Consider Japan : there’s a country that deliberately protected itself from history during three centuries ; it
put a barrier between history and itself, so well that it perhaps permits us to foresee our own future
what Japan teaches us, is that one can democratise snobbery
. Next to the Japanese, English high society
is a bunch of drunken sailors
(Kojève, 1968, see Nichols, 2007, p.85).
La civilisation japonaise ‘posthistorique’ s’est engagée dans des voies diamétralement opposées à la voie
(see Baudrillard, 1994, p.58).
I shall investigate Kojève’s aesthetic turn to snobbism through situating Nietzsche’s overman at the end of
unfolding of Western history, which was envisioned by Hegel and later re-read by Kojève, who ar-
gued that Hegel’s end point was the last man’s horizon. Yet, it will be seen that ‘snobbism’ disrupts this fore-
gone eschatological conclusion drawn by Francis Fukuyama (1990). Writing in the wake of the fall of the Ber-
lin Wall in 1989, Fukuyama forecast the dissolution of historical telos
, finally realised in liberal democracy and
capitalism, and concretised in the postmodern man, the last man, the man at the precipice of nothingness. Fuku-
yama reads Nietzsche as looking upon the last man with disgust and dismay. As we know, in the prologue of
Thus Spoke Zarathustra
(1995), Nietzsche through Zarathustra utters his diagnosis of modernity thus :
The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as in-
eradicable as the flea beetle ; the last man lives longest.
Why is it that in 1959, Japan becomes a rival to America, the posited final stage of communism? In trying
to account for this profoundly offhand, nutty proclamation about Japan, I argue that Kojève revealed something
A lecturer in the Faculty of Literature, and a member of the Institute of Human Sciences at Toyo University
more, succumbed to something more than a certain ‘peremptory diagnoses’ of expertise after returning from a
faraway land, or what Niethammer (1992, p.68) describes as a ‘tourist fantasy’. It is something more than an-
other narrative of the empire of signs (Barthes, 1982). We can appreciate the historical relevance of the snob-
bism thesis more clearly when we think about the bubble years in Japan, when commentators and intellectuals
looked eastwards with trepidation, when Japan’s prosperity and hypermodernity in the 1980s, transfixed the
West and turned lusting eyes once again
to the coveted Orient. On the cusp of an era of outlandish capital de-
territorialisation, at a time when Tokyo became one of, if not the, richest technopoles on earth, it is perhaps true
to say that theoreticians and writers–at home in Japan and abroad (see Ishihara ) got a little bit carried away with
what they saw as possibilities inherent in the futurity of an exoticised, phantasmagorical other. They succumbed
to and became transfixed by a sense of the aesthetic japonisme
(Morley & Robins, 1995, p.147).
We shall also see that the Kojevian aesthetic turn survives ; resuscitated in a different way by Hiroki
Azuma (2009) to explain the snobbism inherent in otaku or geek culture. The otaku in developing micro-
narratives and local histories is read as becoming animal in the Hegelian sense–or what Azuma’s calls a doubut-
suka or animalisation. Azuma’s idea of animalisation helps us to ask again whether contemporary socio-
political existence in Japan is posthistorical in any meaningful sense.
While we acknowledge a residual theme of irony in many parts of Kojève’s work, the postscript on Japan
promises another narrative, the Owl of Minerva flying again at dusk, rising from the ashes. Yet, for some com-
mentators, the social and cultural history of ‘Japan’ is unthinkable in Kojevian terms and consequently the no-
tion of a distinctly Japanese end to history makes little sense (Haigh, 1991, p.110). The argument is that the
Japanese cannot become fully self-conscious in terms of the unfolding of the Hegelian spirit because their cul-
ture is essentially arborescent. For Haigh, the master-slave dialectic cannot operate in such a vertically striated
socius of oyabun-kobun
relations, as the dialectic of master and slave in the end plays out a quintessentially He-
gelian and European dilemma and fantasy (Haigh, 1991, p.114). Yet, in some not altogether clear sense, Haigh
argues that the Japan thesis makes little sense precisely because Japan has always been culturally nonmodern
is clear Haigh has not read his Marx). Equating modernity with the West, Japan is read as a non-Western civili-
zation which became modern without becoming Western at the same time. Yet, for Darby (1982, p.220), Japan
has been uniquely postmodern through resisting the universality of the Idea, in the same sense that Hegel ex-
cluded Japan from the realisation of the Spirit. On this strict line of argument, Japan and her Asian neighbours
do not have a role in the unfurling of the Hegelian, Eurocentric, dialectic of Spirit, as they did not experience the
Western, Enlightenment period. From this point of view, it follows that Japan cannot form part of the universal
and homogeneous state. As Kojève’s stages of history are therefore largely irrelevant to Japan, and because the
Japanese have pursued an altogether different, more insular, extra-historical path during the Edo period (1603-
1868), she is unable to shed her old armour and remains locked in a quintessentially feudal mode of existence or
what Marx called the Asiatic mode of production (see Krader, 1975). In Marx’s historical materialism, there is
also a recognition of a different trajectory at work.
