Hyperrhiz 22

Inventing Uselessness: on Japanese influventors’ revolt against work

Evelyn Char

Citation: Char, Evelyn. “Inventing Uselessness: on Japanese influventors’ revolt against work.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 22, 2020. doi:10.20415/hyp/022.e01

Abstract: Highly developed capitalist societies are populated by self-motivated achievement subjects, who are perpetually purposeful and productive. On the underside of the society of excess positivity are the depressives. However, there are also jubilant and self-congratulatory losers who seem unaffected by the widespread exhaustion in these societies, as epitomised by the subjects of this essay: Japanese internet sensations ARuFa and Marina Fujiwara. Both millennials claim to be inventors of absurd creations, and in contrast to their predecessors Maywa Denki and Kenji Kawakami, their works are distinctively messy and amateurish, and are characterised by a highly idiosyncratic material presence and the complete lack of use value. Their satirical dismissal of usefulness and productive work echoes the stance of Surrealists like André Breton and Louis Aragon, and aligns them with autonomist Marxists. In parading their failures and inventing new ways to waste time, the loser becomes a heroic sovereign and keeps alive the revolt against work.

Keywords: internet visual culture, achievement society, useless invention, refusal of work, inoperativity, idleness.

(I) Contextualising the rise of losers: on the achievement society and the precariat

In October 2005, an ordinary teenager born in 1991 started a blog on the Japanese blogging platform Hatena. His first post went like this: “today, I decide to open ‘ARuFa’s diary’! I will try my best to make it enjoyable for everyone. The page is for my hobbies, school life and so on. I am going to write, so please support me.” It is an unremarkable entry, one among many that were uploaded every hour to platforms like Xanga and Blogger in the heyday of blogging culture. Little did ARuFa or his early readers know that the blog would still be extant 14 years later, becoming wildly popular in Japan and beyond: he has a Twitter following close to 700,000 and the Hatena blog has a click rate as high as 3.2 million in a single month.

Shortly after he started the blog, ARuFa began posting repeatedly, “I have considered important inventions in history, and tomorrow I’m going to try making one…. Please look forward to it.” It was the first of many inventions which took over as the main content of his blog. His popularity hinges on these blogposts, mostly consisting of still and gif images and a short explanatory text, through which he showcases his ingenious inventions and wild performances. One example is the “girlfriend shower head”, in which he turned his shower head into the head of a girl before taking a shower with water coming out of her mouth. A selection of ARuFa’s pieces was published in book form in 2017, and was almost immediately translated into Chinese and published in Taiwan, which demonstrates his popularity in neighbouring Taiwan and Hong Kong.

ARuFa is a subtype of online personalities that I term “influventors”, i.e. those who invent things and disseminate their inventions online. In considering this curious breed of influencer, there is another notable figure from ARuFa’s generation. Born in 1993, Marina Fujiwara is two years ARuFa’s junior. She started inventing around 2013 and showcases her works on the YouTube channel “MUDA-ZUKURI /Wasted Creation”, which is now followed by around 74,000 subscribers. Fujiwara became something of a sensation following her invention of an auto breast enlargement machine in 2014. She was elected a member of the YouTube Next Up project by Google Japan that year and held a solo exhibition in Taipei in 2018. From a technical point of view, her works are more complex than ARuFa’s, often engaging technologies such as sensors, arduino microcontrollers, and motors. She is best known for a series which involves her imaginary boyfriend - a robot that would perform various romantic acts, from doing the heart pose with her to “kabedon-ing” her (meaning a man forcing a woman against the wall before kissing her or making a romantic confession). In these works, she repeatedly highlights her position as a singleton unable to find a boyfriend, perhaps on her way to becoming a “make-inu” (“loser-dog” in Japanese, a term that refers to unmarried women over the age of 30). In this sense, there is an unexpected linkage between Fujiwara and a number of women writers in Japan whose fiction deals with female protagonists and their problems, such as Kodama. These literary works revolve around their marital and reproductive status through different stations in their lives. One thing ARuFa and Fujiwara have in common is the way they flaunt their loser status. Both present themselves as singletons and make works referring to their single status. ARuFa published a title instructing readers of myriad ways to waste time, while Fujiwara specialises in making “wasted creations”. They present themselves as good-for-nothing millennials who don’t seem to spend much time working and who simply have no desire to lead productive lives.

