Crimes of modernity

Two texts by the great Japanese sociologist Munesuke Mita, combining the inspiration of Sartre and that of Bourdieu, analyze the negative experience of migrants in the city, driven to self-hatred and resentment.

While he is one of the most renowned Japanese sociologists, and a Francophile very knowledgeable in the human sciences and the philosophy of France (Sartre, Bataille, Lvi-Strauss, Georges Poulet, etc.), Munesuke Mita (1937-2022) is almost unknown in France. Until now, there was only one text of his translated into our language: History of love in modern Japan (published in the collection Japan plural n°9, 2013, p. 617-627, unfortunately today then). This is why we can rejoice in the initiative of Kazuhiko Yatabe and Claire-Akiko Brisset, who translated and put into context this fascinating work, whose importance is inversely proportional to its size.

The hell of the look is the translation of a book from 2008, which itself is the resumption of two ancient texts, which have become classics, The hell of the look (1973) and Songs of new nostalgia (1965), augmented by an afterword by the author and a perspective by Masachi sawa, a former student of Mita and an important Japanese sociologist.

The hell of the look

Mita crit The hell of the look in 1973, when he was only 36 years old and was an associate professor at the University of Tky. By its author's own admission, the article aims to inaugurate a new form of sociology which, without neglecting the importance of statistics, manages to grasp the vital impulse. For this, he draws inspiration from Sartre, in particular from Saint Genet, actor and martyr, from which he borrows the conceptualization and phenomenological approach. However, Mita diverges from Sartre regarding the real possibility of achieving one's freedom, emphasizing that the individual conforms to the expectations of those around him at the same time as he thinks of making a free choice and thus escaping his condition. By insisting on social determinations, Mita reverses the Sartrean perspective and reveals himself to be closer to a Bourdieu-style analysis.

The hell of the look is an explanation of the structural reasons why Norio Nagayama (1949-1997) committed a series of murders in 1968 and 1969, when he was emerging from adolescence. In this way, it allows to understand how the mutations of Japanese modernity induce, precisely, the psychologization of suffering and prevent the use of its sharing via collective action which, by making it visible, gives access to treatment of a nature policy (p. 37). Poor child, abandoned for a time by his mother, NN rides Tky in the hope of a better future. He hates his region of origin, disintegrated by modern capitalism which has put an end to the mechanism for caring for indigent families by the community. The big city attracts by its need for labor, which makes it easy to find a job. Except that young migrants are only considered as a subordinate and cheap labor force for golden eggs according to the image given by NN himself,” without their desire to be someone (to live to the point of consumption) being taken into account at any time: There is therefore a contradiction between their being-for-Self and their being-for-Others determined by social classes (p. 62). Hence a disillusionment which results in a huge resignation rate.

Furthermore, NN suffers from a social handicap, because his civil status certificate suggests that he was born in prison, which pushes him to only apply for jobs that do not require the production of an administrative document. This is it, said Mita, a limited case of the negative identity experience that many migrants have in the city (p. 72), experience of being seen negatively by the group they seek to integrate into. They are determined by the gaze of others, which fixes them in their past and forces them to hate themselves. One way to try to escape this hell is to mystify others by changing their appearance: NN shows off luxury accessories and expresses the desire to continue his studies. But this attempt can only fail: However, this “staging” constitutes precisely the mechanism by which the city produces the human being and the model through the free exercise of one's will following the mold that arranges it. (p. 97, we note the term staging, which obviously brings to mind the theses of Erving Goffman, even if Mita's theoretical background is richer than that of symbolic interactionism). Existing only through relationships with others, the individual is forced to conform to the expected image, which leads to a gap between being-for-Others and being-for-Self. Faced with this requirement, many choose to play the role demanded by society. Some rebel, like NN Who ended up embodying this resentment. The only goal of his life becomes revenge (p. 100). If this point of the analysis could seem psychological, Mita's conclusion is indeed sociological and political: The delinquency of these young people is their desire for freedom transformed into shit by the voracious cities during this digestion process. (p. 102), consisting of absorbing labor power and rejecting the rest.

Songs of new nostalgia

The analysis is completed by another text, written previously (in 1965), Songs of new nostalgiaWho offers additional insight into the social context of the time (p. 134). The article takes family suicides as its starting point. The author explains that modernity has dismantled village solidarity, reducing the duty of caring for children to fathers and mothers alone. Which condemns orphans to poverty and encourages loving parents to kill their children before committing suicide so as not to leave them destitute. The structural reason for this decline in solidarity is the seasonal migration of people to the cities, which causes the village to lose its role as a fundamental framework for daily life. From the 1960s onwards, the movement amplified, so that we witnessed a “Copernican” mutation of the emotional structure of the Japanese (p. 130). The number of agricultural operations is decreasing drastically, concomitantly with the urban exodus of entire families (around a hundred per day). In the eyes of migrants, their native country ceases to be a refuge and becomes a burden that they flee. Hence the search for a new security, reflected in the popular songs of the time: withdrawal into the couple, a small individual home in the suburbs, the desire to build up financial assets. Less successful than The hell of the lookundoubtedly due to lack of reference to existentialist phenomenology, the article nevertheless constitutes a striking attempt to link the socio-economic explanation on the one hand, the transformations of daily practices and ways of thinking on the other hand.

Mita today

A perspective by Masachi sawa shows the topicality of Mita's thinking. If Japan from the beginning of the XXIe century is no longer that of the 1960s and 1970s, we can identify continuities and mirror effects (p. 142). Thus, sawa compares the trajectory of NN with those of two young murderers from the following generation, A. and K. While the first seeks at all costs a place to escape the gaze of others, the other two, who have such a place, wish on the contrary to obtain an existence of their own. For them, murder is a way of being someone in the eyes of others. Another resonance is discovered in the wave of collective suicides via the Internet, which Saawa explains by the disintegration of the small home: even the nuclear family is no longer a refuge, as shown by the phenomenon of interior recluses, remaining locked in their rooms, fleeing their loved ones and fraternizing with people they met on the internet until following them to death.

Fruitful for Japan, Mita's theories could certainly be used to shed light on American problems (for example serial murders in schools) or European ones, such as the unrest in the French suburbs or the difficulties ofintegration immigrated descendants. read the foreword, Mita still has many other ideas to offer. Yatabe and Brisset mention, among other things, a sociological concern for the natural environment, which presupposes that they are accessible.