Playfully perhaps one might counter such possible skepticism towards the Japan postscript when we under-
stand how and why Kojève developed the notion of snobbery more clearly. After several trips to Japan in the
1940s and 1950s, Kojève conjectured that the Japanese had been living at the theoretical end of history for over
250 years during the Edo period, without crucially losing their humanity or returning to animals. The end of
history is not the death of animal existence per se
but of human existence as negativity or action. During a long
a relatively peaceful period of history, the Japanese, Kojève argued, formed an interesting way of spending time
at the end of history
, a kind of pure snobbism of forms, concretised in such practices as the tea ceremony, callig-
raphy, haiku, ikebana (flower arrangement), and the Noh play-examples of a graceful, albeit empty, activity, or
what Baudrillard (1994) would designate as the aesthetics of meaninglessness (see Mathy, 1993). Kojève finds
in Edo, unique characteristics, formal values−a type of human life that was anything but animal−a different par-
ticularity to contest Western claims to universality. This seemingly out-of-synch difference allows the Japanese
to enjoy a peculiar repulsion and attraction to modernity ; a peculiar becoming beyond the end of the end. Such
culturally and geographically autochthonic practices signify the rejection of a transcendent God, the future at
end of history and the identity of Time and the Concept.
The latter view is considered Hegel’s great discovery by Kojève. Hegel’s historical time is human, finite
time. Kojève followed the logic to its final end and concluded that Hegel’s thought constituted not just the end
of history but also the end of human Time. It follows, Kojève conjectured as did Fukuyama, that after Hegel
and Napoleon, nothing new
on earth would appear. This stoppage–if one can call it that - of time is read as the
end of history. Bizarrely, after the Battle of Jena (1806) and Napoleon’s victory over Prussia, history ends, thus
spoke Hegel. In thinking through the principles of the French Revolution and their universal applicability, and
attracted by the cult of World Historical Personality, Hegel sees in Napoleon, the Weltseele
or world soul. He
sees the world spirit ‘on horseback
Hegel (Pinkard, 2000) writes : “I saw the Emperor - this soul of the world - go out from the city to survey
his reign ; it is a truly wonderful sensation to see such an individual, who, concentrating on one point
while seated on a horse, stretches over the world and dominates it.”
Kojève (Strauss et al
, 2000, xv) finds in Hegel’s interpretation of the historical meaning of Robespierre-
Bonapartism a compulsion in post-Napoleonic Europe ‘to accelerate the elimination of the numerous more or
less anachronistic remainders of its pre-revolutionary past’. Kojève goes on to conjecture that perhaps it is the
United States which has already reached the final stage of Marxist ‘communism’ because the members of a
‘classless society’ can, for all practical purposes, ‘acquire whatever they please, whenever they please, without
having to work for it any more than they are inclined to do’ (Strauss et al
, 2000, xv).
However, matters are complicated further because it should be remembered that in Hegel’s Philosophy of
(2007), America is determined to belong to the category of ‘unhistorical History’ and as such should be
excluded from Hegel’s philosophical forecast of both modern European history and philosophy. But here He-
gel’s system appears not as hermetic as the proclamations about Napoleon suggest, because, rather presciently
perhaps, Hegel also grants future roles in world history for America (and Russia). Hegel defines America,
alongside Russia, as ‘lands of the future’. He writes (2007, p.87) : ” America is therefore the land of the future,
where, in the ages that lie before us, the burden of the World’s History shall reveal itself - perhaps in a contest
between North and South America. It is a land of desire for all those who are weary of the historical lumber-
room of old Europe.” The point is important because it extricates the differing sense of Hegelian, Marxist, an-
thropocentric or Sinocentric and Western nationalistic historiographies.
From here, we ask : in what sense of historical action and negativity can one imagine a war to the death be-
tween the snobs and the last men? In Japan, Kojève did not discern religion, morals, or politics in the European
or historical sense but a form of snobbery in its pure state. Writing in 1959, he says that all Japanese without ex-
ception are currently in a position to live according to totally formalised values, which are completely empty of
all human content in the historical sense (Wettergreen, 1973). In his interpretation of Edo culture, Kojève found
a way of life among the upper classes without the need for them to risk their lives for prestige, as in the majestic
struggle for mutual recognition in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit
(1977). It is argued that as Japan was es-
sentially free from civil and foreign war for centuries. As such and with no reason to work as a slave, the Japa-
nese remained human. The Japanese made art, though not in the ’European’ or ’historical’ sense as that would
demand a cause and negation. As life in Edo did not bear witness to the struggle for Hegelian mutual recogni-
tion, the Japanese are the last men, the ones who for Nietzsche were the bridge to the overman. From the seem-
ingly ahistorical and romantic perspective of Kojève, they live according to pure snobbery and nothing else. For
Kojève, during the Edo period, progress as a modern ideal completed its cycle (an essentially western, Enlight-
enment ideal transplanted on Japan) and introverted snobbery flourished. So, in a sense, Edo has always already
been postmodern, seemingly outside the dialectic of History. For Kojève, since no animal can be a snob, a ‘Ja-
panised’ post-historical period would be specifically human. And if this is accepted, then the interaction be-
tween Japan and the Western world is not one of the rebarbarisation of the Japanese but the ’Japanisation’ of the
West, including the Russians. Taken to its limit and extreme, the argument leads to the view that the Japanese
are in principle capable of committing, from a purely snobbish point of view, a perfectly gratuitous suicide. In
the late 1960s, in an interview with Lapouge, Kojève remarked : Don’t forget that snobbery goes a long way.
One dies with snobbery as with kamakazis (kamikazis) - (see Darby, 1982, p.176).
