Written by Lucien Quayleux
Translated and Edited by Vosot Ikeida
Hikikomori and Existence
Hikikomori do not exist. Literally, a hikikomori (引き籠もり）comes from the Japanese verb meaning “to cloister” or “to lock oneself in”. The verb “to exist” comes from the Latin “ex-sistere” meaning “to manifest oneself”, “to show oneself” or “to come out of”. Therefore, a hikikomori can not exist.
The hikikomori flees existence, or reduces existence to its irreducible minimum. Indeed, it is not so easy to renounce existence. Many people have tried it: monks, anchorites, suicides, madmen, poets, etc.
Existence insists, the hikikomori, as being outside of existence, does not exist. For the individual, as existing, fails to be hikikomori. One cannot withdraw from existence. Once a hikikomori exists, he is no longer hikikomori. Existence cannot accommodate a hikikomori.
The fact that some psychologists, journalists or even so-called French "hikikomori" take up without hindsight, without any question, this term that they are otherwise unable to understand literally, etymologically, culturally, sociologically indicates a lack of intellectual requirement.
The use of this term in psychology is a particularly worrisome sign of the state of scientific and medical research in France, not to mention the decline of journalism. One might think that some people take advantage of the lure of an exotic word to gain benefits in terms of social or financial prestige. The use of a vague vocabulary to impress one's interlocutors is a well-known strategy used by Lacan(*1) in particular.
*1. Lacan : Jacques Marie Émile Lacan (1901 – 1981) : French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who has been called "the most controversial psycho-analyst since Freud".
There are many behaviors that some people refer to as “hikikomori”. The works of psychologists and journalists available in France or on the Internet use this word without ever proposing a rigorous definition. The term is used to designate individuals who adopt certain stereotyped behaviors, which are themselves variable. The only thing that everyone recognizes as the behavior of a hikikomori can be summarized as follows:
“The hikikomori is an individual who stays locked up and avoids social interaction as much as possible.”
If you are staying locked up, another person has to bring you food, so you are not in a position to avoid social interaction. If you are absolutely alone, you have to go outside to look for food, so you cannot stay locked up. The common definition is therefore made up of two elements that are mutually incompatible with biological survival. So hikikomoris simply do not exist, but this contradiction in terms does not seem to bother much.
What the Psychiatry Brings Over
In Asia, and particularly in Japan, the individual who does not take into account the rules of collective life is considered dysfunctional or sick from a psychological point of view. Whereas in the West, and particularly in France, the individual who cannot bear to fight society alone is considered dysfunctional or psychologically ill.
Individuals judged as sick in France because they are attentive to the group may be judged as perfectly healthy in Japan and individuals judged as sick in Japan because they are too individualistic and independent may be judged as perfectly healthy in France. Japanese and French behaviors appear dysfunctional, bizarre or sickly within the society of the Pitjantjatjara(*2) of Australia, the Nuer(*3) of Sudan, the Nambikwara(*4) of Amazonia or the Mohave(*5) of the southwestern United States for example.
*2. Pitjantjatjara : An Aboriginal people of the Central Australian desert near Uluru.
*3. Nuer : A Nilotic ethnic group concentrated in the Greater Upper Nile region of South Sudan.
*4. Nambikwara : An indigenous people of Brazil, living in the Amazon.
*5. Mohave (or Mojave) : A Native American people indigenous to the Colorado River in the Mojave Desert.
In the case of France, this is all the more problematic since French institutions produce by themselves what the American researcher Maurice L. Farber(*6) calls "deficient autonomy".
*6. Maurice L. Farber : Author of ”Theory of Suicide” (1977) and “Suicide in France: Some hypotheses” Suicide” life-threatening behavior, vol. 9, no 3, 1979, pp.154-162
There is no shortage of examples to show that psychologists, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts are often much closer to political re-education than to medicine.
Behavior constitutes a psychological problem if it deviates too far from the ideological-political doctrine of the dominant class and power. Imposing a norm of behaviour, development and progress requires the use of violence.
All modern governments have used psychology to justify their policies. Soviet dissidents were locked up in the name of the diagnosis of "latent schizophrenia" or "paranoid personality development”.