How did these self-proclaimed losers come into being? In view of their endorsement of non-utility and their commitment to time-wasting, what is the political significance of their work? Drawing primarily from the work of Byung-chul Han on achievement society and the work of Guy Standing on the precariat, I will contextualise the emergence of these loser-influventors and look at the socioeconomic context in which they come into being and operate. Focusing on the concept of uselessness and the refusal of work and productivity, which was also a key concern of the Surrealists more than a century ago, I will proceed to look at whether the work of the influventors can be seen as a radical attempt to reclaim labor from capital.

In his book The Burnout Society, cultural theorist Byung-chul Han laid out his treatise on the malaise of depressive tiredness in a contemporary society obsessed with positivity and productivity. Han engages with Foucault’s theory of disciplinary society, arguing that this has been replaced by an “achievement society” that produces “achievement-subjects” instead of “obedience-subjects”. In this society of excessive positivity, “the social unconscious switches from Should to Can. The achievement-subject is faster and more productive than the obedience-subject.” In this sense, the achievement-subject is clearly a better worker than the obedience-subject: s/he is self-driven and self-motivated, unlike the latter which needs to be disciplined and forced to work. The achievement-subject also renders production more cost-effective as disciplinary management becomes dispensable. These “uninhibited ego- and achievement-impulses” are a hallmark of neoliberal society, which is characterised by an internalised obsession with incessant production and a systemic, or system-immanent, violence. Depression, ADHD and burnout syndrome are the hallmark malaises in this society of excess positivity, and they give rise to a new breed of outcasts: “[disciplinary society’s] negativity produces madmen and criminals. By contrast, achievement society creates depressives and losers.”

The notion that there is a causal relation between depression/exhaustion and neoliberalism has been echoed in the works of American scholars such as Ann Cvetkovich, who situates depression as public and political, and Anna Katharina Schaffner, who suggests that today’s depression is best understood as “bound up with feelings of failure, inadequacy, and inhibition” fitting for a neoliberal society that demands positive initiative and action. In the webpage titled “Depression” created by Feel Tank Chicago, a group consisting of activists, artists and scholars such as affect theorist Lauren Berlant, depression is characterized this way: “the whole rhetoric of self-cultivation, self-culture, self-help casts human activity in a deliberate mode of self-improvement, adjustment and adaptation to the world that is. Depression is an impasse.” This view is particularly pertinent to the economically developed countries in East Asia. Places like South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, with their high GDP per capita coupled with high suicide rates, literally specialise in fabricating losers. Indeed, ever since the global financial crisis of 2007-08, a generation of losers seems to have emerged across the region. Linguistically, terms like “make-inu”, “make-gumi” (“losing team” in Japanese), “lujeonam” (“loser-man” in Korean), “lu-she” (“loser” in Taiwanese-Mandarin), and “fai-ching” (“useless youth” in Cantonese) have come into popular parlance, especially on social media platforms and online forums. Interestingly, while the term “loser” and its equivalents were mostly used disparagingly in the past, it is now equally common to see these terms applied in a self-mocking fashion, with a sense of mutual affirmation and solidarity. Here the question arises: in an achievement-obsessed society that creates depressive losers, what does it mean when people proactively adopt the position of the loser? What if the loser is not depressive at all, but is instead jubilant and self-congratulatory, even gleefully branding the stigma onto themselves? Does the achievement society described by Han also produce a rare and paradoxical breed of what I call ‘heroic-losers’?