However, and to return to Hegel, as Napoleon is the particular man actualised as truly universal cause, he is
a truly satisfied man. From this conclusion, Hegel views himself qua
philosopher as Napoleon’s own self-
consciousness realised. For Hegel then, the embodiment of the Logos is Napoleon in the flesh - the ’true’
Christ. On this point, Kojève, according to Descombes (1980), is read as expounding a terrorist conception of
history through his affirmation of the violence of Robespierre (1758-1794), leader of the Jacobins and architect
of the Reign of Terror. For Kojève, what follows from this interpretation is that nothing of historical signifi-
cance has happened since Hegel’s day. As for the Chinese and Russian ways of life competing for hegemonic
prowess in the 1950s, Kojève (1969, p.161) claims :
If the Americans give the appearance of rich Sino-Soviets, it is because the Russians and the Chinese are
only Americans who are still poor but are rapidly proceeding to get richer.
And again in a 1968 interview with Gilles Lapouge, Kojève says the Chinese revolution of 1949 signalled
the bringing of the Napoleonic Code to China. As he says (see Drury, p.44) :
Since this time (1806), what has happened? Nothing at all, the alignment of the provinces. The Chinese
revolution is only the introduction of the Napoleonic Code into China.
The Postscript in detail
If man returns to his animality, art and play become purely natural. In this sense men would construct their
edifices and works of art as birds build their nests and spiders spin their webs. Man performs musical concerts
in the manner of frogs and cicadas and plays like young animals and indulges in love like adult beasts (Kojève,
1969, p.159). The end of history also means the end of philosophy, as being no longer undergoes transforma-
tion and discourse about the world has been actualised in wisdom or knowledge of the whole. Here, Kojève
looks for wise men, not philosophers. Yet this point puts Kojève at odds with Marx (1974) who believed that in
the realm of true freedom
men would ‘hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criti-
cise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fishermen, shepherd or critic’.
However, the question is whether one can say that all this makes man happy. For Fukuyama, post-history
signifies the cessation of action and that means the disappearance of wars and bloody revolutions. Fine in the-
ory but the post-1989 world shows a different reality. While satiated homo sapiens live in abundance and secu-
rity, desire dies in the negating, active sense. Artistic, erotic and playful behaviour do not negate in the He-
gelian sense, as all are satisfied and satiated. At the end of history, ’healthy’ automata are ’satisfied’ through
personal pleasures - sports, art, eroticism - while and the ’sick’ ones get locked up in the madhouse. As for
those who are not satisfied with their ’purposeless’ activity, they are the philosophers (who can attain wisdom if
Kojève in his later writings, and thinking from the standpoint of a communist and leftwing critic, con-
tended that humanity was witnessing the ultimate trivialisation of man and the return to the merely animal order.
Contra the emptied formalism of the Japanese snob was the powerful American consumer equipped ready-at-
hand with the machines of the universe, pulsating with pure standing reserve. According to Bloom, editor of
Kojève’s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel
(1969), the agon
between Japanese snobbery as graceful empty
activity and the rampant consumerism of the Americans was an issue at heart of the universal homogenous state.
formal value is the repetition of the same, outside of time, or, if you will, in the duration of
time experienced as intensity. It is the Zen of the cracked and intense moment. At the end of history there is the
formal repetition of the kata
in myriad forms – golf or baseball swing, shopping in the Ginza, martial arts. Here
we can see an interesting comparison between Kojève and Japanese philosopher Kuki Shu¯zo¯ (1980) on the im-
agery site of Edo. Edo is the prism or fragment of memory for perceiving and describing the semiotics of hyper-
logical consumption. It is reused again and again, mixed, cut, inverted, pixelised to satiate the [Occidental] de-
sire to know the traditional, the exotic - the Other. Vlastos (1998) even claims that Shu¯zo¯ virtually hallucinated
a new cultural Edo in the tradition of taste he identified as iki
), a term used to refer to a structure of exis-
tence in the Edo pleasure quarters, usually associated with nonattachment. It is also similar to Baudrillard’s
When the real no longer is what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a proliferation
of myths of origin and signs of reality : of secondhand truth, objectivity, and authenticity. There is an esca-
lation of the true, of lived experience, a resurrection of the figurative where the object and substance have
disappeared. And there is a panic-stricken production of the real and the referential, above and parallel to
the panic of material production : this is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us - a strategy
of the real, neo-real, and hyperreal, whose universal double is a strategy of deterrence.
Intermezzo 1 : The End of the History and the Last Samurai
It is over 150 years since Commodore Perry (1794–1858) and his ominous black ships made land near
Kurihama, near Yokohama in Japan. In 1853, the landing of foreign powers effectively ended three centuries of
voluntary seclusion and began the process of opening Japan to the world.
