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Asiascape Occasional Papers (Asiascape Ops) are an internationally peer-reviewed publication series that are available free of charge via Asiascape. net. In recognition of the underrepresentation of cyberculture in many of the mainstream academic journals (and hence the difficulty encountered by scholars, journalists and others in finding reliable, scholarly sources in these fields), Asiascape Ops deliberately utilises free, webbased distribution in order to assist in the dissemination of serious scholarship in the areas of cyberculture, animanga etc., with the goal of helping to establish a lively, rich, diverse and thriving field. Materials available here can be used freely in teaching and/or research, and we simply ask that proper scholarly conventions (including copyright) be observed when citing the material. Submissions to the editorial board are welcome. In keeping with international academic practices, all submissions will be blind-refereed by at least two recognised scholars in the appropriate field. Asiascape Ops has its own ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) references. Applications for permission to reprint should be directed to the editors. Inquiries and submissions to the editors: ops@asiascape.net

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ISSUE 4, AUGUST 2009

Fabian Schäfer

Virtual Death of the Human Being: Time and the (Ir)Reversibility of Choice in Digital Media

Abstract Digital and virtual forms of culture are intensely choice-based. In the absence of meta-narrative, one is constantly being solicited (as an agent of choice between alternatives) to follow links.  This paper would like to distinguish Japanese cultural critic Azuma Hiroki’s concept of human and animal action, and Martin Heidegger’s authentic and fallen selves in terms of the notions of choice and reversibility, and pose the question of whether the subject of virtual choice is best understood through the former or the latter. In particular, it tries to shed light on two aspects of new digital media from a philosophical point of view, namely the relationship between human beings and the virtual/digital world of knowledge databases and online video games. Materiality of the media: the annihilation of the traditional space-time continuum It is a generally accepted assumption that our imagination of reality, in particular our experience of time and space, is strongly influenced by the media by means of which we perceive this reality. As Benedict Anderson and Wolfgang Schivelbusch have persuasively argued, new technologies such as the modern mass press and railroads already contributed to an alteration of the traditional space-time continuum at the time of their introduction. The newspaper, based on its daily appearance in the remotest regions of a nation-state and its ‘simultaneous consumption’ (Anderson, 1983: 35) created the idea of contemporaneity among an ‘imagined community’. The railway journey, according to Schivelbusch, brought about an obliteration of the ‘traditional space-time continuum which characterized the old transport technology’, being experienced as an ‘annihilation of space and time’ itself by the people (Schivelbusch, 1977: 35-36). According to German media theorist Sybille Krämer, the idea of the constant flow and linearity of time was particularly challenged by the gramophone, the first medium to allow for the recording of music. Krämer argues that the gramophone did not only preserve a certain tone sequence, but ‘annihilated the irreversible order of a particular event’, since ‘it became possible to repeat,

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suspend, and revisit the singular time course of a musical sequence at will.’ (Krämer, 1998: 84) Later, this new interactivity of the user was even emphasized by the introduction of multi-channel cable television. By allowing the users to ‘zap’ between different channels, television created something like an ‘illusionary contemporaneity’. (Nowotny, 1997: 23) The possibility of interactive navigation of new digital media such as the Internet obviously alters our traditional experience of time in a similar way. Even on a single website (not to speak of complex networked video games), developers and web designers can establish various simultaneously existing narrative threads through which the user can move forwards and backwards at will. Based on this illusionary contemporaneity of different links, the linear narration of, let’s say, a book is replaced by a less determined and more arbitrary structure. Internet and knowledge databases: interactivity, reversibility of time, and fallenness As is well known, the intellectual basis for the interactivity of the Internet was laid by American scientist Vannevar Bush. Already during WWII, in an article entitled ‘As We May Think’ published shortly after the war in The Atlantic in 1945, Bush predicted that in the future ‘wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them.’ The idea behind the miraculous machine Memex (short for memory extender) envisaged by Bush was that: the human mind ... operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. (Bush, 1945)

Despite the fact that Memex was never realized, Bush’s article influenced later hypertext theorists such as philosopher and sociologist Ted Nelson, who is also credited with first use of the term ‘hypertext’. Nelson’s project, Xanadu, which was basically a universal knowledge management system, pre-empted the development of the World Wide Web by 25 years. The aim of Nelson’s project was to invent a word processor capable of storing multiple versions of documents and to facilitate nonsequential writing, in which the reader could choose his or her own path through an electronic document. To this day, however, it remains questionable how the interactivity of hypertext, and thus the aforeWWW.ASIASCAPE.NET