While the phenomenon of people proclaiming themselves as losers only became noticeable through online channels in the past decade, it must be placed within a wider socio-economic context and a fundamental shift in labor organisation model in order to be properly understood. The shift I have in mind is the rise of the precariat as a new class. The precariat, a neologism that combines the words “precarious” and “proletariat”, is best defined by its central features - “precariousness of residency, of labor and work and of social protection.” Economist Guy Standing observes that as the 1990s proceeded, more and more people in affluent and emerging market economies entered the precariat. This newly formed class exists in marked contrast with the traditional salary-worker, who has long-term, stable, fixed-hour jobs, alongside the package of advancement paths, trade unions, and collective agreements. In his book, Standing gave particular attention to Japan, where the paternalistic model of laborism symbolised by the figure of the “salaryman” and characterised by “rigid hierarchies, lifetime employment, seniority-based wages, and company unions” gave way to a more flexible form of labor organisation as the country adapted to the globalised world order and as the memory of the “Japanese miracle” slowly faded. The proportion of salary-workers in Japan shrank dramatically from the early 1980s as the country headed towards the bursting of the asset price bubble. In 1999, a law overturned a ban on temporary contracts and allowed private employment agencies in more areas; agency access was again broadened in 2004. Such policy changes have contributed to the growth of precarious labor: by 2010, over a third of the labor force in Japan was in temporary jobs. The country has produced a group of young workers known as “freeters” who are mostly forced to work as casual labor.

That the financial status of this group of people has been negatively affected by unstable work is obvious, but the phenomenon also brought with it grave psychological repercussions. Trapped in artless, career-less jobs that barely pay their bills, the precariat harbours a deep sense of deprivation and is perpetually frustrated by the unavailability of mobility ladders and the difficulty of building trusting relationships without a work environment. As the paths towards a meaningful life are blocked, the precariat suffers from “the four A’s - anger, anomie, anxiety and alienation.” They are often doubly affronted: on one hand, many of those in higher socioeconomic positions reproach them as “lazy, directionless, undeserving, socially irresponsible”. On the other hand, they are constantly told that they should be grateful, happy, and positive for reasons they fail to see. What is unique to Japan is that in a society where long-term and stable employment has traditionally been the crucial basis of personal pride and dignity, to be excluded from the class of “salaryman” was “a visible sign of failure, a loss of face”. It is from this stark reality that the new generation of self-proclaimed losers emerge, as exemplified by the rise of ARuFa and Marina Fujiwara.

(II) A genealogy of influventors: on Maywa Denki and Chindogu

Although ARuFa and Fujiwara are the main subject of this essay, it is important to note that figures like them did not appear out of thin air. There are at least two notable predecessors who produced comparable work in Japan, namely Maywa Denki and Kenji Kawakami; the former is quoted by Fujiwara as her primary influence. In fact, both Maywa Denki and Kawakami’s chindogu emerged precisely at the start of the “lost decade”, right after the asset price bubble burst in 1991 and the shift in Japan’s labor organisation model accelerated. The name Maywa Denki, or Maywa Electronics, originally belonged to an actual electronics manufacturer owned by Sakaichi Tosa. The company started out as a subcontractor of Toshiba and Matsushita Electric (now known as Panasonic), and was a medium-sized company employing more than 100 workers at its peak. However, it failed to weather the oil shock in 1979 and closed down. In 1993, more than a decade after the factory shut its doors, the sons of Sakaichi Tosa formed an art group and revived the name Maywa Denki. Masamichi and Nobumichi Tosa inherited the spirit of the original by designing (and always appearing in) blue uniforms that resemble a typical working uniform of a Japanese electronics factory. The terminology used by the new Maywa Denki to describe their work also went through careful consideration: they make pieces called “products”, take part in exhibitions called “product demonstrations”, and publish “annual reports” on their activities since 2003. Having garnered an international following, Maywa Denki defies the fate of a company which was destined for failure. 

