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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.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Robo Cat: Cute, Uncanny or Horrible

This robo-cat moves, it makes noises when you stroke it, but does it have feelings? The Japanese do not seem to care so much(J. Robertson, 2001; Jennifer Robertson, 2007; Schodt, 1988).

This cat looks to me that it is right bang in the middle of the "Uncanny Valley" (Mori, 1970) but the Japanese store goers seemed to like it and think it "cute". Strange, amusing, uncanny, yes, but "cute" was one thing it was not from my viewpoint. But then I grew up in a culture where people tend to think that they are not their body but their mind. I argue that The Japanese do not believe that they are their bodies, the Japanese also firmly believe in the heart, but heart (kokoro) is also at least in part visual, a space of imagination.

The absense of heart (kokoro) absence from the body, as it is often in sleep, makes less of a difference.

And as mentioned in recent blog posts, generally speaking, in the realms of shrines, rebuilt shrines, miniature shrines, horses sculpted and pictorial, copied pilgrimages, and foreign villages, sports stadia, and perhaps even cats, if it looks the same then it is the same: an authenticopy, a subcategory of simulacra (Baudrilliard, 1995) in the the presumed mirror mind of Japanese gods.

To have a "mirror" mind, both god and human, to see the mind and world meet at a "tain-less mirror" I think that all you need is to have a presumed co-gaze (kyoushi) (Kitayama, 2005). Internalising a gaze is no weirder than presuming that an intra-psychic other is listening to and understand our self-speech, which is what we, Westerners, are argued to be doing (Bakhtin, 1986; Hermans, 2001; Hermans & Kempen, 1993; Mead, 1967).

The ability to imbed someone else's perspective inside oneself is not difficult. We are always wondering 'how this would sound to', 'how this would look to' various otehrs others. But the ability to create another persons perspective inside oneseld and then forget it is that of *an other* but believe instead that it is the perspect of the Other, a generalised other, a super addressee, a super ego, depends, as Freud points out, on taboo (Freud, 1913): on the horror and guilt associated with the deed. I do not see Freud's explanation, that we feel guilt towards a historical act of killing the primal father, as being anything other than alegorical. The explanation that the internalisation of another may be associated with guilt and horror is, however, a valid explanation as to how one might wish to forget that internalisation: thus generating a general internalised view, a view as it were from nowhere.

The robo cat is cute, but he makes me feel a horror, which will be the subject of a subsequent post.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. (V. W. McGee, Trans.) (Second Printing.). University of Texas Press.
Baudrillard, J. (1995). Simulcra and Simulation. (S. F. Glaser, Trans.). Univ of Michigan Pr. Freud, S. (1913). Totem and taboo. (A. A. Brill, Trans.). New York: Moffat, Yard and Company. Retrieved from http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Totem_and_Taboo
Hermans, H. J. M. (2001). The Dialogical Self: Toward a Theory of Personal and Cultural Positioning. Culture & Psychology, 7(3), 243–281. doi:10.1177/1354067X0173001
Hermans, H. J. M., & Kempen, H. J. G. (1993). The Dialogical Self: Meaning as Movement. Academic Press.
Kitayama, 北山修. (2005). 共視論 (Co-Gaze Theory, my trans). 講談社.
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, self, and society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press.
Mori, M. (1970). The Uncanny Valley. Energy, 7(4), 33–35. Retrieved from http://www.movingimages.info/mit/readings/MorUnc.pdf
Robertson, J. (2001). Japan’s first cyborg? Miss Nippon, eugenics and wartime technologies of beauty, body and blood. Body & Society, 7(1), 1–34.
Robertson, Jennifer. (2007). Robo Sapiens Japanicus: Humanoid Robots and the Posthuman Family. Critical Asian Studies, 39(3), 369–398. doi:10.1080/14672710701527378
Schodt, F. L. (1988). Inside the robot kingdom. Kodansha International.

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