Tokugawa shogunate’s rule is thrown into disarray. This is how the modern narrative of runs. With the new
emperor Meiji, comes a rush, a frenzy to modernise, to understand Western technology and science, to play
Yet Japan’s postmodern ruse, or clever sleight-of-hand, which conceals the posthistorical nature of the
Japanese socius, is captured cinematically, smuggled into Edward Zwick’s film (2004) The Last Samurai
this Hollywood blockbuster, Tom Cruise inadvertently discloses the truth that Japan has always been postmod-
ern. The idea finds its perfect incarnation as the concrete entity of Edo culture. The opening up to the West is
but a ruse as the Japanese retain their postmodern trajectory regardless of adorning Western garb. In the film,
Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise), a 36-year old mercenary, lands on Japanese shores in 1876. He comes to
teach the Japanese how to fight. After nearly a month at sea, he disembarks at Yokohama docks to find – with
his Western eyes - Japan at the cusp of a new historic era. The port reflects this frenzy, with new languages,
looks, smells and sounds - with change. But Algren is somehow captured by samurai and after many days of
travel taken to a magical, mythical place in the Japanese countryside. There, Algren learns the ways of the
samurai in a kind of pure sakoku
haze. Each day, he says, he is confounded by their strange customs, contradic-
tions and savagery – which run side by side, with beauty, elegance and clam. Algren later in conversation with
long-term resident Graham suggests Japan is buying the future by enlisting the services of foreign experts in a
bid to modernise. Graham retorts that Japan could be selling the past in doing so. Here we see both succumbing
to the pea-and-thimble trick of the postmodern – those three mysterious entities, thesis, antithesis, and synthesis
Intermezzo 2 : Stereotypes
In a chapter entitled ‘TechnoOrientalism : Japan Panic’, Morley and Rovins (1995) argue that Western
stereotypes of the Japanese continue to prevail in the media and beyond. The authors contend that the media
designates the Japanese as inhuman, unfeeling, detached, and argue that the association of technology and Japan
serves to reinforce the image of a culture that is cold, impersonal and machine-like - an authoritarian culture
lacking emotional connection to the rest of the world. As an archetypical typology, the otaku generation is lost
to everyday life through the immersion in computer reality. Children reject physical contact and prefer technical
communication and the realm of reproduction and simulation in general (Morley and Rovins, 1995, p.169-170).
Morley and Rovins suggest that stereotypes abound that Japanese children are mutating into machines. As such,
they represent a kind of cybernetic mode of being for the future. In manufacturing images of the Japanese as in-
human, the political and cultural unconscious of the West perceives Japan as the figure of an empty and dehu-
manising technological power. Commenting on Japan in particular, and capturing a sense of trans-human, Bau-
drillard (1988, p.76), suggests that the future seems to have shifted towards artificial satellites. This site of hy-
perreality is the home of the otaku, a double world of simulacra and database. Moreover, Baudrillard saw in
Kojève’s interpretation of Hegel and Japan, the omnipresence of simulacra or signs without referents. In Japan,
he discerns an unintelligible paradox, the capacity to transform feudalism and territoriality into weightlessness
and deterritoriality. Japan not only is located geographically somewhere else, but is projected chronologically.
The depiction labels Japan as the alienated and dystopian representation of capitalist progress. The Japanese
emerge from the future as unfeeling aliens, cyborgs and replicants. From this, some draw the inference that the
otaku are of
the postmodern. Otaku on this reading are
becoming-overman. While the US is described as the
only great, ‘primitive’ society of modern times, Baudrillard says Japan is a satellite in orbit and the future of
technology. Developing the point a little more, Darby spells out the link with Japan and Hegel. He writes
(1982, p.200) writes : “It is the planet infused and charged with the epitome of the West : our technology. It is
the Universal and Homogenous States. It is cybernetised Hegelianism. It belongs to the completion of time as
history concretised in that part of the system that is the state.”
Critical of this stance, Karatani (1993) suggests the ‘Orient’ is neither a cultural, religious or linguistic
unity as its identity lies precisely outside of itself. What endows it with some vague sense of unity is that the
Orient is that which is excluded and objectified by the West, in the service of its historical progress. From the
outset the Orient is a shadow of the West (see Árrnason et al
, 1995). In a move not altogether dissimilar and re-
flecting this enthraldom with Japanese technology, science-fiction writer William Gibson (2009) writes :
If you believe as I do, that all cultural change is essentially technologically driven, you pay attention to the
Japanese. The postmodern era will be the Pacific era. Japan is the future, and it is a future that seems to
be transcending and displacing Western modernity.
Furthermore, infatuation with Japan is found in Felix Guattari’s writings (1995, p.4), who visited the island
nation on several occasions in the 1990s. Guattari was interested with the dialectic of the archaic and modern in
a country which was seen as having progressed from premodern archaism to postmodern hybridity with no ap-
parently discernible, long-lasting, modernity in between. Guattari said the lack of modernity made machinic
junkies out of the infantile, ‘childlike’ Japanese. Japan exhibited a certain unique penchant for the machine, for
the machinic relationship to technology. He also drew attention to the always-already mixed nature of the ele-
ments that form subjectivity, for example, those archaic attachments to cultural traditions that nonetheless aspire
to the technological and scientific modernity characterising the contemporary subjective cocktail.
Look at Japan, the prototypical model of new capitalist subjectivities. Not enough emphasis has been
placed on the fact that one of the essential ingredients of the miracle mix showcased for visitors to Japan is
that the collective subjectivity produced there on a massive scale combines the highest of high-tech compo-
nents with feudalisms and archaisms inherited from the mists of time.
