The fourth hell: globalization
Araki`s book Tokyo Summer Story (2003) describes the hell of a global city: Tokyo, like other metropolises in the world, is a hell in which daily life is dominated by boredom, depression, and absence of meaningful and authentic relationships, by passivity, by human relationships governed entirely by economic interests. These aspects of a typical late capitalism life have spread throughout the whole world: this is the phenomenon that sociologists define by the term ”globalization.” Nothing can escape the global network of economic and technological interdependence: the plan for an off-grid life where it is possible to escape this hell is destined to fail. In my book Presa diretta: estetica e politica (2012), I defined this phenomenon with the term more-than-urban.
This experience, in which the whole world seems to turn into a hell, was well known by the Pure Land monks who lived in the Kamakura period. For Hōnen (1133-1212) and Shinran (1173-1263), it was impossible to get out of a situation that concerns the whole society just by using one`s own str11th. This is Mappō, the era when the whole world takes on the character of hell. The universe has become infernal, because Buddha`s teaching has been completely forgotten and all human beings are miserable creatures who live in the shadows. This is very well described in a novel by the anonymous author of the 14th century, The Tale of the Heike, deeply influenced by Pure Land Buddhism. If it is not possible to escape from the global hell in which we live, then there are no more rules and even less their transgression! But if everything is hell, nothing is really hell! The idea of hell disappears and a new, very interesting, distinction is created: that between the real Pure Earth and the provisional Pure Earth. It is impossible to know who is in the first, because this depends on the infinite mercy of the Buddha: so, it can include even the depraved, perverted and speculators. On the other hand, it is possible to stay in the provisional Pure Earth, which is neither a hell nor a heaven, but an intermediate situation, provided you don`t forget that human life is impermanence, suffering and non-self.
Araki`s latest book Death Novel (2013) seems to describe this intermediate condition: it is a way to be reconciled with the world, knowing full well that we always remain in a continuous struggle to survive the endless betrayals, shame, and opprobrium that we witness and that involve us. However, this struggle is different from that called commitment or 11agement in the West; it is closer to the wu wei of Chinese Taoism and follows the precepts of the key strategy manual, The Art of War by the Chinese General and philosopher Sun Tzu (544–496 BCE), introduced into Japan about a thousand years later.
The excitement of media communication, the insatiability of sexual desire, the splendor of fashion, and the imprisonment of the global world, are not really rehabilitated; they remain vast sources of pain, that generate addiction. But if there is no way to escape them, we have to live with them, because they have taken on the cosmic character of Mappō. The enigmatic smile of the Buddha statues may be saying this: in the abyss of pain and horror in which we are immersed, a sudden, tiny event such as a flash of lightning, can generate a satori, enlightenment. Araki is seeking to grasp this fleeting and transitory event. But in the moment in which it is fixed in the photograph, the essential is lost forever: just a faint trace remains.
Translation of Jeremy Hayne
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