Death and Work

Harry Harootunian
Senior Research Scholar
Weatherhead East Asian Institute
Columbia University

The real difference related to how the respective cultures of W. Europe and Japan viewed the body: in the West the compulsion to work resulted in misrecognizing the valuation of things and a devaluating of the body, whereas in Japan the nativist effort sought to return work back to the divinely endowed vocation of the body bestowed on the folk by the primal gods of heaven and earth as the means to allaying their fears of death and migration to the final location of the spirits in the place of permanent pollution (yomi) that diverted ordinary people into embracing the distractions of individualized pleasures of the flesh. The former was mediated by the consequences of a complex psychological separation of mental and manual (external) labor that necessitated work as a repressive inner compulsion to produce neuroses in history, indeed to make of history a record of neurosis, while the latter sought to rescue the body from desire and restore its primary vocation in manual labor to eliminate the historical altogether. Both, paradoxically, seemed to share differing social theories rooted in the return of the sacred that forfeited the body’s materiality and its associations with pleasure and desire.

Harry Harootunian is the Max Palevsky Professor of History, Emeritus, University of Chicago and currently Adjunct Senior Research Scholar in the Weatherhead East Asian Studies, Columbia University.  His most recent publications are  Marx After Marx, History and Time in the Expansion of Capitalism (Columbia Univ. Press, 2015),  "The Memory and Everydayness of History: Capitalism and Critical East Asian Studies, A Selection of Essays," (Taiwan National University Press, 2018, in Chinese), "Uneven Moments in Japan's Modern History," (Columbia University Press, 2019), and  "In The Ruins of Ani: The Armenian Genocide and Unaccounted  Lives" (Duke University Press, forthcoming). Harootunian is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Death Drives, or Thinking with the Corpse