Hiroki Azuma (2009/2001) adopts an otaku perspective on Japanese society and produces a novel update of
the snobbery thesis. He claims otaku culture represents a new orientation towards a large database, somehow
and something outside of the story of grand narratives of which Lyotard (1979) speaks, outside the story of
modernity. For Azuma, postmodernism reveals the structure of otaku. What Azuma means by database is often
far from clear but it is used as a structure to rival Western tales of the grand narrative. Azuma says animals dif-
fer from humans in the sense that animals cannot distinguish between their needs (yokkyû
) and desires (yokubû
Reading much into this, Azuma heralds the arrival of an animalised postmodern, particularly in otaku culture,
where needs and desires become indistinguishable. Here the otaku and the snob serve as synecdoche for Japan
and the Japanese. The figure of the otaku pinpoints, materially, the excrescent revelation of an abnormal out-
growth. Interlinked with the narrative of the otaku is the notion of the superflat (Murakami, 2005) and its rela-
tionship with architecture. The discourse of the otaku operates in the conspicuous absence of Japan, a space for
invention or rediscovery. The figure of the otaku works as a phantasmagoria of the spectacle and bears witness
to the hypertrophy of the inner life. In one sense, it appears closer to Bataille’s man of unemployed negativity
than to Nietzsche’s last man. If the end of history the human being is unemployed negativity, for Bataille (Let-
ter to X), human negativity does not disappear but becomes ’unemployed’ (see Noys, 2000, p.77). More criti-
cally, we might say, the otaku is an expression and logical outcome of commodity fetishism. Yet, for Azuma,
otaku culture is not a subculture unique to Japan. Although the concept denotes your
family, as in
the Japanese home, it is not strictly a Japanese phenomenon, it is transnational enjoying a presence across Asia,
Europe and the Americas. Otaku is no longer a derogatory term. To be otaku is in a sense to be hip. Otaku
have evolved. The otaku is undergoing, a bridge to the overman. For example, so-called third generation otaku,
born in the 1980s, have developed a new sensibility and a methodology of communication over the internet.
Since the 1970s, the postmodern suggests a rupture in culture, a desire for small narratives (chiisana mo-
nogatari) or simulacra ; the desire for a grand non-narrative at the level of the database is a structural characteris-
tic of postmodern society. The otaku leads informatic capitalist society, according to Okada (1996). Oriental
culture for Okada begins as an amalgam of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism derived from Japan’s Asian
neighbours. This process of becoming oriental continues with Zen and the tea ceremony, before being realised
, and more contemporarily in anime, special effects films, video games and costume play (cospure
The otaku perceives with three eyes or modes of visual appreciation : iki
, and tsuu
. Here otaku is linked
to the aforementioned notion of iki
of the Edo era. This idea is used elsewhere by Marc Steinberg who dis-
cusses the use of Edo as a trope for Japanese postmodernity. Steinberg (2004) suggests Edo is deployed to situ-
ate Japanese visual artist and theorist Murakami Takashi’s 2000-1 exhibition, Superflat. He contends that the
superflat itself is guided by the logic of compositing informed by contemporary modes of digital imaging rather
than the quasi-historisation that characterized the use of Edo in Japan’s postmodern 1980s and 1990s.
Drawing on Okada’s study, Azuma builds a theory of the otaku from works in Japanese, which link the
unique compositions of animator Kaneda Yoshinori to the eccentricities of Edo painters. Azuma is at his most
perceptive when he disrupts the received fantasy that otaku culture and otaku-like sensibilities are unique
Yamato race. To the apparent chagrin of hardline otaku fans, he says the emergence of otaku culture is not a
uniquely Japanese phenomenon as it was imported from the US after the trauma of defeat in World War
The early history of otaku culture is about adaption and domestication. Otaku may well have a unique aes-
thetic and cybernetic-hybrid imaginary but it is one drawn genealogically from overseas and one built on a cer-
of desire drawn from dark places, from a perceived sense of inferiority vis-à-vis
the US. Edo
is but one among many invented others in relation to which modernity posits itself. Postmodern Edo is the des-
ignated space both phenomenologically and epistemologically distinct from European modernity, a trope for an
imagined world, that is to say, an unspoilt, rural idyll, the authentic Japan, the site for isolation, outside of mod-
ernity. So at the end of history, there is form stripped of content and the otaku nestles in between the dyad of
West and Japan (Azuma, 2009, p.11). The Japanese aspects of otaku culture are disconnected from postmodern
Japan but remain implicated in the Americanisation of Japanese society. And it is this point on the lingering and
embedded effects of the logic of consumer society which complicates a strong reading of the Kojève-Japan the-
sis. In fact, Azuma contends the disappearance of Japanese tradition led ironically to a rekindling of obsession
with Japan or pseudo-Japan in otaku culture (ibid, p.77). Pseudo-Japan is a manufacture of US-produced mate-
rial. By rejecting the paradigm of Edo commodity culture to explain Japan in the 1980s and 1990s, Azuma
questions the self-orientalising impulse in Japan where Japanese view themselves and Japan through the prism
of Occidental desire. He reads onto this a bunker psychological mentality to hide the Americanisation of Japan
. As he says, Japan is an imaginary and imagined space, ‘a quasi-Japan
created from American materials’ (ibid, p.77).
Japanese postmodernism is connected with a certain sense of narcissism as it was an expression of an atypi-
cal modernisation process. She was different not because she suffered a defect or loss but precisely because she
brought something inaugural and vital. With no modern sense of humanity built on Enlightenment ideals, the
collapse of sovereign subjectivity was not something to be mourned but celebrated as the Japanese could unite
consumerism and technological progress. In summa : if modernity is a Western notion ; postmodernism is a
Japanese idea. For advocates of this line of reasoning, to be Japanese in the 1980s was to be of the avant-garde.