At the psychiatric hospital in Blida, French Algeria, Frantz Fanon(*7) notes that French patients are recovering quickly while Algerian patients are getting worse.
*7. Frantz Fanon：Frantz Omar Fanon (1925 - 1961) : Thinker, Psychiatrist, Revolutionary activist who played a leading role in the Algerian independence movement. Born in Martinique, a French colony. His father was a descendant of black slaves and mother was a bastard of mixed race. Grew up in a family that was lower than middle-class.
He notes that the behaviors judged as normal and healthy by the hospital doctors are the fashionable behaviors in the Parisian bourgeoisie but that the Algerian peasants, cut off from their traditional culture, cannot recognize themselves in these foreign customs and thus appear as "sick" or "crazy" in the eyes of the doctor-psychiatrists.
Therefore, these "psychological" "illnesses" have social causes. Generally speaking, the development of "modern society" excludes an ever-increasing part of the population who are accustomed to living according to criteria of dignity or social prestige other than those developed by the bourgeoisie from the 19th century onwards. That is to say essentially the ostentatious consumption of "fashionable" products and the quest for individual happiness.
There are real psychological problems and illnesses that are largely overlooked and ignored by psychologists and psychiatrists themselves. Psychologists, as belonging to a class of intellectual workers from the most privileged circles of society, have an interest in the status quo. The usefulness of physicians in the political stability of a country is greatly underestimated.
Thus 60 to 70% of psychiatry concerns psychotraumatology, whereas most French psychiatrists are not trained in this field. The "Interministerial Mission for the Protection of Women Victims of Violence" carried out a study among medical students in 3rd and 4th cycles which showed that more than 80% of them had never heard of the care of victims of violence or psychotraumatology.
We can also note that this mission is only interested in women, whereas it is men who are the most massively affected by all diseases to the point of feeding a large excess of male mortality at all ages. But French society, like many other societies, is reluctant to take an interest in male suffering and often content to deny it.
The Research about Ill-Being
Studying a phenomenon such as hikikomori behavior requires tools to study ill-being. However, ill-being is a diffuse and intimate feeling that is consequently difficult to study.
Certain causes of mortality such as suicide rates are probably a good indicator to directly establish the existence of ill-being, such as rates of alcoholism, drug use and mental illness.
We can also find indicators that can be indirectly linked to ill-being, such as rates of poverty, crime, inequality, immigration and emigration, or even the possibilities of access to higher education and the actual possibilities and conditions of access to a job or social advancement.
There are also other more indirect factors such as economic growth and development which act on the deep psychological background of societies, on the capacity to create the base of hope in the future for oneself or the next generations, on the meaning of our activity and therefore of our life. Whether or not work makes it possible to collectively improve society. The trust we are likely to place in institutions and our fellow man has a considerable influence on our self-confidence.
When individuals do not have access to certain aspects or institutions of human life in organized society (family, schoolmates, opposite sex, studies, work, etc.) a process of adaptation goes through the sublimation of one's needs and desires.
In traditional societies, the means of sublimation were very limited: the learning of a manual or intellectual trade supplemented by rituals of initiation or passage at each major stage of life. In the past, sublimation took place through the reading and study of the only existing texts: religious, philosophical or scientific, which always allowed a transformation, an individual and collective refinement.
This sublimation is now largely diverted by marketing to other aspects of culture: television, comics, video, cinema, video games, tourism. A large part of these cultural productions is poor and superficial but easily accessible, requiring no individual specialization, which can act as a narcissistic trap for individuals with no other perspectives of individual construction than imitation and consumption.
This mechanism can lead to cultural and mental confinement which, when certain conditions are met, particularly when support and social integration are deficient or in the case of a pre-existing psychological problem, turns into social reclusion, physical confinement. But it can also be an informed choice.
When Kamo no Chomei (*8) settles in his monk's hut in the mountains, when Seraphim of Sarov(*9) pursues a life of asceticism among the bears or when Henry David Thoreau(*10) builds himself a hut near the pond of Walden, they have nothing, they are alone and far from everything.
