End of History / Endless Summer: Akira Mizuta Lippit

Filednotes: Toward an Ecology of the Super Flatline: Murakami Takashi at the End of History
Akira Mizuta Lippit (USC)
Workshop on Media Ecologies | Keynote

Tan Tan Bo – In Communication, 2014 Acrylic on canvas 141 3/4 × 141 3/4 in 360 × 360 cm © 2014 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Photography by Robert McKeever. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.

Akira Mizuta Lippit has written on Lynch, Media Archaeology, Japanese film, and a number of other media and philosophy-related topics; a renaissance interdisciplinarian, he is positioned against the “academic zoning” imposed by more formal approaches to culture and communications. The keynote at this conference was built around the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and his Superflat manifesto. Murakami’s theorization of otaku, Lippit commented, is the creation of a world in which subjectivities blend into each-other like soup and borders are done away with. This view provides an interesting counterpoint to Naoki Sakai’s notion of co-figuration, which is the way a “community represents itself to itself, thereby constituting itself as a subject” (Sakai 15). In other words, the interaction between a community and an outside entity needs to establish a system of exchange values that make communication possible. The two would need to agree on equivalent meanings so that they may understand each-other. Alternatively, following Lippit’s interpretation, the otaku flatness suggested by Murakami is a hypothetical pluralistic world without frontiers and conflict, without centres and peripheries, because both the sender and the receiver are undefined subjects; they would be impossible to contextualize in terms of power dynamics (who is speaking, and to whom?).

Further exploring the manifesto, Lippit associates Freud’s pleasure principle with Murakami’s flatline and the death drive. Through that proposition the artist relates the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagazaki, which took place during the summer vacation of 1945, to an “endless summer:” death and pleasure together into a single whole. The never-ending summer connects to otaku culture, permanent adolescence, the obsession with feel-good culture and cute power, through the ironic suggestion that since the bombing—and forever and ever, as the Grady twins beckon—the Japanese have cultivated the emotional age of a fourteen year-old because the horrors of fallout would otherwise have been too much to bear.

The neverending summer, then, indicates a certain end of history. The time of humans on Earth, what we call “History,” has been declared about to end many times throughout history, noted Lippit referring to Hegel and Kojève’s assertions of that fact (and, in passing, Fukuyama’s). For Alexandre Kojève, what replaces History is “Animality.” Kojève saw the principle Cold War adversaries as one and the same. The Russians and the Chinese were only poor Americans, but quickly getting richer. For him, the post-historical being is American animality, or what is more formally referred to as American materialism.

Kojève’s visit to Japan presents an interesting counterpoint to Murakami’s own theorizations of what the future would look like. The views are uncannily similar, but for very different reasons. Kojève’s opinions are ridiculously stereotypical impressions that nevertheless resonate very closely with Murakami’s own. For Kojève, the Japanese are all about formality and snobbery (a post-historical subjectivity par excellence). Their ritual, essentialist notions of art-creation reduce art to a bodily, corporeal return to animality; musical concerts are not unlike the sounds of frogs and crickets; visual art is as plain as spider webs; lovemaking is animalistic. In the end, art creation is unnecessary because art is already all around us, found in (what’s left of) the environment. At the end of the day we all just want to “feel good,” declares Murakami, or in Hegel’s (via Kojève) formulation, “happiness and plenitude are the highest forms of being.” Thus, Murakami’s argues that humanity is reduced to linear forms of expression, as in animé, to what he calls “deformalism.”

Ultimately “flatness” is a perspective: of the pre-Columbian world, of painting (via the impressionists, the image loses its volume and flattens to the black square on the canvass itself); Murakami’s “Superflatness,” the medical flatline, ultimate linearity, 2D, the end of history visible forever as the linear perspective converges at infinity upon the horizon. Art will be reclaimed by Nature and Life. A Hegelian might argue that a rock does not have its own world and that it is human beings who build worlds. The process of building worlds through imagination, innovation, enterprise, and fantasy is the rewriting of Reality itself in which thou, the Subject, art always at the centre. In defining what is Human, Hegel claimed that what distinguishes us from animals is Art and Work. Because the colonizing Western-European nations had a long history of organizing work and workers, Hegel in a sense justifies colonialism and capitalism. Lippit questions that strife for “more,” for the accumulation of capital through Work and cultivation through Art. At this present time of shortages, risky economic speculation, societal erosion and a rapid class division into vulgar extremes, why not settle for just “enough?” One does not need to fall in romantic love or eat gourmet food. A takeout meal and some friendly intimacy can be enough. To wit, our atomic world is already well irradiated after decades of testing and reactor failures; background radiation measures as high in central London as it does near the Fukushima plant. Perhaps, then, animality is a way to pause from all this and to return to a more natural, ecological balance.


Sakai, Naoki. 2008. Translation and Subjectivity: On Japan and Cultural Nationalism. 1st ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Legend: The text annotated in blue indicates personal comments accompanying my field notes.