesto: Fighting Games, Martial Arts, and Gamic Orientalism (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

Title: Towards the Virtual Ninja: Embodied Orientalism as Self-Transformation

Abstract : Drawing on five years of surveys and interviews in Asia, Europe, and North America, this paper explores the extent to which (Japanese) videogames can be redrawn as technologies of intentional self-transformation akin to Martial Arts. The argument is that the disciplined iteration of virtual violence, mediated by a form of Orientalist ideology inspired by the bushidō tradition, creates the conditions of possibility for a unique interface between body, technology, and being that has the potential to transform the lives of gamers. One concrete implication of this is a radical re-evaluation of the impact of violent videogames in contemporary society.

Takayuki Tatsumi

Takayuki Tatsumi
Takayuki Tatsumi

Takayuki Tatsumi’s major works include: Cyberpunk America (Keiso, 1988; the 1988 Japan-US Friendship Commission’s American Studies Book Prize), Full Metal Apache: (Duke UP, 2006; the 2010 IAFA Distinguished Scholarship Award), and Robot Ghosts, Wired Dreams: Japanese Science Fiction from Origins to Anime (U of Minnesota P, 2007, co-edited with Christopher Bolton and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay). He won the 5th Pioneer Award (SFRA) in 1994 with the collaboration essay with Larry McCaffery “Towards the Theoretical Frontiers of ‘Fiction’ : from Metafiction and Cyberpunk through Avant-Pop "(1993),” and the 21st Japan SF Grand Prize in 2001 with his edited anthology Japanese SF Controversies:1957-1997( Keiso, 2000).

Title: Ghosts in the City: Towards the Aesthetics of the Cyber-Picturesque

Abstract : In order to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the anime version of Akira, I would like to speculate upon the extraterritorial significance of post-apocalyptic ruins in cyberpunk, especially focusing upon the transpacific interactions among the works ranging from William Gibson's Bridge Trilogy Virtual Light, Idoru and All Tomorrows Parties (1993-1998) in the 1990s, Ryuji Miyamoto's photo book Kowloon Walled City and Project Itoh's post-cyberpunk masterpiece Genocidal Organ (2007).

Mari Kotani

Mari Kotani
Mari Kotani

is an award-winning translator and critic of science fiction, best known as the author of Evangelion as the Immaculate Virgin (1997) and Joseijō Muishiki: techno-gynesis josei SF-ron (Techno-gynesis: the political unconscious of feminist science fiction (1994). She is currently Chair of the PEN Women Writers’ Committee and a member of the Science Fiction Writers of Japan.

Title: Techno-gothic Romance between La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and Cyborgs

Abstract : Distinguished feminist critic Maleen S. Barr once pointed out that human beings in hardcore science fiction served as a metaphor for white male middleclass heterosexuality in western culture, while Aliens for the absolute other. Her perspective invites us to assume that the Japanese are a tribe of Aliens, and even that the Japanese women are doubly alienated. This is the reason why it’s interesting for me to interpret Japanese Aliens inhabiting post-human Japan.

Though hardcore science fiction is basically full of aliens, how did postwar Japanese SF writers grapple with this topic of Alien after importing the literary subgenre of science fiction from western countries? And how did the Japanese construct the concept of the Alien Other in pop culture?

I would like to speculate on these topics through exploring techno-gothic romance between a Japanese female monster and a male cyborg, with special emphasis on Kurozuka written by Baku Yumemakura and INNOCENCE directed by Mamoru Oshii.

Barbara Ambros

Barbara Ambros
Barbara Ambros

is a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research has focused on issues in gender studies; human-animal relationships; place and space; and pilgrimage. She is the author of Women in Japanese Religions (New York University Press, 2015), Bones of Contention: Animals and Religion in Contemporary Japan (University of Hawai‘i Press, 2012), and Emplacing a Pilgrimage: The Early Modern Ōyama Cult and Regional Religion (Harvard University Asia Center, 2008). She is the co-chair of the Animals and Religion Group of the American Academy of Religions.

Title: Gratitude and Treasuring Lives: Eating Animals in Contemporary Japan

Abstract: Over the past decade, an increasing number of publications and public events in Japan have been emphasizing that humans must rely on animal lives for food. The moral principle at the center of this discourse is gratitude. In modern Japanese Buddhism the meaning of repaying a debt of gratitude has shifted from an emphasis on liberating animals to consuming animals with gratitude. In other words, as meat eating has become normative in modern Japan, even among the Buddhist clergy, a sacrificial rationale has replaced anti-meat-eating discourses that have remained central features of a Buddhist identity in other parts of East Asia. The contemporary Japanese Buddhist discourse of gratitude envisions an interconnected chain of becoming that is sustained by animal lives and culminates in human lives. As animal bodies are consumed and transformed into human bodies, humans have the moral obligation to face this reality and express their gratitude.