And on another level, under one Kojèvian reading of posthistoire, if the animalisation of society was an
American outcome, snobbery was a Japanese conclusion. Snobbery is a formal value, a value empty of all ra-
tional (historical) social and political content. Kojève’s argument suggests that a way out of the animality or re-
barbarisation of American life was the Japanisation of the West. And euphoria over this idea did get the better
of some astute cultural critics. Takashi Murakami (ibid, p.77) wrote that perhaps Japan was the future of the
world. The formation of otaku culture can be seen as an expression of this self-gratifying narcissism. For
Azuma, the existence of otaku reflects the fragility of the Japanese identity. He is critical of the unthinking sug-
gestion that Japan was at the cutting edge because it could harness ultramodern technology and everyday cus-
Otaku culture essentially is a database of derivative works of amateurs. It is postmodern in the sense that it
reproduces simulacrum, neither original nor copy, without aura or place. Otaku operate within a cultural realm
permeated by the omnipresence of simulacra and the dysfunction of grand narratives. The resolution for the
otaku is to expend life for any absurd purpose. For Azuma, against a backdrop of the loss of grand narrative,
and the resultant mushrooming of many singular narratives, otaku culture places importance on fiction. More-
over, they are more susceptible to the otherworldly as they struggle to mark out the difference between the other
and transcendental difference. If the deep layer of hidden meaning has seemingly disappeared, leaving mere ap-
pearances and surfaces, otaku culture obsesses with smaller narratives as fragments of a grand narrative – a non-
narrative consumption. The internet is a paradigm of database activity because with no centre, no hidden grand
narrative, a mere world of outer signs, it is rhizomatic as there is a double layer structure at once accumulating
encoded information and individual webpages. It is operable as a database, a reading up model. The arbores-
cent model stands in opposition to the database model of the postmodern world image (Azuma, ibid, p.77). With
the collapse of the tree structure, the database takes its place. By conjoining the database model and Eiji Ot-
suka’s narrative consumption model, Azuma discerns a double structure of settings and small narratives and
thinks this as representing a double layer structure of information and appearance. At times, Azuma writes as an
ironist at once uttering statements of a Hegelian (Azuma says Hegel’s historical perspective is difficult to re-
fute), of a fully-fledged postmodernist (grand narratives are anachronistic) and then on behalf of others (Japa-
nese youth lack the desire for the grand narrative image of the world because database operations, now more
perspectival than omniscient, see no currency in forgeries even as a subculture (Azuma, ibid, p.36). Repeating
the poststructural mantra of the erasure of the author and authorship, Azuma claims with neither original nor
copy, what matters for the otaku is the settings created anonymously (Azuma, ibid, p.53-54). A copy is not
judged according to the distance from the original but distance from the database. What are the ramifications of
database consumption and double layer structure of postmodernity?
While Azuma’s thesis is insightful, it seems to fail to make good on the radicality of its initial assumptions
and project. We therefore need to go further. At the beginning of Azuma’s work, he asks after what becomes of
the humanity of human beings at the end? By the finale of book, he seems someway off from answering this
fundamental question. Is Azuma really saying that solitude is the answer to life – is meaningful in an historic
sense - at the end of history? Is he suggesting that it is in the quasi-pataphysical figure of the undergoing hikiko-
, that there is a sign of hope and difference? It is also pertinent to question the necessity of substituting the
concept of rhizome for the database as even Azuma acknowledges that the rhizome model can be seen as syn-
onymous with the database mode (Azuma, ibid, p.31).
If snobbery is concretised in the postmodern animal era in the formalised detachment of the otaku (ibid,
p.69), is Azuma here suggesting the last man or posthistorical man is exemplified in the otaku as pure idle spec-
tator? Do the otaku personify a way of life depicted in Kojève’s fantasy? Azuma suggests that the world of the
otaku contains a certain degree of truth. However, does this truth pertain to the posthistorical? Following!
snobbery as cynicism thesis in the Sublime Object of Ideology
(1989), Azuma argues that we think otherwise
even when we believe nonetheless in something because of the twisted relation between form and substance
evinced in snobbery. Cynical subjects do not believe in the material value of the world (Azuma, 2009, p.70).
For Azuma, the post-1995 era is that of the animal age (Azuma, ibid, p.80). He cites the way charamoe
(moe toward characters) is a microcosm of otaku culture of the 1990s and postmodern consumer behaviour in
general. Charamoe is not explained away as mere fanatical consumer behaviour. It is sustained rather by move-
ments back and forth between the characters (the simulacra) and the moe-elements (the database). Entwined
within the feeling moe for a character, or ‘blind obsession’, there is a peculiarly cool, detached dimension engi-
neered from destructuring the object into moe-elements and objectifying them within a database. The narrative
animal of modernity satisfies the desire for meaning analogically through sociality, through small narratives.
What Azuma seems to be saying is that at the end of history the question of man qua
animal is answered
by the otaku who deals with emotive concerns at the level of animalistic processing, that is to say, in solitude.
