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Comparative Literature Studies 41.3 (2004) 335-355

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How Information Technology Has (Not) Changed Feminism and Japanism:

Cyberpunk in the Japanese Context

Earlham College

Is technological progress changing our conceptual mode of thinking and learning? Of course it is, in multiple aspects of culture and society, as argued by numerous scholars who explore the terminal space between humanity and information technology. Then, are there ethnic and racial differences in "our" conceptual mode? A potential drawback in the cultural studies of the human-machine interface is the tendency to categorize humans as an entirety of humanity without deliberate examination of cultural diversities encompassing technological progress. The rhetoric of change requires the assumption of transition from an old mode to a new mode, which is in reality less the development of a whole humanity than the sense of a historical progress that classifies certain nations as advanced compared to those presumably advancing yet still behind. Japan is a unique case in this context, for the country has presented itself as a contradiction of advancement and backwardness, or exotic primitivism conjoined with high-tech supremacy. Seen from a context of Japanese culture, the idea of progress presents a rather different set of questions about cyborg identity from that of the Western philosophy forming around the academic world of the US today. How, for example, should cyborg philosophy be contextualized into Japan's adaptation of the philosophy and related literary practices, especially the genre called cyberpunk? Why did Japan become the only non-Western country that vigorously produces stories and images about cyborgs, androids, and cybernetic identities? These questions should not be simply addressed from the viewpoint of technological progress, but also from cultural contexts of identity politics in Japan.

This essay will attempt to shed light on the delicate interstitial space surrounded by the four different categorical spheres, namely, Western cyborg [End Page 335] philosophy, American cyberpunk, Japanese cyberpunk, and Japanese theory of uniqueness known as nihonjinron. This sphere has a very feasible presence due to its pretentious look of "cultural influence" yet relies on cross-cultural dynamism of ideological production. The definitions of cyberpunk and cyberfeminism in this essay are thus heavily dependent on mutual interpretations of "the other culture" from multiple perspectives, which requires some generalization of these concepts. However, I consider it inevitable in order to examine the dynamically fluid and interactive nature of culture being formed by the sense of "how they see us" rather than "what is our culture," which is exactly an advantage of the discipline of comparative literature. In this paper, I will first trace a history of the philosophy of cybernetic identity, which will be referred to as cyberfeminism in this essay because of its feminist missions deployed by major figures in the field, and will then discuss how the idea of cyborg identity as developed by both cyberfeminism and American cyberpunk literature of the early-1980s impacted Japan's cultural landscape and tied into the modern practice of Japanese identity politics. With several examples from Japanese cyberpunk novels, I will argue that Japanese adaptation of cyberpunk and cyborg philosophy has not only maintained but beautifully concealed the old logic of Japanese uniqueness that sustains the illusion of Japan as a culture that simultaneously progresses and regresses through technology.

The Location of Cyberfeminism

The invention of cybernetics in the 1960s and the subsequent emergence of cyberpunk in the 80s have recently resurfaced as the exploding popularity of feminist discourses merged with the ever-growing cyberculture of today. This second-wave feminism that arose during the 1980s and proliferated toward the late-90s, seem to have three rhetorical strategies that are sometimes used combined, sometimes separately. One is the well-known 1985 cyborg manifesto by Donna Haraway, a counter-theory to ecofeminism in the late-70s. Her bold statement of "I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess" (181) fascinated feminists who were growing wary of the anachronistic feminist critiques of capitalism and technology. Haraway's strategy was to use the cyborg as "imagery" to inspire a new...


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