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mentioned suspension of linear conception of time and illusionary contemporaneity, affects its users and how far they are capable of handling the simultaneous existence and accessibility of documents or websites. According to German information scientist Rainer Kuhlen (1991: 182), one might assume that ‘hypertext seems to be cognitively reasonable on the supposition that the brain organizes knowledge … in cross-linked, topological, and non-linear structures.’ Accordingly, ‘knowledge absorption based on comparable organizational patterns, as it is given with hypertext, might be more efficient than accumulation via the ‘detour’ of linear forms of presentation.’ On the other hand, however, Kuhlen (1991: 56) insists that it is also well known that ‘the integration of two networks, especially if they are polyhierarchically structured, is more difficult than to integrate a linear structure into an existing network.’ Obviously, the problems of the integration of linear and networked knowledge structures described by Kuhlen also lie at the bottom of the most recent popular debates on the dangers and possibilities of the Internet. In their August 2008 issues, the German news magazine Der Spiegel and the American journal The Atlantic almost simultaneously published cover stories on the dangers of internet-based communication and knowledge. The two magazines posed the question if Google (The Atlantic) or, more general, the Internet (Der Spiegel) is ‘Making us Stupid?’ The tenor of their reporting is ambivalent. Similar to the introduction of other new communication technologies such as radio broadcasting or television in the past, the discourse splits into two camps of Internet critics and Internet enthusiasts. On the one hand, it is emphasized that the Internet is leading to the occurrence of new simultaneous modes of perception, a democratization of knowledge, and a unprecedented creativity of its users; on the other hand, the loss of critical reason or the capacity for remembering, rising attention deficit, the loss of a common culture existing through the reading of books, and the intellectual passivity of internet users is harshly criticized. Moreover, the critical camp often psychopathologizes the effects of the use of the Internet. Proponents of this faction agree that spending 5-6 hours on the Internet per day, searching through a cornucopia of texts, videos or music or writing Emails and instant messages, can cause social behavioral disorders such as an anti-social attitude or an unwillingness to communicate. Besides this panic-mongering and exaggerated psychopathologization of Internet users, it is particularly the effects of the Internet on our cognitive abilities and

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reading capabilities that unsettles the camp of Internet critics. In his editorial at the The Atlantic, American writer Nicholas Carr complains that the persistent use of the Internet is already having an influence on his capacity for concentration and contemplation. According to Carr, he was once ‘a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now [he] zip[s] along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski’ (Carr, 2008). The reason for this effect upon our cognition is based on the most important feature of the Internet or electronic databases – the fact that they are based on interactivity or HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) in particular. To this day, it remains questionable how the interactivity of hypertext affects its users and in how far they are capable of handling the simultaneous existence and accessibility of documents or websites. It is particularly the inner restlessness that users feel when they are faced with the decision between two or more possibilities that complicates the absorption of knowledge by means of interactive digital media. Links might be compared to junctions or options, or, as Martin Heidegger once put it, to possibilities onto which Dasein can project itself. In this sense, the networked structure of the Internet might thus be described as a miniature of the possibilities-for-Being (Seinkönnen) of Dasein. As in real life, deciding in favor of one possibility (namely a link) necessarily means to negate others. According to Heidegger:

authenticity (Eigentlichkeit) but in one of ‘fallenness’ (Verfallenheit).

Dasein is its basis existently (existierend) – that is, in such a manner that it understands (verstehen) itself in terms of possibilities (Möglichkeiten) ... But this implies that in having a potentiality-for-Being (seinkönnend) it always stands in one possibility or another: it constantly is not other possibilities, and it has waived these in its existential projection (existentieller Entwurf). Not only is the projection, as one that has been thrown, determined by the nullity of Being-a-basis (Nichtigkeit des Grundseins); as projection it is itself essentially null (nichtig). (Heidegger, 1993 [1927]: 285)

Game over? Super Smash Bros, Nintendo, 1999

Nevertheless, it is only in what Heidegger called the ‘authentic’ (eigentlich) mode of Being (Seinsweise) that Dasein can ‘‘choose’ [or] win itself’ and thereby ‘be’ itself (Selbstsein, Being-one’s-Self) through an existential projection in the choice of ‘its ownmost possibilities’. (Heidegger, 1993 [1927]: 42, 68) Most of the time, Heidegger admits, the Dasein is determined by the possibilities given by the Man and is therefore not situated in the mode of

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The possibility of ‘falling’ seems to be relatively high in the case of the interlinked structure of the Internet or databases if compared with the reading of a linearstructured book. This ‘fallenness’ can assume two forms – ‘distraction’ and ‘procrastination’ in the case of the Internet. Regarding the former, re-reading Walter Benjamin’s well-known essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility not as a pessimistic media criticism, as it is often read, but as an ontological inquiry of new modes of media reception appears to be valuable. At the end of his essay, Benjamin, who anticipated McLuhan’s perception that media are not just passive channels of information but also influence the ways we perceive things transmitted through the media, observes that ‘during long periods of history, the mode of human sense perception changes with humanity’s entire mode of existence’ and that ‘the manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accom-