The point seems to be that there is no room for grand empathy. The otaku clan is adrift materially, living seem-
ingly meaningless lives. For Azuma, moe-elements function in a similar fashion to Prozac or psychotropic
drugs. The otaku is a drug addict. The question here is whether the otaku body is that of the Body without Or-
gans. While noting it is the small narratives in the surface outer layer that grant meaning for life to the otaku
(Azuma, ibid, p.94-95), otaku behaviour is akin to the lifestyle choices of drug abuse, watching Hollywood
films and listening to techno music. The otaku here appear akin to the postmodern characters of Haruki Mu-
rakami, leading essentially haphazard lives, with splintered meaning, but lives protected with a style and obses-
sion to survive. Another writer, Ryu Murakami (2000), who has explored the underside of hikikomori
scribes the phenomenon as social withdrawal or ‘a state of anomie, those socially withdrawn people, who find it
extremely painful to communicate with the outside world, and thus they turn to the tools that bring virtual reality
into their closed rooms’. Socially withdrawn adults refuse to have any contact with the outside world. Some
own computers or mobile phones, but most have few or no friends. Their digital ‘funk’ can last for months,
even years in extreme cases. He argues rather apocalyptically that if Japanese culture cannot adjust it may well
drown in ‘a tsunami of technology’ and end up sinking ever deeper into a ‘labyrinth of confusion’. Yet even af-
ter these stark remarks, he puts aside the telos
of apocalypse, and says that Japan’s hikikomori
could be harbin-
gers of a new way of life. On this register, could it be that their undergoing
is preparatory for the overman to
Intermezzo 3 : A walk in the Ginza
Fukuyama’s evangelical and eschatological prophecy and paean to ultra-capitalism rings true in Tokyo,
where consumerism, capitalism and conspicuous consumption are produced as an art form to the nth degree
the Ginza, the Japanese retain their own clear sense of humanity, without becoming animals in the Hegelian
sense. They shop aesthetically
. For Kojève, the West has much to learn from Japan and may escape the ani-
malisation of man or rebarbarisation through a ‘Japanisation’ of the world. Does this mean that the West must
learn shop aesthetically
? Critics are right to be sceptical of the linear conception or narrative of Western history
which ends in Japan, which reifies as unique the topography of the Japanese. Contrary to the linear conception
of history, we might say that Japan is rather more a pastiche of anachronistic elements, ranging from the post-
modern to the ‘protohistoric’. Kojève’s identification of snobbery as a uniquely Japanese posthistorical phe-
nomenon can be read as a heuristic device for contesting the unblinking affirmation of Fukuyama’s proclama-
tions. As posthistorical man slumps back into reanimalization, he is reabsorbed. The parallel between Kojève’s
‘protoman’ concept and Zen absorption in the practice of the kata is not coincidental. Not difference but the
Conclusion : The spectre of Fukuyama is haunting Europe
Fukuyama (2002, 2011) has conceded that his 1989 thesis is now
anachronistic. He argues that there can
be no end of history without an end of modern natural science and technology. Humanity’s control of its own
evolution will have a great and possibly terrible effect on liberal democracies. He has reflected on the seem-
ingly feverish desire to align Western capitalism and democracy with the end of history, describing it as a symp-
tom of the anxiety to ensure the death of Marx. Indeed, others have said the same thing but more harshly. Ac-
cording to Bauman (1992, p.183), Western society has neither effective enemies inside nor barbarians knocking
at the gates, only adulators and imitators. It has practically (and apparently irrevocably) delegitimized all alter-
natives to itself. Elsewhere, and reworking Kojève, Agamben (2004) thinks the Japanese retain human subjec-
tivity through separating form and content of action in the most radical manner. It is the formation of rules and
values stripped of utilitarian purpose that forges a sense of snobbery without content. But for Agamben, and
contra Fukuyama, the posthuman future is the control of the biosphere (Agamben, 2004, p.76). With history de-
pleted of telos
, humanity becomes animal again but with nothing left to do but depoliticise the socius by means
of the unconditioned unfolding of the oikonomia
, or the taking on of biological life itself as the supreme politi-
cal task. For Agamben, the animalisation process signifies the lapse and lack of historical tasks for men. He
goes on to say that people have been on a course to disappear since the end of the First World War. For the Ital-
ian philosopher, the question of the animal is now one of the management of bare life. It is a question of the de-
politisation of the socius or tackling biological life itself (ibid, p.77). Agamben says that what is left at the end
is the ominous total management of biological life or the animality of man. So sharing the concern of Fuku-
yama, the tasks before mankind is how the genome is mapped, how planetary capitalism is unfurled and how
best to disseminate humanitarian ideology. The total humanisation of the animal coincides with a total animali-
sation of man. Taken in another sense and in a way critical of Fukuyama, Agamben challenges the collapse of
the animal and the human into the so-called zone of indifference. While Fukuyama’s biological turn highlights
the dangers to the end of history, Agamben identifies the biogenetic threat to render obsolete the free autono-
mous subject of liberal democracy at the end of history. He discerns this in Fukuyama’s realisation of the dark
obverse of his idealised image of liberal democracy. The free market has the capacity to rip apart quite literally
the very being of the human being, to imperil the notion of what it means to be human. This is why the Japan
zek says the future will be Hegelian either in the guise of a conservative capitalism
with Asian values as in Singapore or China or a Hegel in Haiti (!
