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  • The Best Part About Goth Sluts Is How Versatile Our Aesthetics Can BeLatour, Kon, and Animating Cosplay Performativity
  • Paul Wells (bio)

In 2013, Bruno Latour wrote an article entitled "Biography of an Inquiry: On a Book about Modes of Existence,"1 which describes the development of his thinking in advance of writing An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns. This overview introduced me to aspects of his enduring inquiry into actor-network theory, and the relationship between philosophy and anthropology. Surprisingly, and unbeknown to me until discovering this essay, Latour's oeuvre chimed with some of my own modest thinking about animation and animated film. The following discussion unpacks some of these ideas, relating them, first, to two of Japanese animator Kon Satoshi's films—Perfect Blue (Kon Satoshi, 1997)2 and Millennium Actress (Kon Satoshi, 2001),3 and, second, to the ways in which, thereafter, some of the ideas identified in Latour's theoretical contexts are mediated in Kon's work, his films having since anticipated, informed, and influenced fan interventions. The particular focus of the address will be how sex and sexuality in the contemporary era have been mediated through animated and virtual practices of digital image-making online, and how "modes of existence" are encoded in the aesthetics and performance of "cosplay."

I have suggested elsewhere that Kon's works are informed by "magic realist" interventions that, rather than speaking to the counterpoint between notions of "fantasy" and "reality," actually use animation to highlight the "flow" in perceptions of reality, and the flux in what might be termed "registers" of experience.4 Kon, in essence, refuses "difference," and consequently, conflates and elides what might be considered any disjunct between material reality and modes of perception or fantasy. I wish to argue, then, that online creators in drawing from manga, anime, and related graphic and illustrative sources, and basing certain models of sexualized cosplay upon them, are also [End Page 34] refusing this difference, and define "the kink," or fetishized sexually related performance as a normative practice. This practice may be already speaking to extant implied and explicit knowledges of sex and sexuality, and as such, extending communities of participation—what Latour might call "exotic collectives."5 These activities, then, might be perceived as merely part of a "loosening" in moral and ethical attitudes to sex, and part of a greater ease and acceptance in presenting sexual imagery online, or even of the mainstreaming of the social and economic presence of a "sex industry." On the other hand, and key in what I wish to argue here, such activities may be part of a process in which the once marginal, experimental, or unconventional is drawn inexorably into the center, and creates new orthodoxies.

This does not fully take into account, however, how animation, and what I wish to term its capacity for "excess performativity" functions to process and normalize what might be viewed as an extreme aspect of representation, brokering its passage to the mainstream. This kind of performativity is characterized by animation's condition of enunciating its own artifice while offering a rhetorical, often caricatured and exaggerated interpretation of the material world. At one and the same time then, animation amplifies its illusionist condition as a method of mediation while seemingly diluting the extreme aspects and spectacle of its representation. As such, complex forms of representation—whether embodying unorthodox or non-mainstream behavior—are essentially veiled by the apparent innocence or distanciative effects of the medium. This innocence is not merely a consequence of the form being associated with children's entertainment but enabled by the fact that the imagery is obviously fabricated, removing the charge of depicting "reality," while emphatically asserting an alternative perspective upon reality. These alternative perspectives thereafter become templates for either revealing established but hidden "modes of existence" or encouraging new formations in "modes of existence." In the discussion that follows, I suggest that the excess performativity of animated imagery—largely emerging in anime films and series—provides templates for online cosplayers, using the innocence of the medium to advance fantasy sexual personas. Further, and significant for the purpose of thinking about the relationship between theory and practice...