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plished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well’ (Benjamin, 1977 [1936]: 14). This seems to be particularly true for the Internet. ‘Surfing’ the Internet can be described as what Benjamin termed ‘reception in a state of distraction’ (Rezeption in der Zerstreuung). (Benjamin, 1977 [1936]: 41) This mode of perception, according to Benjamin, is based on the ‘tactile quality’ (taktile Qualität) of the object of perception––which were, in Benjamin’s case, movies and photographs (Benjamin, 1977 [1936]: 38). The tactility of the new media is even emphasized by the interactivity of the Internet or databases. As Nicholas Carr’s editorial in the aforementioned issue of The Atlantic rightly asserted, hyperlinks, ‘unlike footnotes’, ‘don't merely point to related works; they propel you toward them’ (Carr, 2008). The perception of the Internet is, to use the words of Benjamin, one of ‘tactile appropriation’ (taktile Rezeption) that is based on ‘habitualization’ rather than on ‘attention’1 (Benjamin, 1977 [1936]: 41). To Heidegger, who used the term ‘distraction’ (Zerstreuung) in a comparable way, distraction is based on ‘curiosity’ (Neugier), a mode of fallenness.2 Other than Verstehen (understanding) as the self-projection of the being on its ownmost possibilities, curiosity is merely based on ‘seeing’ (Sehen). In this mode of being, ‘Dasein seeks what is far away simply in order to bring it close to itself in the way it looks. Dasein lets itself be taken along [mitnehmen] solely by the looks of the world’ (Heidegger, 1993 [1927]: 216). The dangers of ‘fallen’ or ‘distracted’ ways of Internet use can be substantialized by the findings of a recently published study of online research habits, conducted by scholars from University College London (Rowlands & Nicholas, 2008). As part of a five-year research program, the researchers analyzed the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.K. educational consortium, which provide access to journal articles, e-books, and other sources of written information. The results of their research showed that people using the sites exhibited ‘a form of skimming activity,’ hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they had already visited. They typically read merely one or two pages of an article or book before they would jump to another site. Sometimes they saved a long article, but there’s no evidence that they ever went back and actually read it. Obviously, the aforementioned annihilation of the linear and non-contemporaneous time-space continuum that was established by the non-determined structure of the Internet is counteracted by the restricted cognitive abilities of human beings. Despite users

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potentially have the possibility to jump back to an earlier link and choose a different alternative they only rarely make use of that possibility. Reversibility of time obviously seems not to go properly with human cognition. Apparently, many Internet users seem to react to links as ‘possibilities’ in Heidegger’s sense or the flood of information provided by the Internet with an individual ‘databasification’ of information retrieved from larger databases––the scholars of the University College London who conducted the aforementioned study call this behavior ‘squirreling.’ In medical terms, this fetishization of knowledge can be described as procrastination. Procrastination, which should be treated through therapy according to some psychologists [sic!], is characterized by deferment of actions or tasks to a later time, may result in stress, a sense of guilt, the loss of personal productivity, the creation of crisis and the disapproval of others for not fulfilling one's responsibilities or commitments.3 Not only that this work undone seems to leave traces in our subconsciousness, it also does harm to our computers because we clutter up our hard disks – often in a very unorganized way – with downloaded and yet unread texts.4 However, it is important to add here that even Heidegger’s or Benjamin’s perspective on distracted or habitualized perception is not as pessimistic as I have described it here. In fact, they agree that curiosity and tactile apperception aren’t necessarily something that should be condemned from the outset. According to Heidegger, the temporality (Zeitlichkeit) of curiosity, which is non-’anticipatory’ (namely ‘non-self-projecting’) and thus merely ‘awaiting’ (gewärtigend), ‘has its natural justification ... and belongs to the everyday kind of being of Da-Sein and to the understanding of being initially prevalent’. (Heidegger, 1993 [1927]: 478) Similarly, Benjamin asserts in the conclusion of his essay that perception in a state of distraction ‘in certain circumstances acquires canonical value,’ since ‘the tasks which face the human apparatus of perception at the turning points of history cannot be solved by optical means, that is, by contemplation, alone. They are mastered gradually by habit, under the guidance of tactile appropriation’ (Benjamin, 1977 [1936]: 41). Obviously, if applied to our cognition of the interactive structure of the Internet, Heidegger’s and Benjamin’s perspectives refer to two ways of dealing with electronic and interlinked texts. First, the ‘authentic’ Seinsweise of understanding and contemplation, one that, to borrow hypertext theorist Jay D. Bolter’s words, looks ‘through the text’ and thus grasps and understands the meaning of the narration ‘behind’ the

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text; secondly, a ‘fallen’ mode, in which the user has to ‘look at the text, as a series of possibilities [or links, F.S.] that he or she … can activate’ (Bolter, 1991: 167). Accordingly, they are to a lesser extent two modes of usage––one being active and ‘authentic’ and one being passive and ‘in-authentic’––rather than two different strategies of dealing with electronic and networked information––namely explorative browsing (also called ‘power browsing’) on the one hand and the purposeful search for a particular document and its subsequent contemplative reading on the other. As for the latter, it is important for the user not to lose sight of his––in Heidegger’s words––’ownmost projection’ that has to guide the search; for the former, it is even necessary to let oneself be ‘taken away’ by one’s curiosity, governed merely by the possibilities given by the structure of homepages or databases. This is because the versatility and complexity of the Internet also has its positive side, sometimes called the serendipity effect. In general, serendipity refers to the accidental discovery of something fortunate one was in fact originally not looking for. The Internet, with its many possibilities and multifold layers emphasizes this form of information retrieval that was originally only possible on a stroll through the shelves of an open stack library.