zek, 2004, p,132). The question of Hegelian
history remains timely, because, and contra Fukuyama who wants to put Hegel and the political question of how
zek critiques this arrogant position, arguing instead that in reading Hegel we
understand what we are, what our contemporary situation might be, and, in his eyes, how our epoch would ap-
In terms of Kojève’s Marxist convictions, we can say he was looking for a way beyond American style
mass consumption in which the end of history becomes an iron cage in which human animals engage in riskless
inactivity. Endless consumption replaces the struggle for recognition, as the repetition of animalistic sameness
replaces historical change. The end of history thesis remains timely and pertinent. There is a need to think al-
ternatives to the miserable plight the vast body of mankind endures day to day. Thinking Kojève’s anthropocen-
tric reading of Hegel’s speculative end of history thesis alongside Fukuyama’s desire to expunge any alternative
tales, and Azuma’s otaku theory we have seen that Kojève’s postscript is something more than a mere jotting in
the margins, crossed out, erased or repressed. Fukuyama’s thesis needs this erasure. His thesis cannot function
as pure celebration and enthusiasm for capitalism and liberal democracy with it present. However, Kojève’s
postscript suggests more than Fukuyama allows. It is a provocation to pose and question alternative models to
capital, whether diametrically opposed systems or hyperlogical, excrescent models as in Japan. There are more
thought-provoking things to be said of the snobbism thesis. We must read it therefore again amidst the back-
drop of prevalent terror and fear. We must read and understand it against claims that it makes little sense to talk
about Japan as an alternative to Western capital and history. We interpret the postscript therefore seriously
whilst acknowledging Kojève’s penchant for irony and wit (Kojève, 1969, p.169).
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The attentive reader will notice the deliberate rhizomatic play in the text, exemplified by the three intermez-
zos. Since on some poststructural readings the author of the text is splintered and fragmented, it follows that
the construction of the text in some way will reflect this flow of identity and intensity. My ‘I’ therefore
writes traversed by all manner of strange becomings – and is comprised of flows of knowledge which come
from a plethora of different textualities - literature, movies, poetry etc. This aphoristic and funicular writing
goes some way, not to mirror as such, but to skim the meniscus of an atonal, dissonant reality.
Today, the modern era is in its terminal phase. An awareness of its imminent demise has made Americans,
the most powerful Caucasians since World War II, increasingly emotional, almost hysterical, about Japan
Deleuze & Guattari use the term arborescence to describe a dominated image in Western thought which oper-
ates through hierarchy, the domination of one term over another in binary oppositions and the will to totality
as in Hegel. It is contrasted with the notion of the rhizome which signifies a play of difference, the haphaz-
ard and the serendipitous in horizontal interconnectivity.
With more space and time, it would be interesting to think through and draw inferences from Marx’s claims
that Japan’s purely feudal organisation of landed property and developed small-scale agriculture presents ‘a
much truer picture’ of the European Middle Ages than the historical commentary available at that time. It
would be thought-provoking to think this comment in relation to Deleuze & Guattari’s critique of universal
history (1994, p.93) and their Braudel-inspired question Why capitalism in the West rather than in China in
We also find Kojève writing in 1945 about the future of the European Union and the fight of the French
against the German and ‘Anglo-Saxon Empire’. He suggests the need for a Latin Union – an amalgam of
Catholic and Latin civilisations - to forge a rival political entity and economic unity (Kojève, 2004). And
prior to this, Kojève writing in 1937 saw in Stalin the arrival of world consciousness on the historical stage.
What Kojève finds in Stalin is an industrialised Napoleon (See Filoni, 2010).
This is an argument which fails on many levels to account for the political and social unrest in Japan (differ-
ences of culture (Ainu culture), political unrest (the Ryukyu Kingdom) etc).
This point does not really account for the improvement in literacy, transportation, irrigation and urban-
planning which flourished during Edo.
It would be interesting here to think through the connection between the database and the meaning of
Disneyland. As we know, Baudrillard says Disneyland is not a simulacrum of the real. It hides the fact that
America (one can add Japan as well) is a simulacrum of itself, hiding the fact that there is nothing behind the
images – no real to get at. The enclosure of Disneyland is there to hide that the whole country is without ob-
ject. Disneyland is the order of a third-order simulation, to hide the fact that the “real” country, all of “real”
America, is Disneyland. Disneyland is imaginary to save the reality principle because America is no longer
real, but rather of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. Disneyland is constructed as an infantile
world to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere. In fact, Baudrillard says, real childishness is every-
where, ‘particularly among those adults who go there to act the child in order to foster illusions of their real
childishness’ (see Baudrillard, J., & Poster, M. (1988). Selected writings. Stanford, Calif : Stanford Univer-
The Bulletin of the Institute of Human Sciences, Toyo University, No.15
This paper scrutinises and contests the legacy, legitimacy and enduring relevance of a postscript added to a footnote in the
second edition of The Introduction to the Reading of Hegel
by Alexandre Kojève (1902-1968). In this Marxist and ‘anthropo-
centric’ reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit
, the postscript pertains to Japan and the Japanese and speaks to the West,
enticing it to foresee its own futural becoming. With the interjection of the Japanese ‘snob’ thesis, I shall analyse the post-
script in the sense of the ‘cunning of reason’ which interrupts the linear, grand narrative of Western history. My reading will
draw on European philosophy and Japanese cultural theory to explain the disruption to the Fukuyama’s end of history
the much-lauded paean to capitalism made in 1989, a moment in history prior to the deep, endemic recession which currently
plagues many of the world’s economies. I conclude by suggesting that while the ‘snob’ thesis is in the end a thought-
experiment, it is one which works well when one resurrects and begins to think what is meant by the claim of Nick Land
(1992, p.222) that the overman is the cyborg.
: Kojève, snob, animalisation, otaku, Hegel
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