Thomas Lamarre

Thomas Lamarre
Thomas Lamarre

is a James McGill Professor in East Asian Studies and Associate in Communications Studies at McGill University. His research centres on the history of media, thought, and material culture. He has written on communication networks in 9th century Japan (Uncovering Heian Japan); silent cinema and the global imaginary (Shadows on the Screen, 2005); animation technologies (The Anime Machine, 2009) and infrastructure ecologies ( The Anime Ecology, forthcoming 2018). He is co-editor with Takayuki Tatsumi of a book series with the University of Minnesota Press entitled “Parallel Futures,” focussing on Japanese speculative fiction. His current research on animation addresses the use of animals in the formation of media networks associated with colonialism and extraterritorial empire, and the consequent politics of animism and speciesism.

Title : Errant Naturalism

Abstract : Discussions of the Anthropocene have tended to renew a very old and problematic stance toward humans and technologies: human beings appear to be both the (technological) problem and the (technological) solution to the contemporary ecological crisis. Such a stance ultimately privileges technological solutions, even as it posits the human as pharmakon — as the poison and the cure, the problem and the solution. Such a stance limits us to trying to determine the proper dosage of the human — how much of the human can the planet tolerate, in what amounts and at what intervals?

Without discounting the search for technological solutions, I would pursue another line of inquiry, one that aims at changing the ethical framework within which we response to the ecological crisis. Historically, Japanese literature, philosophy, and cultural formations present us with a variety of alternative ways of thinking about the relation between human beings and non-human beings, between life and non-life. Here, however, the problem is that these alternatives have too often been reduced to a traditional Japanese worldview in contrast with modern Western worldview, thus simplifying and undermining their potential contribution to contemporary.

To avoid such untenable oppositions between tradition and modernity, Japan and the West, I propose to turn to the emergence of naturalism in Meiji Japan, specifically the work of Shimazaki Tōson. I wish to reconsider his famous novel Hakai in light of the paradox implicit in the theory of natural rights: the very source called upon to uphold human freedom and equality, Nature, is open to diverse interpretations. What interests me about Tōson’s naturalism is its willingness to draw on a variety of interpretations of Nature, which discourages him from drawing a clear line between the human and the animal. I see in this ‘naturalist confusion’ not merely a failure to understand natural rights but a possibility to enlarge the ethical framework for thinking the contemporary ecological crisis in two ways. The first way is related to literary ‘personation,’ for it derives from the strange power of literature to explore ‘person’ beyond anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism. The second way might be called socio-naturalism, for it addresses the social and natural impact of assemblages of human animals and non-animals (such as herdsmen and cows, farmers and farmyard animals, hunters and wild animals) at a time when agriculture in rural Japan was undergoing massive transformations. The challenge of Tōson’s naturalism lies in its pursuit of both ways at once, which challenge I propose to address in this paper.

Yōko Tawada

Yōko Tawada
Yōko Tawada. Photo: Bernd Sämmer/Staatskanzlei RLP.

is a celebrated poet, novelists, essayist and dramatist who writes in both Japanese and German. Winner of the Akutagawa Prize, the Yomiuri Prize, and the Tanizaki Prize in Japan, she is also the recipient of the Goethe Medal and the Kleist Prize in Germany.

Title: A reading from Memoirs of a Polar Bear

Abstract : Ms. Tawada will read excerpts from Memoirs of a Polar Bear, an imaginative rendering of a polar bear living in Berlin Zoo. A profile of Tawada and her novel is given in a recent article in The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/10/30/magazine/yoko-tawada.html

Edward Scheer

Edward Scheer
Edward Scheer

is Head of School of Art and Design at UNSW, Australia. He is author, co-author and editor of more than 10 books in the area of performance and new media including most recently New Media Dramaturgy (Palgrave, 2017) with Peter Eckersall and Helena Grehan and William Yang: Stories of Love and Death with Helena Grehan (New South Press, 2016). He was President of PSi, Performance Studies international, from 2007-2011 and a member of the Australian Research Council College of Experts (2013-2015).

Title: Stelarc in the Air (The flight of the Posthuman)

Abstract : To write about Stelarc is also to engage with robotics and with concepts such as Post-humanism, cybernetics and, especially relevant to the later work, digital culture and performance. These discourses open up the significance of his opus for a contemporary readership but there is always an aesthetic excess to his work which is not exhausted by these terms. He is as much an artist making works of art as a designer of technical systems but whose aesthetic value is never secondary to the design principles he is exploring. He is at the same time an artist deploying the most fundamental of tools, his body, in the construction of the aesthetic situation and an experience designer, experimenting with diverse platforms for embodied being in the world. So this paper will provide a diversity of frames to engage in a meaningful way with Stelarc’s multimedial practice.

Stelarc

Stelarc
Stelarc

is a performance artist who has visually probed and acoustically amplified his body. During the 1970s he lived and worked in Japan, developing long-term relations with artists there. He has used medical instruments, prostheses, robotics, virtual reality systems, the internet and biotechnology to engineer intimate and involuntary interfaces with the body. He explores alternate anatomical architectures with augmented and extended body constructs.