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hyperreality due to the technological developments of the mass media. The complexity of this relationship becomes even more obvious with regard to the term virtual reality. Virtual reality, generally understood as the representation and simultaneous perception of reality and its physical characteristics in a real-time, computergenerated, and interactive environment, refers not only to exact copies of real environments (i.e. flight simulators for pilot training), but also to imagined virtual worlds (such as the online-game World of Warcraft). In general, it is the three-dimensional and high-resolution representation of reality that is regarded as the most important factor for the creation of virtual realities. Despite the fact that in practice, it is currently very difficult to create a multi-sensory and high-definition virtual reality experience due to technical limitations, these limitations are expected to be overcome eventually. However, despite this fact, sensory information other than the visual (namely tactile, olfactory, or auditory sensations) is considered to be of equal importance for the experience of a virtual space, it is the experience of irreversible choice (and it’s relationship to time) that has been totally disregarded as an important factor for the creation of virtual reality.

Internet and video games: irreversibility of time and virtual death Reality is generally contrasted with the concepts of nonexistence and mere possibility in traditional philosophy. Things are real if they are there or if they have been accomplished. The virtual, if understood as the potential, is often understood as the opposite of the real. According to philosopher Wolfgang Welsch, however, this would mean that the virtual has ‘no worth of its own’ and that ‘it’s only destiny is to become actualized and thus to vanish as virtual’ (Welsch, 2000). Hence, their relationship seems to be much more complex. From a social constructivist perspective, perception of reality has never been original and direct but schematized by cultural standards and social norms. Reality thus always implies virtual or imaginary constituents. Radical constructivists even argued that there is no reality (or at least not one we can definitively know about) because reality only exists as a perceived reality and therefore as an imagination or construction. Postmodern thinkers like Jean Baudrillard have even gone so far to argue that reality is increasingly replaced by virtuality or a self-referential

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Counter-Strike,Valve Software, 2004

Other than the aforementioned undetermined structure of webpages that created a non-linear and reversible experience of time, decisions in online-videogames are necessarily real-time decisions. Whereas one is able to pause or save a game in regular videogames, in onlinegames or even chat forums this is impossible. Once a game has started or I have posted a message, it is impossible to jump back to an earlier point on the linear time axis since all information is sent instantly to all other participants of a game or a chat forum.

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The extremely popular videogame Counter-Strike can be taken as a good example to explain this assumption. The game, a so-called a tactical first-person shooter videogame, attempts to simulate realistically the combat between a group of terrorists and a counter-terrorist team. Similar to other first-person shooter games, each team attempts to complete their mission objective and/ or eliminate the opposing team. However, one important feature distinguishes this game from other games of this genre, namely that killed players are not able to ‘respawn’ (come alive again), but turn into ‘spectators’ for the remaining time of the round. Originally, it was the aim of the developers to encourage strategic gaming among the players of each of the two groups. The game is criticized by it’s own users for this feature because it causes long waiting periods for eliminated players; however, one can also argue that this is the most important reason why this game attracts so many users. Here, virtual death becomes something to be much more afraid of than in other video games. Death is much more real because it is irreversible (at least for the duration of a single round). Heidegger described this anticipation of death as the authentic temporality of Dasein. Heidegger opposed this dimensional conception of time to the ordinary representation of time. Other than the latter, which is, according to Heidegger, characterized as ‘an endless, irreversible sequence of ‘nows’ which passes away’ [Heidegger 1993: 478], he describes the former as the existential and basic structure of temporality as a double movement (and thus dimensional) in that Dasein brings itself into its ‘Da’. The first movement is the anticipation (Vorlaufen) into its future (Zu-kunft). The second movement consists of a ‘coming back understandingly to one’s ownmost ‘been’ [‘Gewesen’]’ (Heidegger, 1993 [1927]: 373). As we have already seen, Dasein exists through the authentic projection of its ownmost possibilities. According to Heidegger, it is anxiety (Angst), not of something that is in the world but of the being-in-the-world of Dasein as such. It is only in this state of anxiety that Dasein is projected upon itself, liberated from the domination of the Man, being free to be itself. This however, presents Dasein to its own finitude and nullity by experiencing itself as a ‘being-toward-death’ (Sein zum Tode). (Heidegger, 1993 [1927]: 304-312) Put differently, beingtoward-death is not an orientation that brings Dasein closer to its physical end, in terms of clinical death, but is rather a way of being. It is the anticipation of one’s death that brings one into an authentic mode of being. If applied to the particular character of online-games, what makes the experience of online-computer games so ‘real’

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or ‘authentic’ may be to a lesser extent the technical perfection of the simulation of three-dimensional space, sound, or haptic sensation, but the anticipation (and in some instances irreversibility) of one’s death and thus the experience of a dimensional structure of time. Based on this Heideggerian interpretation, one might argue that online-games are in fact more than just ‘games.’ Different from conventional games, which are commonly defined as non-productive entertainment, being played because of their function to detach oneself from the burdens of one’s everyday life, online-games such as Counter-Strike successfully simulate the most feared and at the same time existential feature of human life, namely mortality.

