Region/Concept: East Asia, Space
Sub-Concepts: Withdrawal, Isolation, Refusal, Neo-Misanthropy
Description: Two recent phenomena of aloneness: 1) hikikomori (literally, “pulling inward”)—legions of Japanese youth who have become shut-ins and total recluses, withdrawing entirely from society, within their high-rise apartments; 2)kodokushi (literally, “lonely death”)—legions of Japanese elderly who die within their homes and go undiscovered for months or even years.

What kind of bizarre hermeticism emerges from within such hyper-metropolitan centers, a product of their intense alienation and compartmentalization of human activity? Here we come across a kind of postmodern solitude: both young and old receding into the air-tight enclosures of private apartments throughout the cosmopolis, as if reeling from the accelerated velocity and theatricality of the futuristic cityscape in order to adopt some new version of ascetic tranquility. But what kind of solace or esoteric wisdom can one find in a small room on the nineteenth floor? Can one even attain an authentic or sufficient level of hiddenness when protected (from an age of excessive light, noise, and movement) by only the fine border of a window? And, more importantly, what are they after in this sheltering-act? Is this increasing pattern of self-extraction just an attempt to recover a more ancient principle of self-annihilation? Perhaps, but entirely misguided and anachronistic; it is not the same brand of thoughtlessness or painlessness of the past; they are no monks with their acute despair. And so one experiences in those four walls only the very same numbness that circulates across the despised outside (now just disguised as insularity). From the accounts given, this retreat-tactic offers no sanctuary or refuge: rather, it is a dead-end that brings only a futile recognition of the very obsolescence of such older quests for enlightenment, distance, serenity, meditative concentration. These are no longer attainable categories; the havens are gone, and with them the potential descent into void (this neo-emptiness teaches nothing, allows nothing). For sure, there is only a mimicry of aloneness here: to live alone (without meaning, ritual, or reward) and to die alone (without consecration, prayer, or transcendence). No longer the problem of “no way out,” but rather the problem of “no way in.”


Jason Mohaghegh