According to Nobumichi Tosa, who has been heading the group since his elder brother’s exit in 2001, the group specialises in producing nonsense, and wearing the guise of an electronics company adds to this sense. They manufacture “nonsense machines” that are mostly instruments for playing electronically composed music. The performances are meant to be hilarious: “I hope that when the audience is watching, they can distance themselves from common sense or normalcy, turn their own ‘sense’ into ‘nonsense’ and become joyous,” commented Nobumichi Tosa in a 2016 interview. Their two main focuses are product development and production, and live performances which utilise the products and in turn generate income for product development. Their practice can therefore be described as a cross-disciplinary one, positioned across product design, pop music, and digital art at the same time. Their inclusion in all of these fields can be substantiated by the awards they received, including Distinctions of Interactive Art category in Ars Electronica (2003) and the Grand Prize of Japan Toy Prize - High Target Toy (2010), as well as music albums produced by pop music brands such as Sony Music Entertainment and concert tours in Asia, Europe, and North America.

In contrast to the famous Maywa Denki, Kenji Kawakami’s name is relatively unknown. His inventions, or chindogu, are mostly circulated as authorless content on the internet. The proper launch of chindogu can be dated back to 1992, when magazine editor Kenji Kawakami quit his full-time job to establish the International Chindogu Society and focus on the invention of chindogu. Chindogu is a neologism invented by Kawakami himself, and is made up of the word “chin” (珍) which means curious or strange, and “dougu” (道具) which means tool or device. It is described as “unuseless”, or almost completely useless, in the sense that people can use them but probably would not because they are too weird or eye-catching, thus too awkward and embarrassing to be used in Japan. Since the 1990s, Kawakami has published several books, such as 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu (1995), to showcase works like the ramen cooling machine (a pair of chopsticks with a mini fan attached), the full-body rain protector (a plastic sheet wrapped around an umbrella), the super efficient kettle (kettle with five spouts), the commuter sleeping hat (hard hat with a suction cup at the back, and a card that states the commuter’s destination in the front), and the portable zebra crossing. Like Maywa Denki, Kawakami considers the nonsensical as a liberating force, claiming that “chindogu represents freedom of thought and action.” They are free to be what they need to be, without the need to submit to the constraints of utility and efficiency. Nevertheless, behind these humorous inventions that promise to solve the tiniest inconveniences in everyday life is Kawakami’s aversion towards the habit of over-consumption rampant in Japan. For him, most products are consumed meaninglessly, making these absurd and nonsense pseudo-products a form of criticism. For this reason, while chindogu undeniably possesses use value, and at least some can potentially be developed into actual products like Maywa Denki’s nonsense machines, Kawakami adopted a very firm stance against commercialisation. His International Chindogu Society adheres to ten tenets, including that chindogu are not for sale and that they cannot be patented or owned and must remain in the public domain. Anything that does not conform to these principles cannot be considered as chindogu.

While the emphasis on nonsense is a feature common to the works Maywa Denki and Kawakami and those of ARuFa and Fujiwara, the practices of the latter two figures are nevertheless highly distinctive in a number of ways. Firstly, the objects created by ARuFa and Fujiwara look distinctively messy and amateurish, with a highly idiosyncratic material presence which is almost impossible to replicate. For example, ARuFa’s “girlfriend” in the shower head piece mentioned above consists of a blond wig, a cheap plastic mask, and a nightgown stuffed with newspaper and two balloons (as breasts). Her crooked arms are two rolls of crumpled newspaper bound by packing tape. Fujiwara’s “boyfriend”, on the other hand, is a styrofoam head roughly painted in light orange, complete with excessively thick brows and no hair. In another work, ARuFa attached the nozzle of a gas-powered blower to the mouth of a similarly crude girl’s head in order to make a ramen cooler reminiscent of Kawakami’s delicate ramen cooling machine. The resulting machine, however, produced wind at a velocity of 80m/s, and when switched on blew away all the noodles in the bowl instead of simply cooling them. In fact, many of their works are complete failures, in the sense that they cannot even fulfil the designated purpose, regardless of how nonsensical it is in the first place. Fujiwara’s “eating sushi machine” supposedly feeds sushi into her mouth, but in practice the pieces of sushi often fall from the chopsticks. Her “kissing machine” aims to stage a ‘Pocky game’ (in which two people start eating a Pocky chocolate stick from each end and end up kissing) with her styrofoam boyfriend, but the boyfriend, placed on a mini 4WD, moves way too quickly and keeps thrusting the Pocky into her mouth. Not only were these hiccups included in the videos showing these works, they are often highlighted with slow motion replays.