Title: Phantom Flesh, Hyper Humans

Abstract : The body and the human are unstable constructs. The dead, the near-dead, the brain dead, the yet to be born, the partially living and synthetic life all now share a material and proximal existence, with other living bodies, operational machines and executable and viral code.

We are now dissolving into circulating data streams of detached bio-data – embedded in vast machine systems of computational calculation, artificial and alien cognition. The monster is no longer the obsolete stitched up meat body, but the system that sucks the self into virtuality. What it means to be human is perhaps not to remain human at all at a time of digital contamination of the body’s microbiome.

Bodies become end-effectors of extended operational systems. Fractal Flesh. Heads are amputated and reconnected, excess limbs become accessible remote manipulators, and senses are out-sourced online. We see and hear with eyes and ears elsewhere. Bodies become hosts for multiple and remote agents. Phantom Flesh proliferates. An alternate anatomical architecture.

Phantoms become increasingly physical. Phantoms not as phantasmatic, but as phantom limbs. Phantoms flicker on and off as glitches in biological time. In the liminal spaces of proliferating Prosthetic Bodies, Partial Life and Artificial Life, the body has become a floating signifier.

The Hyper-Human is a chimera of hyper-links. Incessantly reconnecting, reconfiguring and reimagining itself. It is neither here nor there but appears and disappears all-at-once, everywhere else – scaled-up, speeded-up, performing cinematically, editing and perceiving itself by pausing, rewinding and looping into self-referentiality.

Jennifer Robertson

Jennifer Robertson
Jennifer Robertson

is Professor of Anthropology and the History of Art at the University of Michigan. Her seven books and over eighty articles and chapters address a wide spectrum of subjects ranging from the 17th century to the present, including nativist and social rectification movements, agrarianism, sex and gender systems and ideologies, mass and popular culture, nostalgia and internationalization, urbanism, the place of Japan in Anthropology, sexuality and suicide, theater and performance, votive and folk art, imperialism and colonialism, eugenics and bioethics, and robotics. Her publications have been translated into German, Finnish, French, Hebrew and Japanese. She offers graduate and undergraduate courses on anthropological history, theories and methods; non-western colonialisms; art, identity, and anthropology; bio-art; robot-human interaction; image-based ethnography; mass and popular cultures; ethnic diversity in Japan; sex, gender and sexuality; and Japanese culture and society, among others.
Robertson is currently writing and editing articles and books on the cultural history of Japanese colonialism, eugenics, bio-art and contemporary art, ideologies of "blood," and service robots in Japan and elsewhere. Her new book, Robo Sapiens Japanicus: Robots, Gender, Family and the Japanese Nation (University of California Press) was published in Fall 2017.

Title: Robots and Reincarnation: Intersections of Technology and Spirituality in Japan

Abstract : Best known for his theory of the Uncanny Valley, the pioneer roboticist Mori Masahiro also wrote a book on the “Buddha-nature" of robots. The Buddha in the Robot: A Robot Engineer's Thoughts on Science and Religion (1974) confronts Buddhist themes such as the notion of ego as if they were engineering problems. Following the Lotus Sutra, Mori invokes a Buddhist robo-ethics, arguing that those engineers who recognize that a Buddha-nature pervades them as well as their robots are able to design "good machines ... for good and proper purposes." This paper juxtaposes Mori's ideas with the recent appearance in Japan of robot priests and robot funerals in addition to the emergence of a "New Age" Buddhism that includes the re-embodiment of robots and signals a transhumanist ideal in which reincarnation is understood as a means of extending the non-transient self in order to complete a yet unrealized mission in this life.

Timon Screech

Timon Screech
Timon Screech

Professor of the History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, Timon Screech is the author of a dozen books in English and Japanese on the arts and cultures of the Edo Period. His main current research is related to the history of the English East India Company in Japan, and especially its dealings in works of art. A book on the subject, The Cargo of the New Year's Gift: Paintings from London for Asian Rulers, 1615, is now reaching completion. He is also studying the deification of the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and the cult established for him at Nikko. His major study of the arts of the early-modern period, Obtaining Images, Art, Production and Display in Edo Japan, was published in 2012.

Title: The Living Image

Abstract : Since early times in East Asia there have been tales of images that come to life. The feat is attributed to the creative power of the maker. The first such stories were about dragons, that is, forms that we cannot know. Then tales were made about painted tigers, horses, or people. Commenters considered what might happen to such images. A dragon would dissipate into air, but how could a painted animal or person continue its life within the human world? Would encountering once-painted entities be thrilling or terrifying? Should they be negated, returned to the status of picture, and if so, how?

This presentation will discuss such issues in the context of the Edo Period - a time of vast picture-making in paint and print, and also a time when European mythologies of artistic production entered Japan.