Mark Driscoll


On his book Absolute Erotic, Absolute Grotesque: The Living, Dead, and Undead in Japan’s Imperialism, 1895–1945

Cover Interview of February 08, 2011

A close-up

This book is primarily an academic historical exercise and I have used some fairly abstract and philosophical language to describe what I see as the three distinct phases of Japanese imperialism.

However, readers interested in more concrete history would probably enjoy flipping around the first part of the book called “Biopolitics” where I discuss in some detail Japan’s colonization of Taiwan, Korea, and south Manchuria.

The middle chapters (5 and 6) feature the first in-depth discussion of Japan’s “erotic-grotesque” modernism, looking at perverse detective novels and left-wing pornography.  I also discuss some of the key subjectivities of Japanese modernism like the modern girl, modern boy and detective writer.

The Intertext after chapter 6 analyzes the interesting novels of the popular Japanese detective writer Edogawa Rampo.  It also treats the boom in vampires in Japan beginning in the late 1920s—attempting to provide an historical rational for why vampires became so popular at this time.

For readers interested in the lead-up to the second Sino-Japanese War and imperialist war in general, the last section of the book, “Necropolitics,” would be the best place for browsing.

In this section I try to show what happens to some of the main historical actors who appeared in the first section of the book as they become enmeshed in a very different form of imperialist politics.  Focusing on Japan’s Manchukuo colony, I argue through Frantz Fanon and Achille Mbembe that the final stage of Japan’s imperialism must be seen as invested in killing and immobilizing. I show the ways in which Japanese imperialists turned to drug and human trafficking in massive numbers, which financed the two-front wars Japan was fighting against China and against the US and UK in the Asia-Pacific.

In addition to over 20 million Chinese killed during this war, an estimated 10 million became drug addicts through Japan’s systematized dealing of heroin and opium.  In some areas of Japan’s colony of Manchukuo, 30-40% of Chinese were drug addicts; this in places where drugs had been almost completely eradicated in the 1920s.