Secondly, the works of ARuFa and Fujiwara have none of the polished visual quality and use value of professionally manufactured consumer products common to Maywa Denki’s nonsense machines and Kawakami’s chindogu, and are therefore much farther away from the field of product design. Similarly, their works sit much less comfortably in the field of art, partly because they rarely look finished and don’t always work, and partly because the concepts or logic behind the works are much too loose and inconsistent. Maywa Denki mostly produces works in series, e.g. the NAKI series, in which all pieces are based around the motif of the fish and originate from the philosophical question of “what am I?”, and Kawakami lays out ten principles that define the philosophy of the chindogu, as mentioned above. Such insistence on concepts and consistency is not found the works of ARuFa and Fujiwara. It is possible to loosely categorise their works, but the categories are certainly not bound by a core concept.

Thirdly, ARuFa’s and Fujiwara’s creations are completely useless most of the time. Maywa Denki’s nonsense machines can either be played as musical instruments or used as common appliances - as in the case of the “na-cord” which is a popular extension cord shaped like a fish skeleton. Chindogu is “unuseless” and offers actual solutions to everyday inconveniences, albeit extremely trivial ones. By contrast, ARuFa and Fujiwara push uselessness to an extreme. In ARuFa’s case, the title of his book, Super Time Killing Picture Book, highlights the spirit at the core of his practice - everything he does is only done to kill time. In his bio, he states that “he specialises in producing useless garbage blog posts”. He invents ways to create extra free time (e.g. by skiving, or slacking off) and ways to kill time with utterly unproductive activities. He came up with a way to “utilise the invisible quality of wind”, i.e. by styling his hair, holding an umbrella, and posing in such a way that he looks caught in a typhoon, so that he can use a photo of him struggling with strong wind to apply for leave from work. He also made a large number of works that deliberately destroy their inherent purpose: designing a man's brief that will remain unsoiled forever by cutting away most of the fabric, going on an overnight trip in a spring town only to use the bath tub in his own hotel room, posing for photos at tourist sites but deliberately blocking out the landmarks, etc. Function and purpose are always tossed into the garbage bin without hesitation.

As for Fujiwara, she describes herself simply as “an inventor who makes something useless in Japan”. Despising work as much as ARuFa, she made a “machine to stop the alarm clock” (a rubber hand that stops the alarm clock when it goes off), a “machine for pleasant sleep without sense of guilt” (a skiving machine that automatically sends an email applying for sick leave to her boss when she pulls the lever), a machine that automatically generates various combinations of reasons for taking leave, and the popular “motivation machine“, which slaps her with a big pile of banknotes when she lacks motivation for work. She also made a number of machines that allow her to eat chips without using her hands, to apply make-up without using her hands, to have tea served by a robotic doll, and to stay in a warm kotatsu (a Japanese low table covered by a duvet that keeps the user warm in the winter) even when she needs to go out. As a true loser, Fujiwara’s efforts almost always fail. The tea is spilled everywhere, her chin is besmirched by crudely applied lipstick, and the potato chips are all over her face. The machines never perform properly. Instead, she repeatedly invests huge chunks of time to make machines that are supposed to do simple tasks for her but always fail miserably. Time and effort always go hand in hand down the drain. All that she has achieved is an ostentatious display of her will to laziness with the wasted creations and videos on YouTube.

