J a p a n e s e    C u l t u r e

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.

Thursday, May 31, 2012


The Western and Japanese Ego in Lacan's Borromean Knot,

The Western and Japanese Ego in Lacan's Borromean Knot, by timtak
The Western and Japanese Ego in Lacan's Borromean Knot,, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The reference to Japanese culture is not till towards the end.

According to Lacan the real, imaginary and symbolic are related in like manner to the rings of a borromean knot (see this page) in which no one of the the three rings passes through the others, but the three rings are held together. Cutting any of the rings causes the knot to fall apart.

I have interpreted this to mean that we experience, or believe in ourselves (and the world) at the presumed intersection between the imaginary (that which we can see and imagine) and the symbolic (that which we can say). The borromean knot illustrates this "presumption" in the fact that the rings do not in fact intersect.

I have also related this presumption, and the failure to maintain it, to the anguish of characters in two scenes in David Lynch's movies: the scene in "Blue Velvet" (1986) were Ben (played by Dean Stockwell) mimes "In dreams" and the "Club Silencio" scene in "Mulholland Dr." (2001) where, Frank in the former, and Diane and Camilla in the later become visibly distraught to realise that the performer they are watching is lip-synching. I also read that Australia has outlawed lip-synching at "live concerts" (specifically those of Britney Spears) unless the tickets come with a disclaimer. Why should lip-synching be so distressing?

At the phenomenological level however, it can be claimed that (I have a reference for this claim somewhere, thanks to one of my seminar students) that sound can not come from vision and that experientially we are always, as it were, aligning an audio track with a visual track, and in a sense all performers are lip-synchers or ventriloquists, though in some situations we deem their voices and their images to be coming from the same place.

At the level of the "symbolic" and the "imaginary", however, I did not have any clear understanding of what Lacan was referring to.

Rather than being a "card holding Lacanian," I just find the most basic level interpretation of theories useful for interpreting Japanese culture, and rightly or wrongly, I tend to think that he the man, Lacan himself, was a ranting obscurantist! Even worse than me perhaps.

But I have been thinking about this knot a little more, while reading the Edgar Allen Poe short story that Lacan so recommends (The Purloined Letter). While I find Lacan's interpretation of this detective story almost impossibly opaque, the detective story itself is very instructive. Notably there are persona in the story who appear to be able to see and not be seen, and others to manipulate signs but not see, and an independence and interaction among these persona, which leads me to the following vague hypothesis, which may well have been what Lacan was saying all along.

Perhaps the faculties of speaking and imagining can only appreciate themselves in their opposite? Like an invisible ghost that can see a blind man that can only speak of ghosts? This reminds me of "The Sixth Sense" and all those imaginary friends I wrote about on an earlier post.

I am not sure how to make this any more clear but perhaps it can be unpacked in to the following 4 assertions
A) Imagination can not imagine itself (c.f. Nietzsche's remarks on eyes not being able to see themselves)
B) Imagine only reaches a self perception via language (those trasformatory symbols that Jpanese collect)
C) Speech can not say itself c.f. Emile Benveniste's papers on the subject of utterance and the subject of enunciation. One of the two crucial papers by Benveniste can be found online.
D) The speaking subject of "utterance" can only represent itself by taking a detour via the image (as body visible)

I am not sure how to make the these four claims more persuasive but I find myself rather taken by the idea. The above would suggest a more divided self.

Random thoughts

1) People who have had their inter-hemispheric neural highway, the corpus callosum, cut cease to dream, and their right and left arms sometimes even fight each other. As per the last photo, Poe has considerable hemispherical asymmetry

2) Images in my dreams seem often to be rebuses as if my dream images are trying desperately to speak.

Finally relating this to Japanese culture

3) Proposition (A) above might be more unacceptable to Japanese who feel that they can imagine themselves without loss of fidelity, and proposition (C) more unacceptable to Westerners who, according to many (Bruner, Benveniste, MacAdams etc) narrate themselves into existence.

4) Lacan argued (see the aforemented page) the Western ego exists at the intersection between the symbolic and the real. Transposing Nacalianly, the Japanese self exists at the intersection between the (visio) imaginary and the real, as Nishida (see Heisig, 2004) argues.

[The above borromean knot is probably drawn from a Western perspective with the symbolic rather than the imaginary above the real].

Heisig, J. W. (2004). Nishida’s medieval bent. Japanese journal of religious studies, 55–72. Retrieved from nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/staff/jheisig/pdf/Nishida%20Medieval%...

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Thank you for this brilliant insight. I've been investigating the borromean rings as to how Lacan used them diagnostically and your insight helped me understand it better.
I missed this kind comment from ages ago. Thank you!
Thanks for keeping on writing your blog; it is very good!

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