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Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Image and Logos as Sacrificial Supplement

The "logic of the supplement" is a really bad name for how some things can have an important role as a foil, scapegoat, sacrificee, or supplement, and be both of lesser and central importance at the same time. The “supplement", is a kind of super, saviour, straw man.

Consider a supplement to a book. It is the bit on the end, extraneous to the main part of the book (and thus of lesser importance) but at the same time may complete the book and by completing the book, be of prime importance. Or again, a vitamin "supplement" is something that is an addition to ones normal diet, that may at the same time contain the minerals and ‘vitamins:' the most important things that the makers of the "supplement" claim we should eat. Or again, there are things that are sacrificed, or made into scapegoats that are at once of lesser importance/value and of prime value. Consider the Jews in Nazi Germany. They were treated as animals, far beneath the "Aryans" but at the same time, by making a scapegoat of the Jews, the Nazis were able to rally the Germans together in the face of the common "enemy within." It could be argued that the Jews, as victims and scapegoats, were the scapegoat that made the fantasy of a pure Aryan race possible.

In his commentary on Plato's Pharmacon, Derrida (On Grammatology) claims that writing, or visual symbols, are a supplement in that sense in the West and that Western philosophers often make use of writing (the visually meaningful) as this kind of supplemental sacrificial, purifying scapegoat. Plato uses writing as an example of impure speech, attached as it is to the visual, and compares it to phonemic language in the mind, which by contrast with written language is claimed to be able to apprehend, or frame, ideas in their purity. Plato speaks of writing as supplemental to phonetic language claiming that it is an imperfect record, in being caught up in the visual world. But Derrida points out that writing has in Plato that other function of the supplement: something which completes by its ability to purify.

I find Derrida's writing very opaque and I don’t mean to attempt to paraphrase him. But I do feel that the visually significant, or corporeal, is used as the "supplement" to the symbolic in the Western tradition. Western philosophers since Plato, point to some visual/corporeal instance and say “well it is lucky that we have thought (ephemeral phonemic language in the head), and the meaning that we can trust". The writing, visually symbolic, acts as scapegoat, a victim that purifies the purely linguistic.

Some examples...Austin claims that some linguistic statements are "speech acts," such as "I promise," or "I bet" is not only speech, it is also an act. The speech act is a piece of dirty speech, that involves itself in the world of things. After going on about these "speech acts" for a while, Austin then claims that, but of course, there is some speech which is not an act, is simply referential. Thus he purifies language and its ability to refer to things without acting upon them in any way, by using example of speech which is also an act, caught up in the phenomenal world. In my view, all statements are acts in a sense. All symbols contain a little corporeality. But by setting up an example of an extremely corporeal example Western philosophers can return to their veneration of language.

Descartes likewise, goes on about how easy it would be for all of "res extensio" (that which is extended, that which can be seen) to be a dream and after going on and on about how all this visual stuff could be an illusion, he returns to language and his cogito as if it is purified from being a mirage, despite the fact that he may be dreaming in gibberish. I think therefore I am, may be "flutch brenden under cellophone."

In Lacan too, the mirror image of the self, acts as kind of supplement, an essential lesser part to the self-narrative of the linguistic self. The image of self is essential, and it is only at the intersection of linguistic and visual self reference that we have a self at all. But the image is the lesser part, the part of self which one should not identify, which language saves us from. The image of self is like the twist in the mobius strip. It allows language to return upon itself, refer to something that is the source of the language, refer almost to itself. The self-image is the veneer that proves that truth is going on “inside".

I think that in Japan, it is language that is the abject, scapegoat, accursed share, or supplement that holds the mobius strip of the specula, Japanese self together. Language is not exactly unimportant in Japan. Language is important as a sacrificee, to purify the mirror.

In Japanese religion language is sacrificed in concrete ways. The central Lord's Prayer of Shinto, the great purification rite speaks of writing all the impurities down on pieces of paper and washing them out to sea. And all the white the prayer itself, is almost meaningless to the listeners and even the speaker who, Bataille argues regarding Noh, says the words only as recitation so that we can feel the paper upon which they are written. The fluffy Shinto wands of zig-zag paper strips, the little pieces of paper tied to trees, and certainly the negative affirmations of Zen, encourage Japanese to think about, concentrate on, write, chant, and then get rid of language.

Japanese language, specifically Japanese poetry is good when you can see it, when it calls to mind images so brightly that the words disappear. Japanese poets are deeply respected in so far as they can write language that extinguishes itself. Later, Nakahara Chuuya's language enjoys itself, draws attention to itself, but Chuuya said to be influenced by the West.

In this climate it is not surprising that there should be few Japanese philosophers as word-system-builders in the Post platonic Western tradition, but perhaps Nishida Kitaro comes closest to being a Japanese Descartes, in Descartes as in Nishida, a sacrifice leads us to a noble certainty.

Descartes draws our attention to the deceptive chimera of res-extensa (the extended, the place?) before returning to his logo linguistic saviour. Nishida (influenced by the phenomological school) goes through a processes of bracketing, doubting and contradicting all linguistic postulates, till at last we return to the purity of experience, where the sacrifice of the logos takes “place.” Language is not unimportant in Nishida. Nishida is a writer after all. But the limitations of language, the more ideal and a a-corporeal the better, is used to make the space where they are sacrificed shine all the more brightly. Instead of being the deceptive chimera, the place is the good. Language instead of being our saviour, it is only through the most extensive linguistic denial that we find ourselves.

Japanese philosophy reminds me of British Punk Rock. Read Nishida while listening to Siouxie and the Banshees' (“Into the Light”) or PIL's “Rise” “I could be wrong. I could be right. I could be black. I could be white….the written word is a lie…Anger is an energy. Anger is an energy.

I need to find more “supplemental” uses of Language in Japan. There was medical doctor in Kurume university who wrote a "theory of civilisation" in which he seem to be saying that Japanese culture (specifically the example of Tenangu) focused on the expulsion of language. I started writing this because I read Jay's "Downturned Eyes", and wanted to make sense of the logo and occular centrism that Jay seems to think European culture flip flops between. And because Japanese superheroes are always flashing symbols at people, while Western heros like to change their clothes.

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.