Conclusion: animalization, new subjectivities, and pedagogy With regard to the ‘fallenness’ of Dasein into a tactile and habitualized information-seeking behavior in the digital age (or the behavior exhibited when playing videogames), it is valuable to take into account the contemporary philosophical discourse on the phenomenon of otaku culture in Japan, since much of the public debate on the positive and negative sides of the Internet or videogames parallels the discourse on otaku culture in Japan. Other than previous discourses on the otaku––a Japanese term that refers to people with obsessive interests in various Japanese subcultures, particularly manga, anime, science fiction, or computer games–– which either psychopathologized the otaku as anti-social, uncommunicative, self-absorbed or even perverted5––especially after the so-called Miyazaki incident in 1989 (when the police arrested the 26-year old serial child killer Miyazaki Tsutomu, who collected piles of manga and anime, some of it of pornographic or violent)––or tried to understand this phenomenon psychoanalytically, it was particularly the two cultural critics Okada Toshio (1995) and Azuma Hiroki (2001) who analyzed the otaku from the perspective of their pioneering role in the socalled ‘information society’.6

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In his book Dôbutsuka suru posutomodan: Otaku kara mita Nihon shakai (2001, Animalizing Postmodern: Japanese Society as Seen from the Perspective of Otaku), Azuma Hiroki considers the otaku phenomenon not as a particularly Japanese phenomenon, but as an inflection ‘of the global trend of postmodernization’ and thus as a new subject position within this trend (Azuma, 2001: 19). With regard to French philosopher Alexandre Kojève’s neo-Hegelian distinction between two forms of ‘posthistorical existence’––the ‘animalization’ of American society based on consumerism and the highly formalized and aesthetisized ‘snobbism’ of the Japanese––7Azuma asserts that otaku culture consists of a ‘two-tiered’ (nijûka) mode of consumption that reflects the two-layered structure of the postmodern itself (Azuma, 2001: 76-78). Other than the two layers of the modern worldimage––the ‘depth’ of ‘grand narratives’ (namely ideals and ideology) and a ‘surface’ of many ‘small narratives’––Azuma claims that, with reference to Lyotard’s notion of the end of grand narratives, the latter were replaced by a ‘grand database’ in the postmodern worldimage (sekaizô). Whereas the modern era formed a structure in which a single grand narrative/ideal controlled diverse small narratives, and cultural and social criticism consisted in analyzing grand narratives (as reflected within various small narratives), in the postmodern world, people may grasp any number of small worldimages (Azuma, 2001: 50-54).

The world-image of the modern age: the tree model. The shaded circle is labelled ‘Depth’ and associated with ‘Grand Narratives’. The centre rectangle is labelled ‘Surface’ and  associated with ‘Small Narratives.’ The eye- shaped fi gure (right) is labelled ‘I’, which, the figure notes, is ‘determined through narratives’. (Azuma 2007 [2003]). Courtesy of University of Minnesota Press.

Azuma claims that one can identify two ways in which the otaku deal with this new world-image. He calls one the ‘animalesque’ (dôbutsuteki) side of database consumption; that is the solitude and passive consumption of the WWW.ASIASCAPE.NET

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many small narratives of computer games, anime, or manga that are merely based on ‘combinations’ (kumiawase) of self-referential elements from the grand database. Moreover, database consumption also has a second, an active or ‘humanesque’ (ningenteki) side, because otaku actively intervene in received commodities by breaking down the narratives into their compounds (for videogames these elements might be screenplay, character, background, for manga they may be the single ‘sensitive elements’ (moe yôso) of which characters are composed), and thereby get access to the database that lies in the ‘depth’ behind the small narrations and ‘recreate’ (niji sôsaku) from it their own narrations or pictures. 8 It is this ‘double structure’ (nisô kôzô) of deconstruction and reconstruction that prompts Azuma to interpret the otaku culture as a deconstructivist and, thus, subversive form of cultural reception that brings it close to a deconstructivist method in contemporary literary theory , which offers the subject a position from which to intervene in existing cultural forms or the discourse.9 Azuma bases this assertion also on the fact that to the otaku it doesn’t matter any longer if the ‘author’ of the small narratives they consume is a professional––’authorized’ by one of the big manga or anime publishers––or an amateur who publishes his self-made anime or manga in one of the many fanzines (dôjinshi) or the Internet.