In this way, their inventions completely overturn the logic behind the word invention - something that did not exist previously, that is brought into being by one or more inventors, and that is usually useful and beneficial in some way to the human race. Utterly useless inventions turn the whole concept upside down. In the nineteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution climaxed in the West and the activity of inventing was in its heyday, progress was the religion of the secularised world, and the figure of the inventor along with the objects and technologies they miraculously conjured are the icons of this religion. Yet as we fast forward to the twenty-first century, which was inaugurated by the nightmarish 9/11 attacks and has been overshadowed by the imminent and irreversible destruction of the planet, one must acknowledge the complete breakdown of this religion of progress. Technological innovations are now met with a mix of excitement and scepticism, and are no longer assumed to bring improvements to the majority of people across the world. Although the cult of the inventor lingers on as it is revitalised by charismatic figures like Elon Musk, the religion of progress largely continues to crumple, and the heroic-losers posing as influventors are the radical iconoclasts smashing the last idols.

(III) Uselessness and the revolt against work

On top of the characteristics elaborated above, ARuFa is also well known for his “ass works”, i.e. pieces in which he flaunts his bottom. In the explanatory text for the piece, he wrote that “my charm is in the butt. It is rather round and soft like freshly baked bread, and it doesn’t seem like something that belongs to a man. This butt is a treasure that belongs solely to me. No matter who you are, you will become its captive instantly if you touch it once.” In stark contrast with Kawakami, who emphasised that “chindogu inventions cannot be made to enact or represent cheap sexual innuendo, vulgar humour, or sick jokes that disrespect living things,” ARuFa unreservedly embraces the vulgar and the base, which brings to mind a debate between the Surrealist theorists Andre Breton and Georges Bataille almost a century earlier.

The Breton-Bataille clash unfolded around Salvador Dali’s painting Le jeu lugubre at the end of 1929, or more specifically, around the bottom right hand corner of that painting, which features a man dressed in underwear clearly soiled by shit stain. When the painting was shown in Dali’s first Paris exhibition in November 1929, both Breton and Bataille were keen to recruit the young painter for their own version of the Surrealist movement. Breton was of course the “pope of Surrealism” and was largely at the helm of the movement, while Bataille was the rebel who led a rival group and set up the review journal Documents with a few like-minded Surrealists. In his writing on Dali's painting, Breton describes it as a window into an inner landscape, and chooses to ignore the violent imagery of dismembered bodies, castration, and ejaculation. He only alludes to “a character with a shirt covered in excrement” in passing. Bataille, on the other hand, focuses on images of sexual perversions, and took the “ignoble stain” as a “central element of his detailed psychoanalytical interpretation of the painting, read in terms of the Oedipal scenario of punishment, castration and ignominy.” Because of his subsequent theorisation of heterology and base materialism, Bataille gained fame (or notoriety) as the “excremental philosopher”, as he was contemptuously characterised by Breton, but already in 1929 he was wholeheartedly embracing excrement as a heterogeneous matter. He saw the smudge in Dali’s painting as a vehicle for liberation: through this stain “a real virility is rediscovered by this person in ignominy and horror themselves.” Indeed, he testifies to the liberating power of Dali’s heterogeneous paintings, in the capacity of a viewer: “my only desire…is to squeal like a pig before his canvases.” Like Dali’s shit stain, ARuFa’s auto-fetishisation of his own ass is a form of perversion, and likewise qualifies as a heterogeneous practice, situated squarely in the realm of the entirely other that is excluded by all forms of idealism. In this way, he forcefully drags the cult of invention into dirt while offering the ass as a vehicle for liberation from the religion of progress and idealism in general.

