Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Empire of the External Signs: Travelling to Sight and Symbol
Empire of the External Signs: Travelling to Sight and Symbol, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Not only when on holiday, but also when having fun as a child, the Japanese like to collect symbols. They are modern totemists, they "bricole."
Levi-Strauss in one of his last formulations defined those "primities" that have a "savage mind" -- the "bricoleurs", the botching, DIYers, that think with signs-they-have-to-hand (Levi-Strauss, 1966) -- as those that do not have writing.
"The way of thinking among people we call, usually and wrongly, ‘primitive’—let’s describe them rather as ‘without writing,’ because I think this is really the discriminatory factor between them and us" (Levi-Strauss, 1978, 5)
What he meant to say was that they do not have an alphabetic writing (see the brilliant paper by Chad Hansen, 1993, "It started with Phoneticians").
The important point is not the natural constraint that Levi-Strauss proposes that "savages" face. Like the Japanese, even the totemists in totemistic societies that Levi-Strauss himself reported, had started to create their own totems (e.g. gourds, mythical animals) and are not constrained by nature.
The important point, that Derrida stress(1998), is that the "savages" remain aware of the corporeality of the sign, aware of the "trace," they remain forever "post-modern," even more so than Derrida who claims phonocentrism is inevitable, and unable to believe in "presence" of meaning, of voice as thought. The "savage" (or perhaps savant) is aware that the sign is external.
They, the Japanese, are happy to travel, to the shrine, to the local toy shop, to the "named place" (meisho) abroad to collect external signs.
Derrida, J. (1998). Of grammatology. (G. C. Spivak, Trans.). JHU Press.
Hansen, C. (1993). Chinese Ideographs and Western Ideas. The Journal of Asian Studies, 52(02), 373–399. doi:10.2307/2059652
Levi-Strauss, C. (1978). Myth and Meaning. Routledge.
Lévi-Strauss, C. (1966). The science of the concrete. In G. Weidenfield (Trans.), The Savage Mind. University Of Chicago Press.
This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.