General Studies A (Contemporary Aesthetics)

We will think about the question “what is popular culture?” This issue is deeply connected to contemporary art and media art.

People may be prone to regard popular culture as simply those cultural commodities created for amusement. However, if we try to examine the matter more carefully, we can there discover various key clues for thinking about people and society. We will consider the questions: What can we validly say about elements of pop culture like anime, manga and games? What is it to research and critique these things? What sort of change do they indicate in our culture?


Hiroshi Yoshioka , Hisashi Muroi , Fuminori Akiba

Course Format

A lecture relay led by a team of three instructors. The first leg is run by Yoshioka as representative of the class, but the specifics of how the sessions will proceed are up to the individual instructors.

Course Plan/Overview

1. Popular Culture and the Unconsciousness 6/4 (Yoshioka)
First, I will give an overview on the topic of what it is that makes culture “popular” and how we should understand “popular culture.” At the same time, we will think about the criteria by which “high culture” is defined, a standard that we have unconsciously internalized, as something that opposes popular culture. Based on this discussion, we will look mainly at Japanese examples to discover the means by which popular culture came to be reflected in society’s collective unconscious, means different from those observed in the case of high culture. We will also look at what an aesthetics of popular culture could possibly be, alluding to psychoanalysis, critical theory, and the theories of poststructuralism.

2. “Popular culture & media technology” 6/19, 7/10 (Muroi)
Currently, that which is called “popular culture” is decisively different from the popular culture in the pre-modern age, and cannot be thought about without taking into account the progress of media and technology. In “popular culture”, technology will not be foregrounded in one area and be made aware of in another area. However, going beyond those superficial phenomena, no one can deny that technology is one of popular culture’s “requirements for possible existence”. In that context, asking about popular culture, asking about technology, and is none other than asking about the media technology after the popularization of computers.

Now, has media technology after the computer brought about something new to our world-views or bodies? While looking back at the various arguments regarding technology after the photograph, we will think about this using our own specific experiences of being exposed to new media. Rather than as an opposition or a coexistence, we will re-perceive the problems of technology and science as something that started from the same activity, and will think about the possibility of a new “practical art” that is not a media art as a genre that has been integrated into the global market or economic activities while having discussions. After going through those discussions, we will return to the question of how we should perceive “popular culture”.

The above content will be split into 3 lectures.

3. “Are the aesthetics of popular culture possible?” 6/12, 7/5(Akiba)
Aesthetics are originally part of modern learning, and has developed as a role of “art” post civil society as well as something inseparable from that system. In other words, after it began existing, aesthetics was a “modern” concept. In that case, in a postmodern, or a post-postmodern situation, what role can aesthetics carry out? Above all, when faced with “popular culture” where that range of access and social functions are largely different, what kinds of challenges are imposed on aesthetics? In order to think about and analyze “popular culture”, in what way is it necessary for aesthetics to change itself? And is aesthetics even necessary for popular culture? In order to think about those fundamental questions, we will re-examine the Critique of Judgment, written by Kant, the forefather of modern aesthetics, as well as its historic reception. That is because Kant’s ideology, while being the beginning of the modern age, is also the limit of metaphysics in old Europe and, in that context, is exceedingly important when questioning the possibility of aesthetics in relation to “popular culture”.

“What is popular culture?” 7/19 (Akiba, Muroi, Yoshioka)
During the last class, the 3 instructors plan to gather together and have a thorough discussion with the students on the topics that were covered in the course until that point.

Textbooks /
Reference Materials

Will be designated or distributed in class.

Information from IAMAS