The unlikely linkage between the influventors and Surrealism does not stop here. Unproductive, useless, meaningless, time-wasting: the spirit of ARuFa and Fujiwara is a distant echo of early-20th century Surrealist artists and writers. The idea of the autonomy of art, which first emerged in the 19th century as art found an unprecedented market in the newly formed class of the bourgeoisie, eventually came to be taken to imply a freedom beyond the limits of aesthetic production. As such, the idea provided the condition for the systemic self-criticism of art - a hallmark of the historical avant-garde - to take shape. Artists affiliated to Dada and Surrealism upheld the abolition of art and the rejection of the role of artists as an ideal. Louis Aragon remarked, “no more painters, no more writers, no more musicians, no more sculptors... enough of all these imbecilities, no more, no more, no more, no more, no more, no more”, while Bataille wrote that “we must insist from the outset that a still relatively new form of intellectual activity, not yet castrated and domesticated, is linked by the force of things to the uprising of the lower classes against present-day work.” Surrealist Revolution, a journal published by Andre Breton between 1924 and 1929, was even more unrepentant in announcing their common stance: the slogan “And War On Work” was emblazoned across the cover of its fourth issue. The abolition of art was bound up with a rupture with the idea of work: “regular work, especially anything that could lead to a successful career, was forbidden.” This uncompromising refusal of work aligns both the Surrealists of the 1920s and the influventors of the 2010s with the assertions of autonomist Marxists which emphasise on everyday working-class resistance to capitalism in the form of slow working, absenteeism, sabotage and other subversive activities. The skiving machines by Fujiwara can perhaps be useful in advancing the autonomist cause.

The resounding “NO” shouted by the loser who refuses to work immediately brings back to mind the “yes” in the affirmative voice of the achievement-subject. The resistance of the capitalistic work ethic which dominates today’s society also informs much contemporaneous thinking about the depressive subject, which is about as negative as the loser. Berlant questions what it means to “think of negativity not as an effect of bad power but as a way of being critical without consciousness”, while Kate Zambreno, in her review of Ann Cvetkovich’s book, suggests that “what others—family members and bosses, in television commercials—see as depression can be in fact the use of one’s own body as a site of refusal to participate and function fully in capitalism, (hetero)normative social behavior, or gendered labor: an ongoing space to cultivate one’s self as a political and sovereign subject by shutting down. Perhaps what appears as a space of nonaction and passivity, is actually a site of activism, a strike of sorts, of bodily contemplation, of working through.” In Han’s terms, the ceaselessly working, overly productive achievement-subject is inevitably overwhelmed by a perpetual tiredness. Han explains that “tiredness in achievement society is solitary tiredness; it has a separating and isolating effect,” and, drawing from Peter Handke’s “Essay on Tiredness”, he further elaborates that this “divisive tiredness’ is violent ‘because it destroys all that is common or shared, all proximity, and even language itself”. Without the possibility of a common solidarity, the achievement-subject finds enemies everywhere. This is similar to Standing’s diagnosis of the precariat: that it is “at war with itself”.He expands this diagnosis by stating that “one group in it may blame another for its vulnerability and indignity… Tensions within the precariat are setting people against each other, preventing them from recognising that the social and economic structure is producing their common set of vulnerabilities.”

Losers lead the way towards rebuilding community after all that was common has been killed off by the devastating tiredness of the achievement society - a new community based on inoperativity as theorised by Jean-Luc Nancy. Inoperativity, worklessness, idleness: these require a sense of community no longer concerned with achievement, the production of itself through works or ideology, or the reproduction of itself through education. The lazy losers come together virtually on the digital platforms of ARuFa and Fujiwara, with no other purpose than to laugh with other lazy losers reiterating their failures. As inventors of useless stuff, ARuFa and Fujiwara practically threw away the most treasurable asset of the precariat - namely time, which can be used to complete more work, earn more money and achieve more in general. By parading their failures, demonstrating ways to waste time, and bearing the standard in the war against work, the jubilant loser becomes a heroic sovereign figure that provides refuge for non-normative behaviour in an achievement society. It is here that the potency and political significance of the influventors lies.