*8. Kamo no Chomei (鴨長明 / 1155 - 1216) : Born in Kyoto, Japan, as a son of Shinto priest. Highly respected by then-Emperor emeritus, but lost out in the race for social success and became a Buddhist priest, shut himself in a hermitage and wrote the famous diary "Hojoki”.
*9. Seraphim of Sarov (1754 / 1759 – 1833): Born in Kursk, Russian Empire, and retreated to a small hut in the wild woods outside Sarov monastery and led a solitary lifestyle as a hermit for 25 years. Became one of the most renowned Russian saints and is venerated both in the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.
*10. Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862) American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher. Born in Massachusetts, U.S.A. After graduating from Harvard University, built a small log cabin in the woods by Walden Pond in Massachusetts and lived a self-sufficient life for over two years. Wrote "Walden: Life in the Woods" (1854)
And yet all their thoughts, activities and lives are socially oriented. What drives some people to seek or produce what does not already exist? Awareness of a lack, a regret, a suffering, or an unfulfilled desire, everything that makes this world leave unsatisfied or intranquished.
All the gold in the world can sometimes do nothing against the anguish of an existence facing the abyss.
The Universal Difficulty to Live
The world is unbearable. The book of Job and the Ecclesiastes in the Bible warned us, nothing new under the sun. The disadvantage is to be born as Emil Cioran(*11) writes, but now that it is done, one can try to make up for it by staying down, living at night, avoiding man and his smells. Temporary solution, temporary, like everything else.
*11 . Emil Cioran (1911 – 1995) ：Philosopher and essayist. Born in Romania, lived in Bucharest, Berlin, Paris. Published works in both Romanian and French, which have been noted for its pervasive philosophical pessimism, and frequently engaged with issues of suffering, decay, and nihilism.
It is not even certain that death is a way out. Some say that all one has to gain is an eternity of suffering in hell or reincarnation as a corpse-feeding worm, or worse. Many thinkers agree on this point: humans are hateful, the world is hell.
Every beauty and every pleasure is paid for with an endless amount of suffering and ugliness. We are bad alchemists who turn gold into liquid manure. Even death is now devalued, senseless. Jean-Luc Nancy(*12) notes that no culture had until now made death inessential and purely sterile. Our society and our culture no longer know how to live or die. That is why Hans Bellmer(*13) decided not to do anything useful anymore and Bartleby of Melville(*14) just mumbled "I would prefer not to".
*12. Jean-Luc Nancy (1940 - ) : French philosopher. Developed his own philosophy, strongly influenced by Jacques Derrida and his method of deconstruction, and is considered to be one of the most important figures in French contemporary thought after so-called post-structuralism.
*13. Hans Bellmer (1902 - 1975) : German artist of surrealism, best known for the life-sized pubescent female dolls he produced in the mid-1930s. He decided not to make anything useful because he thought if he made something, it was going to be utilized by the political power, which was Nazis at that time.
*14. Bartleby of Melville : A short story called "Bartleby, the Scrivener" written by American author Herman Melville, published in 1853. A young man named Bartleby gets a job at a law firm. However, when he is ordered to work, he politely refuses, saying, "I would prefer not to”. Thus the boss tells him he is fired, but Bartleby refuses to leave the office, saying, "I would prefer not to”. The police are called and Bartleby dies in prison.
Perhaps it is first of all the ideology of happiness that it is a question of refusing. In “The Tale of Genji”(*16), Murasaki Shikibu questions this tendency that leads us to seek a pleasant, comfortable, trouble-free and sheltered life, which she believes to be uninteresting. On the contrary, it is regret, suffering and failure that are the measure of a fulfilled life. Murasaki Shikibu invites us to continue to live, not in the pursuit of happiness, but only to enjoy a little more of that heart-wrenching feeling of life passing by, like flowers scattered in the spring breeze.
*16. The Tale of Genji (源氏物語) : A classic work of Japanese literature written in the early 11th century by the noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu （紫式部). The reader may consult in particular Chapter 41 “Maboroshi” (English: “The Seer”) on this subject.
To the original French version of this article
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◆◇◆ Profile ◇◆◇
Lucien Quayleux is a french hikikomori. Graduated in philosophy and social sciences, his past work including factory worker and teacher.