The world-image of the postmodern age: the database model. The striped rectangle (left) is labelled ‘Depth’. The centre rectangle is labelled ‘Surface’ and associated with ‘Small Narratives’. The eye on the right is labelled ‘I’, and is the one who ‘reads into (inputs) the narratives’. (Azuma 2007 [2003]). Courtesy of University of Minnesota Press.

One can find similarly deconstructive and reconstructive behavior among the members of the global subcultures gathering around certain videogames. First-person shooters, such as the aforementioned Counter-Strike, can be used by players to produce so-called machinima. Machinima is a conflation of the words machine, cinema and animation; it refers to 3D-animations created in a realtime virtual environment. Videogames with powerful

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3D-engines (software systems designed for the creation and development of videogames) are the most inexpensive programs to use to create machinima. Basically, the easiest way to create machinima is to organise several players to enact a screenplay in a networked multiplayer-game. By recording the screen of one player, he or she acts can act as a cameraman. The other players move their characters within the virtual environment like movie actors. Afterwards, the movie is cut and sometimes even dubbed. Accordingly, the technological requirements to produce machinima are very low because one needs only a computer and a videogame. However, many of the machinima movie productions are much more sophisticated because they make use of modified commercial videogames. These modifications range from mapping and modeling (ie. the creation of one’s own unique virtual environments and characters), to the manipulations of the game software itself (such as lip synchronization, the direct recording of the graphic output as a movie file, or the programming of complete production frameworks).

Enacting Shakespearean machinima via Halo, Bungie Games, 2001

What can we conclude from Azuma’s positive remarks on the new media literacy of the otaku regarding what I have initially defined rather negatively as the ‘fallenness’ of the user of new forms of digital media? In any case, the frequently posed question of whether Google, the Internet, electronic databases, videogames, or the new flood of information in general, is making us stupid per se, seems to be pointing in the wrong direction. As we have seen, besides the ‘fallen’ or ‘animalized’ mode of media use, there is also space for a productive and ‘humanesque’ way of dealing with digitized information or videogames. In terms of education, pedagogies, or media literacy, however, it is necessary to teach the users of these new media the sharp distinction between these two modes. Particularly with regard to the use of digitalized knowledge and the Internet, it may be important to teach contemplative and analytic reading to a generation

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of otaku and Google-users who possess a highly developed digital literacy but who may be beginning to lack basic reading and writing skills. Even more important than teaching the differences between different ways of handling knowledge in the digital age, however, is how we can relate Azuma’s positive appraisal of the ‘double structure’ of deconstructive and reconstructive elements of otaku culture or machinima to teaching and pedagogies. Let’s take for instance the case of Japan Studies. I think that it has already become a global phenomenon that an increasing number of students enrolling in Japan Studies do so because of an interest in Japanese popular culture and anime or manga in particular. To some of them, calling themselves otaku is part of their lifestyle and offers them a subject position and, thus, a self-identity. Many of them, similar to the otaku in Japan, spend much of their time on homepages such as fanfiction.net, animexx.de or quizilla.com, reading, commenting and writing stories or uploading pictures that are based on existing anime or manga. In other words, one has to pose the question of whether it is possible to integrate the existing competences of the new type of students of Japan Studies (that are comparable to those attributed to the otaku, ie. digital literacy, electronic reading skills, active participation in the reconstruction or ‘bricolage’ of media contents published at the Internet or of manga and anime) into the deconstructivist project in the humanities in general.

References Agamben, G. (2004). The Open: Man and Animal. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso. Azuma, H. (2001). Dôbutsuka suru posutomodan: Otaku kara mita Nihon shakai (Animalizing Postmodern: Japanese Society as Seen from the Perspective of Otaku, Tokyo: Kôdansha). An English translation appeared recently under the rather inappropriate title Otaku: Japan's Database Animals, University of Minnesota Press. Benjamin, W. (1977 [1936]). Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. An English translation appeared in The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Re-

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producibility, and other Writings on Media, Harvard University Press 2009). Bolter, J. D. (1991). Writing Space:The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Hillsdale, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates. Bush,V. (1945). ‘As We May Think.’ The Atlantic, (July). Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/194507/bush Carr, N. (2008). ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’ The Atlantic, July/August. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/print/200807/go ogle Grassmuck,V. (2000). ‘Man, Nation & Machine: The Otaku Answer to Pressing Problems of the Media Society.’ Retrieved from http://waste.informatik.hu-berlin.de/grassmuck/ Texts/otaku00_e.html) Heidegger, M. (1993 [1927]). Being and Time: A Translation of Sein und Zeit. Oxford: Blackwell. Kojève, A. (1969). Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. New York: Basic Books. Krämer, S. (1998). Das Medium als Spur und Apparat (The Medium as Trace and Apparatus). In S. Krämer (Ed.), Medien, Computer, Realität.Wirklichkeitsvorstellungen und Neue Medien (Media, Computer, Reality: Imaginations of Realty and New Media) (1. Aufl. ed., pp. 73-94). Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. Kuhlen, R. (1991). Hypertext. Ein nicht-lineares Medium zwischen Buch und Wissensbank (Hypertext: A Non-linear Medium in-between the Book and Knowledge Databases). Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer. Moore, W. E., & Tumin, M. M. (1949). ‘Some Social Functions of Ignorance.’ American Sociological Review, 14, 787-795. Nowotny, H. (1997). Das Sichtbare und das Unsichtbare. Die Zeitdimension in the Medien (The Visible and the Invisible: The Dimension of Time in the Media). In M. Sandbothe & W. C. Zimmerli (Eds.), Zeit - Medien - Wahrnehmung (Time - Media Perception) (pp. 14-29). Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft. Okada, T. (1995). Otaku-gaku nyûmon (Introduction to Otakuology). Tokyo: Ōta shuppan. Okonogi, K. (1977). Moratorium ningen no jidai (The Age of Human Beings in a Moratorium; English translation published in Japan Echo 5(1) 1987). Chûôkôron(October).

