The undulating contour of sōgō geijutsu (total work of art), or Hanada Kiyoteru’s thoughts on transmedia in postwar Japan
ABSTRACT This article provides an insight into the theorization of sōgō geijutsu or the work of total art during the postwar decades in Japan, primarily through the language of Hanada Kiyoteru, a notable communist critic during the 1950s, as a way to present a discursive precursor to what would be explored as intermedia in the 1960s. It is an attempt to trace the debates that was seen in journal Sōgō Bunka that was established immediately after the war, and how the question of collectivity and collective production of art was discussed among the contributing critics, artists, and intellectuals. Totality as some may know already, is a problematic term that comes close to the wartime notion of ‘totality’, as it was employed for Japanese government’s ideological deployment for its war efforts. Although the term has accrued a sinister ring, the critics mentioned in the article, especially Hanada, were determined to reclaim the term as a way of devising a postwar aesthetic-political platform. One most important component of sōgō geijutsu was popular art and its relationship to the masses, as it was designed to relocate avant-garde art practices to the juncture of popular space and political praxis, while critiquing the modernist avant-garde art associated with high art. In addition to providing a fuller historiography of intermedia (or transmedia) in Japan, interrogating sōgō geijutsu also serves to shed some light on the complex and multivalent discourse of locating a ‘people’ and their communicative action. Through this historiography, the term totality gains a greater texture, no longer dismissible as a mere vestige of fascism in the minds of the Japanese artists and critics.
KEYWORDS: Japan, art criticism, intermedia, politics, Marxism, popular culture, avant-garde, modernism
Ken Yoshida is currently working on his PhD thesis in the Visual Studies Program at University of California, Irvine. The title of his dissertation is ‘Forfeiture of Power: Modes of Totality, Ecology, and Art in Postwar Japan’.