Recently I have read the following book. A book summary is attached.
Book Title: Azuma, Hiroki; translated by Jonathan E. Abel and Shion Kono. 2009. Otaku: Japan's database animals. Minneapolis, MN: University of Michigan Press.
Azuma argues that the consumption of otaku was reflecting Japanese’s transition from modernity into post-modernity. The consumption of otaku was a reflection on the collapses of the grand narrative (the mainstream ideology, religion and common value) which formed the basic component in understanding our modern society. Otaku turned to the consumption of anime etc. for reliance in order to replace the collapse of the grand narrative that had, among other thing, the function of giving a meaning to life.
The book tries to answer two research questions: First: In post-modernity, as the distinction between an original and a copy were extinguished, simulacra increase. If this was valid, then how did they increase? In modernity, the cause for the birth of an original was this concept of “the author”. In post-modernity, what was the reason for the birth of the simulacra?
The second question was: In post-modernity grand narrative was dysfunctional; “god” and “society’, too, must be fabricated from the junk subculture. If this was correct, how would human beings live in the world? In modernity, god and society secured humanity; the realization of this was born by religious and educational institutions, but after the loss of the dominance of these institutions, what became of the humanity of human being? (29).
In answering the first question, Azuma first explains that in the era of modernity, the idea of the world could be grasped through a kind of tree-model. On the one hand there was the surface outer layer of the world, on the other hand there was the deep inner layer (i.e. the grand narrative) (31).
However with the arrival of the post-modernity, the tree-model world image would be replaced completely. In its place the author suggests a database model (or a reading-up model). There was no center, i.e. there was no grand narrative to regulate world views. There was a distinct double-layer structure. On the one hand there was an accumulation of encoded information; while on the other hand, there were individual information sources. The different made by this double-layer structure was that the agency which determined what would emerge on the surface outer layer rested with the user (who is doing the reading-up) (32).
The younger generation that grew up in the postmodern world image considered the world as a database. They did not need a perspective on the entire world. In the 1980s, they needed fiction as a substitute for the loss of the grand narrative. In the 1990s otaku consumed fiction without any need for the fiction as substitute. They relied on the data and fact in the fiction world. Otaku consumed only fragmentary illustration or settings in the fiction world and made meanings out of them. This new consumer behavior was called “chara-moe” (36).
In other words, the Japanese otaku lost the grand narrative in the 1970s, learned to fabricate the lost grand narrative in the 1980s (narrative consumption) and abandoned the need for fabrication and simply turned to the database in the 1990s (database consumption) (54).
In answering the second question, Azuma asserts that after the collapse of the grand narrative, the otaku built a fake narrative (a secondary projection) and they relied on it as a substitute (73). Yet individual people at the transition from modernity to post-modernity might need snobbism in order to bridge the gap in between. However, in post-modernity individual let the two levels, i.e. small narrative and grand narrative, coexist separately without connecting them. Otaku learnt the techniques of living without connecting the deeply emotional experience of world (a small narrative) to the worldview (grand narrative) (84).
Quoting Kojeve, Azuma defines the difference between human and animal. According to Kojeve, human had desires while animal had only needs. This explained why humans were different from animals because man had self-conscious (86-7).
In the postmodern age, people become animalized. Otaku had undergone rapid animalization (i.e. seek to satisfy the need only). One reason for this was that cultural consumption revolved not around getting meaning through the grand narrative but around the combination of elements extracted from the database (92).
The interest in small narrative had arisen as if to supplement the hollowing out of sociality. In post-modernity, the world might be understood in terms of double-layer structure consisted of small narrative and a grand non-narrative, i.e. of simulacra and the database. It was the small narrative in the surface outer layer that could give “meaning” on life (94).
Azuma points out that postmodern subjectivity was divided into double-layer, the subjectivity was motivated by both ‘the need for small narrative” and the desire for a grand non-narrative. While it was animalized in the former, it maintained a virtual, emptied-out humanity in the latter. The author called this new view of humanity a database animal. (95).