Spreading Sense of Collapse


Photo: AFP/ Getty Images / Kim Jae-Hwan

What are the words that can describe our state of being after the disaster of 3/11? One of the appropriate ways of speaking about it is a spreading sense of collapse.

First of all, it is the collapse triggered by the archipelago having been damaged and the spread of radioactive substances from the nuclear accident. Not only that parts of the national territory have been ruined, but also that uninhabitable areas have been expanding due to the radioactivity. The collapse in this sense signifies physical damage and dilapidation of life world.

But the sense of collapse that is widely shared at the moment is not limited to these. The sense that something important is collapsing is epitomized by a collapse of what Hannah Arendt called “human condition.” It is the sense that the condition without which human living cannot sustain itself is breaking down.

If so, the spreading sense of collapse in this sense is not necessary a result of 3/11 per se. Hadn’t this sense of collapse already been spreading before and irrespective of 3/11? Here a reminder is a novel Muri [Unreason] by Hideaki Okuda, depicting a declining regional city in the northeastern area.

At 7:00 pm I left the building for cram courses. Holding a cell phone in tight grip, I walked fast to the station. More than half shops were closed down, and their shutters shook with a rattling sound by a blowing wind. The streets were deserted. With the snow whirling about, the scenery was unsound. In the stores that were open, no clerks were seen. I would imagine that they were having dinner since no customers were around.

Although the street was empty, new streetlights were lined up, standing in about every ten meters. They were chic dark red iron poles. The brightness was out of place, whose effect enforces dreariness. On top of that, music is coming out from the speakers installed within the poles day and night. Who the hell has decided to add such wasteful things? I would not know.

Shopping district turning into shuttered street is observed everywhere. What is depicted here is not simply a decline. While the desertification of shops is let alone as if it were a natural phenomenon, money is spent totally wastefully for such as the installment of iron poles with an internalized speaker. This discrepancy makes the sense of collapse much more knotty.

The feeling of breaking-down symbolically present in the landscape is not something that has begun with 3/11 disaster. We had already been living it, though without being aware of and directly paying attention to. In this sense, it must be said that the disaster was an event that thrashed us with a question: what has been the situation of collapse we have been living for many years?; what is the problematic that we have to confront full-heartedly?

In other words, up until that day, we have evaded the problem that we were supposed to confront, we have postponed tackling and solving the problem. Without confronting the spreading sense of collapse, we were thinking and talking about something different. Thus what has been illuminated at the wake of 3/11 is the fact that our thinking up to that point has become futile, and that we have entered the conjuncture where we should dispose of our previous thought and confront the spreading sense of collapse directly. We are now in the stage where we cut the lines of thought that have been surviving by inertia and confront the collapse of human condition.

The situation in which we have been living has been in fact a spread of collapse. And now many people are awakening to the fact. Then, when did the collapse begin?

This might have already started in as early as 1960s. Namely this includes the collapse of nature developing during the time of high economic growth, damage of human bodies and environmental destruction by industrial pollution, disintegration of human relations (family being atomized, weakening of territorial bonds), and breaking-down of individual interiority (loss of sense of belonging, floating weed). These were experienced as the collapse of traditional way of life.

But, isn’t what we are experiencing now something added on top of these, something different from these. In other words, aren’t we tasting now the collapse itself of the system whose supreme goal is economic growth?

In retrospection, the beginning of the systemic collapse might have been the 90s, when in Japan an indescribable sense of collapse began to spread, following the events such as bursting bubbles, termination of the one-party politics of Liberal Democratic Party and the end of cold war. Not to know what to do with the sense of collapse – a situation of cul-de-sac began to be felt widely and increasingly. These are the epitome of 90s’ experience. And on the extension of these, the post-3/11 atmosphere has arrived.

That is to say, the system that had already begun to collapse was made to endure forcibly from the 1990s to now. The neoliberal reforms were measures to prolong the system that had been functional at least during the time of high economic growth, but not any further. The damage exerted upon people’s living were due to the prolongation measures. The current nuclear disaster could be seen as a symptom that announces the limit of the prolongation measures. Therefore, what is necessary is not only a critique of the prolongation measures (nuclear power included), but also an analysis of what are collapsing at the moment. This must be something beyond the breaking-downs of social system and human interiority, but something essential.

What future are we to live, at the same time as having all the collapses as our existential condition?

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