  1. ARuFa, ‘Celebrate! Opening’, 16 October 2005. Accessed on 30 July 2019. arufa.hatenablog.jp/entry/20051016.
  2. His followers on Twitter number 693.8K as of 29 November 2019. twitter.com/ARuFa_FARu. The record click rate of his blog was cited on the product page of Chō himatsubushi zukan on books.com.tw, a major online bookseller in Taiwan. Accessed on 29 November 2019 (books.com.tw/products/0010773307).
  3. ARuFa, ‘It is short but…’, 8 November 2005. Accessed on 30 July 2019. arufa.hatenablog.jp/entry/20051108.
  4. ARuFa, 《超暇つぶし図鑑》 (Chō himatsubushi zukan / Super Time Killing Picture Book), (Takarajimasha, Inc.: Tokyo, 2017).
  5. The first video showcasing this machine received 1.6 million views, also her first clip to reach the million mark. Uploaded 8 October 2014, accessed 29 November 2019 (youtube.com/watch?v=hqB1ZMk_2A8).
  6. Recent examples include Akiko Itoyama, author of Waiting in the Offing (2006); Mierko Murakami, author of Breasts and Eggs (2008); Sayaka Murata, author of Convenience Store Woman (2016); and Kodama, author of My Husband’s Dick Doesn’t Go In (2018).
  7. Byung-chul Han, The Burnout Society (Stanford University Press: Stanford, 2015) p.9; first published in German as Müdigkeitsgesellschaft (Matthes & Seitz: Berlin, 2010).
  8. Byung-chul Han, The Agony of Eros (MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2017), p.25.
  9. Han (2015), p.7-9.
  10. Ann Cvetkovich, Depression: A Public Feeling, (Duke UP: Durham, NC, 2012).
  11. Anna Katharina Schaffner. Exhaustion: A History (Columbia University Press: New York, 2016), p.183.
  12. “Depression” by Feel Tank Chicago, feelkit.feeltankchicago.net/wiki/Depression. Last modified on 2 May 2015, accessed on 20 December 2019.
  13. For suicide rates, see World Health Organisation's Global Health Observatory (GHO) data, accessed on 29 November 2019 (who.int/gho/mental_health/suicide_rates/en/). All four countries have a higher suicide rate than the global age-standardized suicide rate of 10.5 per 100 000 population in 2016. For GDP per capita, the four countries rank between 16-39 in 2018, according to the data of International Monetary Fund, accessed on 29 November 2019 (imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2019/01/weodata/index.aspx).
  14. Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (Bloomsbury Academic: London, 2011), p.3.
  15. Standing (2011), p.6.
  16. Ibid., p.30.
  17. Ibid., p.19-21.
  18. Ibid., p.17.
  19. ‘Maywa Denki’s Nonsense Machine’ Yitiao, 23 February 2016. Accessed on 30 July 2019. youtube.com/watch?v=vX-dEq4UDYI.
  20. Michael Richey, ‘Chindogu: The Unuseless Inventions of Kenji Kawakami’, 14 March 2016. Accessed on 30 July 2019. tofugu.com/japan/chindogu-japanese-inventions/.
  21. ARuFa (2017), p.124.
  22. Elza Adamowicz, ‘Exquisite excrement: the Bataille-Breton polemic’, Aurifex, no 2, 2005.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Georges Bataille, ‘The Lugubrious Game’, in Stoekl (ed.), Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-39 (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 1988), pp.28-29.
  25. Louis Aragon, ‘Manifeste du Mouvement Dada’, Litterature, vol. 13, May 1920, pp.1-2.
  26. ‘Georges Bataille, ‘The “Old Mole” and the Prefix Sur in the Words Surhomme and Surrealist', in Stoekl (ed.), Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-39 (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 1988), p.32.
  27. Helena Lewis, Dada Turns Red: The Politics of Surrealism, (Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 1990), p.23.
  28. Lauren Berlant, “Feel Tank”, Counterpoints Vol. 367, SEXUALITIES IN EDUCATION: A READER (2012), pp. 340-343.
  29. Kate Zambreno, “Melancholy and Infinite Sadness”, The New Inquiry: thenewinquiry.com/melancholy-and-the-infinite-sadness/, 28 February 2013, accessed on 20 December 2019.
  30. Han (2015), p. 31.
  31. Standing (2011), p. 25.