The Temporality of No Hope
Hirokazu Miyazaki - Associate Professor of Anthropology, Interim Director of the East Asia Program, Cornell University
In this paper, I turn to an intense Japanese public debate about the nexus of neoliberal economic reforms and the loss of hope in society. In particular, I attempt an ethnographically inspired reading of the internationally acclaimed Japanese novelist Murakami Ryu’s 2000 novel,Kibo no kuni no ekuzodasu (Exodus from a country of hope) and other writings on hope, neoliberalism and financial globalization. I draw particular attention to Murakami’s distinctively ambivalent stance toward the condition of no hope. I juxtapose Murakami’s ambivalence toward this widely shared sense of loss with certain Japanese securities traders’ equally ambivalent sense of the loss of profit opportunities. The Japanese traders’ ambivalence derives from their understanding of their trading strategy, arbitrage-a mode of trading in which one seeks to profit from a price difference between two economically linked assets, such as a basket of stocks and a futures contract on a stock index calculated on the basis of the value of those stocks. The calculation required to identify an arbitrage opportunity assumes a hypothetical condition of no arbitrage, that is, a condition in which arbitrageurs have already profited from and have eliminated such price differences. The condition of possibility of arbitrage thus is closely tied to its own condition of absence. Arbitrage’s self-cancelling logic differs radically from speculation, a trading strategy based on betting on the future direction of the market. However, the arbitrageurs I have studied are also ambivalent about the distinctiveness of arbitrage. They know full well that arbitrage can also be understood as a form of speculation. And yet they consistently seek to define themselves as arbitrageurs rather than speculators. Paradoxically, I argue, their ambivalence toward the category of arbitrage permits them to repeatedly engage in arbitrage and its self-canceling logic. The juxtaposition of these two radically different senses of loss (or of a movement toward loss) in these two contrasting forms of engagement with global capitalism points to ambivalence as a shared strategy for maintaining a non-directional form of knowledge. Both Murakami and the Japanese arbitrageurs strive to dwell on and embrace a sense of loss of direction in their respective situation in which a highly directional form of knowledge dominates. I suggest that this juxtaposition of fiction and finance gestures toward the paradoxically hopeful possibility that the critical study of capitalism could reorient itself to embrace its own loss of direction.