Felix Guattari on Japan is something of a dream topic — how would a nonphilosopher and schizoanalyst handle the work of trying to analyse and understand the cultural, psychological and political/structural machinery of a very distant place (both in literal proximity, in language, and in culture and accessibility etc.)
Guattari wrote many magazine articles and conducted many interviews with Japanese people, which were later compiled into this text Machinic Eros; this includes the stunning essay Tokyo the Proud, an essay that is highly recommended. This book, Machinic Eros is comprised of magazine articles and smaller essays written by Guattari during his time in Japan or reflecting on it.
In a podcast dedicated to this text (Acid Horizon) the speakers highlight Guattari’s confession that not only was the job of translation hard, there was an observable phenomenon that has been recognised globally when it comes to the role of a translator. In many cases, the translator is not there to just replicate a sentence in another language, they act as an Iron Curtain around the one they are translating for - they discuss how no real dialogue could be achieved in many cases, but instead the interviews expose this fascinating "avoidance", "dodging", "reflecting". As a schizoanalyst, this absence of dialogue in place of some kind of martial arts of deliberate avoidance and deliberate miscommunication is fascinating.
In essence it is understood that Guattari was there to understand more about Capital, about new forms of Capital and how Capital develops in other places in other situations. In other words it is not an exoticist text that fetishes cultural difference: it is not trying to tap into any essential Japanese-ness, but simply to understand how Capital emerges through the socio-cultural lens of Japan. One example is the famous analysis of Kawaii and Japanism, where it is argued that the pervasiveness of mythological creatures, the prevalence of anime or other cliches represents an Image that the West projects outwards towards Japan. Guattari argues that Japan claimed these projections and began to commoditise them, and started to project them internally. The image of cyborg-manga-aliens that was projected out to Japan became like a PR job, a company branding purchased from the US.
Perhaps the most shocking and interesting points raised is the analysis of the legendary towers and skyscrapers in Japan, such as in Kirin Plaza, Osaka: these towers reach up into the heavens and "interpellate the gods" by asking directly "who are you?". In the projection of the question, God becomes a subject produced by that call. A huge monolith to Capital daring to ask God "Who do you think you are?" — God has to answer to Capital; the Heavens answer to Capital.
The image is only then made more scintillating by another speaker’s response: they mention that the tower is void, that it has since been demolished, as it remained empty and disused. What greater representation of Capital is there than a corporate skyscraper interpellating the Heavens, while being itself, ironically, devoid of any substance. The empty tower is the nihil in the heart of Capital, such an apparent display of God-defying substance but being nothing but a masquerade, or a sleight of hand; "clever CGI".
It is such an interesting work because it is being written around the time that Guattari and Deleuze would move into the territory of Control Societies, this is written before the idea of "limitless work" or precarity. Machinic Eros in the beginning, as a phrase, almost sounds like an orientalist stereotype: "they're in love with machines".
Yet, by remembering that Guattari went to Japan to study Capital in another form, what is really being gestured is the idea that we, subjects of capital (not "the Japanese"), are enslaved to machines, almost erotically - we have become part of a machine, we are not just inserts into the machine, we are nodes, we ARE the machine, and it is inescapable, therefore we may be seen as locked in an unbreakable erotic obsessive relationship with machines of all kinds.