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Rowlands, I., & Nicholas, D. (2008). ‘Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future.’ Available from http://www.ucl.ac.uk/slais/research/ciber/downlo ads/ Saitō, T. (2000). Sentô bishôjo no seishin bunseki (Psychoanalysis of Fighting Girls). Tokyo: Chikuma bunkô. Schivelbusch, W. (1977). Geschichte der Eisenbahnreise. Zur Industrialisierung von Raum und Zeit im 19. Jahrhundert. München: Hanser. (Published in English as The Railway Journey:The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century,’ University of California Press). Welsch, W. (2000). ‘Virtual to Begin With?’ Retrieved from http://www2.uni-jena.de/welsch/Papers/VirtualT BW.html

The tactility of hyperlinks is particularly obvious if a phrase of a text appears as a hyperlink (namely a blue font colour for instance) but does not have the respective function. Accordingly, only through the Unzuhandenheit (un-readiness-to-hand) of a link as a link we become aware of the haptic interactivity of hypertext described by Benjamin as ‘tactile appropriation’.

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Heidegger asserts the following: ‘When curiosity has become free, however, it concerns itself with seeing, not in order to understand what is seen (that is, to come into a Being towards it) but just in order to see. It seeks novelty only in order to leap from it anew to another novelty. In this kind of seeing, that which is an issue for care does not lie in grasping something and being knowingly in the truth; it lies rather in its possibilities of abandoning itself to the world. Therefore, curiosity is characterized by a specific way of not tarrying (Unverweilen) alongside what is closest. Consequently it does not seek the leisure of tarrying (Verweilen) observantly, but rather seeks restlessness and the excitement of continual novelty and changing encounters. In not tarrying, curiosity is concerned with the constant possibility of distraction. Curiosity has nothing to do with observing entities and marvelling at them … To be amazed to the point of not understanding is something in which it has no interest’ (Heidegger 1993 [1927]: 172).

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The opposite proposition, namely that information stored in external electronic databases relieves the mind and thereby creates capacity for more creative thinking, was proposed for instance by the two philosophers Vilem Flusser and Peter Sloterdijk.

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ASIASCAPE.NET OCCASIONAL PAPER SERIES! It was not only Heidegger who hinted at the importance of ‘oblivion’ for ‘remembrance’ but also the sociologists Wilbert E. Moore and Melvin M. Tumin who considered ‘ignorance’ of particular knowledge ‘not simply as a passive or dysfunctional condition, but as an active and often positive element in operating structures and relations’ (Moore & Tumin, 1949: 795) and thus as an important mental function which ‘erases’ useless information from our memory.

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Other than the general public discourse, Japanese psychiatrist

Saitô Tamaki (2000) attributes a rather ‘conservative sexuality’ to the otaku despite their preference for homoerotic or violent and pornographic manga in his book Sentô bishôjo no seishin bunseki (Psychoanalysis of Fighting Girls). Cf. also Azuma (2001: 129-130). According to German media theorist Volker Grassmuck (2000), it was Okada’s concern was ‘to establish otaku as a new type of expert who focuses on the style, special effects and signature of individual comic artists. Where Gutenbergschooled readers detect a story, writes Okada, the otaku first of all refer to the syntactic levels. Their judgment is based on an extensive knowledge of the particular genre allowing them to decode quotations, grasp references, and appreciate nuances.’ Moreover, he describes otaku as ‘people possessing an advanced visual sensation’ and a ‘new type’ of adaptation to the cultural condition of advanced consumer and information society. To Azuma (2001: 8), otaku can thus not be described merely as ‘youths enjoying a moratorium’ based on of their juvenile and passionate collecting. For the idea of a generation in a moratorium see also Okonogi Keigo (1977). 6

According to Kojève, Japan is a society of ‘formalized values,’ values that have no meaningful content anymore but are solely gratuitous (playful, but neither work nor fight for prestige). Examples – snobbery, the Noh Theater, the ceremony of tea, the art of flower arranging – are only formal details, it does not really matter one way or the other. Kojève says that since animals cannot be snobs, there is hope for some kind of human existence to persist even into the post-history. Man would not really be capable anymore of transforming content, but would only be able to confront one form by another. As Kojève says, man would ‘oppose himself as a pure ‘form’ to himself and to others taken as ‘content’ of any sort.’ (Kojève, 1969: 162, ft 6) Especially in the ‘age of fiction’ (1970-95), a periodization inspired by Japanese sociologist Mita Munesuke, the otaku had been well-informed snobs. They possessed all kinds of information; however, the information itself was not of value – they merely used their knowledge to show off in front of other otaku of the same kind. Thereby, information was fetischized by the otaku.

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ISSUE 4, AUGUST 2009 In a series of lectures held in 1929/30, Heidegger also differentiated the human being from the animal in terms of their different ways of relating to their environments. Animal behaviour can thus be compared to a fallen mode of being of Dasein. Heidegger, who ‘rejected the traditional metaphysical definition of man as animal rationale, the living being that has language (or reason), as if the being of man could be determined by means of adding something to the ‘simply living being’’, attempted to distinguish between animal and man by describing the animal’s mode of being as one of ‘poverty in world’ (Weltarmut) and that of man as ‘world-forming’ (weltbildend). According to Heidegger, this distinction is based on the fact that an animal is essentially captivated (eingenommen) and wholly absorbed (benommen) by its environment (its Umgebung, as opposed to the Umwelt of Dasein) and can thus only behave (sich benehmen); this is distinct from a human being who acts (handeln) or comports itself (sich verhalten). Here Heidegger, ‘puts into play the relationship among the German terms benommen (captivated, stunned, but also taken away, blocked), eingenommen (taken in, absorbed), and Benehmen (behavior), which all refer back to the verb nehmen, to take’ (Agamben, 2004: 52). Accordingly, one might thus argue that, on an etymological level, the Weltarmut (‘poverty in world’) of the animal (i.e. its Benommenheit, Eingenommenheit) bears parallels to the curiosity and fallenness of Dasein that is, as already mentioned, ‘taken along [mitnehmen] solely by the looks of the world’. 8

It was aforementioned Jay D. Bolter (1991: 163) who emphasized the relationship between Derridarian poststructuralism and hypertext as well. According to Bolter, based on the rhizomatic structure of the internet or databases, electronic texts don’t have centres or margins because of their ‘deconstructive reading’: ‘the reader can follow paths through the space in any direction, limited only by constraints established by the author. No path through the space need be stigmatized as marginal.’

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Established in September 2007, Asiascape.net is the home of the Contemporary East Asian Media Centre (CEAMC). It is an attempt to build a new international research coalition in the rapidly emerging fields of cyberculture (New Media, Convergence Culture, Video Games and other related media, such as fan-culture) and animanga (Anime and Manga), especially as they relate to (or originate from) East Asia. It is well known that a large proportion of this type of media emerges from the East Asian region (Japan, China and Korea), and Asiascape seeks to sponsor and organize research into the importance of these media as a series of transformative, cutting edge, transnational global commodities, and/or as a series of cultural products that reveal much about East Asia itself. There is a scattered (and growing) group of international researchers working in this field and, in addition to conducting its own original research, Asiascape aims to provide a hub for the organization and direction of this rapidly emerging field. With an international advisory board of leading scholars, Asiascape will sponsor a series of ‘state of the field’ conferences and disseminate research using new and old media, including via this website and its associated news- blog, vistas: http://vistas.asiascape.net

Asiascape is based at Leiden University and is funded through the generosity of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), Toshiba International Foundation (TIFO) and the Modern East Asia Research Centre (MEARC): www.mearc.eu.

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© 2009, Asiascape.net

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fabian Schäfer is a postdoc at the Modern East Asia Research Centre (MEARC) at Leiden University and a research associate at the East Asian Institute (Japanese Studies), Leipzig University. INTERNATIONAL ADVISORY BOARD: Prof Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (Brown University) Prof Chris Goto-Jones (Leiden University) Dr Mark Harrison (Westminster University, UK) Dr Sharon Kinsella (Oxford University, UK) Prof Tom Lamarre (McGill University, Canada) Prof Stefan Landsberger (Amsterdam University) Dr Angus Lockyer (SOAS, UK) Prof Susan Napier (Tufts University, USA) Prof Ivo Smits (Leiden University, Netherlands) Prof Takayuki Tatsumi (Keio University, Japan) Prof Mark Williams (Leeds University, UK) Submissions Please send submissions to the editors at: ops@asiascape.net POSTAL ADDRESS Asiascape.net, Modern East Asia Research Centre, Leiden University, PO Box 9515, 2300RA, Leiden. The Netherlands

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Asiascape Ops 4 - Virtual Death of the Human Being  

by Fabian Schaefer abstract: Digital and virtual forms of culture are intensely choice-based. In the absence ofmeta-narrative, one is consta...

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