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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, June 04, 2012


How to Make a Japanese God

How to Make a God by timtak
How to Make a God, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Top image copyright Olaf and Metzinger (2009) conscience.risc.cnrs.fr/articles_pdf/Blanke_2009.pdf

A minimal interpretation of a God surely includes the requirement that God is an entity who is connected with us intra-psychically as well as, or even more so than, externally. That is to say that God is in our minds as well as in the world. God observes us, even in the privacy of our mind, and we address ourselves to him or her in that we are concerned about our behaviour from God's point of view.

Several Western theorists (Adam Smith, Bakhtin, Mead, Lacan, and Freud) argue that we have or model an objective view of ourselves intra-psychically, that is to say, inside our heads. Most Western theorists argue that this "point of view" is a point of "view" only metaphorically. The Western God is associated with language, listening, and understanding.

Adam Smith argues that we all see ourselves from a "impartial spectator." While Adam Smith redacted references to God from his work, after the death of his mother, it seems clear that his impartial spectator is related to his notion of a Christian God and that being above all "reasonable," "impartial spectator" 'spectates' in a "reasonable" (I read linguistic) rather than visual way.

Bakhtin does not explain the origin of his super addressee. He just says that we always presume the presence of another addressee of our language (in addition to the person we are speaking to or writing to). Bakhtin does not state that this super-addressee is a requirement for self, but, in a rare moment of religiosity Bakhtin associates this Super-addressee with God, and its absence with hell.

Mead presents one of the best, most sober, renditions of the need for an objective perspective upon self. Mead argues that in order to have a self we need to see ourselves from an objective point of view. In order to see oneself from an objective point of view, one needs to internalise the viewpoints of others (plural). In order to have a self, an independent self perhaps, one needs to create within oneself a "Generalised other," the perspective of oneself as it were, from nowhere. Mead's sober, Anglo Saxon explanation is almost mathematical or at least logical. The more views that one has of oneself the more one understands oneself. And by combining these views one can achieve objective self-hood, from the viewpoint of *not* one's mother, *not* ones father, but from a sort of mathematically, logically, systematically amalgamated general view point. How is this possible? Mead does not say. It sounds reasonable. But Mead's generalised other is while easy to follow as a theory, not so easy to understand phenomenologically. Where is the generalised in my mental experience? (This question may be a no-brainer for Christians.)

Lacan wavers. On the one had his "Other" seems to personified, sometimes (contra Freud) as a (m)Other, at other times the Other seems to be be language itself, a sort of neo Kantian (these days championed by Chomsky and Pinker) static, systematic, non-persona-ised version of the "generalised other". By non-persona-ized, I mean that the other from which we see the self is non personalised account; something that is not a simulated human. The Other of our self speech, is rather a system, a structure, something that is not seen as a persons. I think that his view is probably very popular among many theorists, or anyone with a scientific outlook. This generalised-other-as-system view does not require anything grotesque. If we understand ourselves from a generalised point of view then it is because we understand language. Language is our other, not a person at all. How nice, how clean and un-queasy that would be if it were the case.

Freud is surprisingly vague, almost mythic in his explanation of the origins of the Super-Ego. The "super ego" is a form of generalised other based on ones father. Freud has written a lot and I do not pretend to have read everything he has written but in one rendition of the origin of the super ego (though he does not use that phrase in the paper in question) he suggest a historical event: that an alpha-male, woman monopolising primal father was killed and eaten by brothers who internalised (not only in that they ate him, but psychologically) the father figure that they had killed, and felt so guilty about that murder that they repressed it. In this rendition there is the horror, the shame or guilt, but towards a concrete act. That slaying of the primal father seems unlikely but Freud's myth mentions *The Horror* that I suggest is essential for "making a god."

We all simulate others all the time. We imagine that we are talking to friends and understand our words from their simulated perspective. We cringe when we feel the gaze of others because we imagine what they have seen, and what we simulate they have felt about what they have seen. But these others that we simulate are others in the plural, others in the particular. How could it be that we might create a perspective, a view from nowhere?

Olaf and Metzinger (2009) propose that our ability to see ourselves from other perspectives is essential to the creation of self (which they argue to be a sort of illusion). In the paper quoted they give a typology of self views. In a "Autoscopic Hallucination" we see ourselves as another, a doppelgänger who is not ourselves and remain aware of the self from which we see the doppelgänger. In "Heautoscopy" we see a doppelgänger and our self, but we are not sure which of the two is our self. In an "Out of Body experience" (perhaps the most godly of the three) we see ourself from an external perspective but still with a "SL" (Subjective Location) floating somewhere above us near the ceiling.

It seems to me that they miss a type of self view: the view from nowhere. We see this view from nowhere represented in many Japanese works of art (Edo period pictures of the floating world, Manga, video games) in self-memories (Cohen) and Japanese behaviour in front of mirrors (Heine, et al.). How is it that the Japanese can have a view from nowhere, up from high in the sky and not feel that they are located in that elvated position?

I suggest that the ability to have a self-view from an external position and at the same time not see that position as a subjective location, nor as another particular viewpoint (of a friend, of family member) requires repression, as Freud argued.

This brings me to the horror. There is a a trope in Japanese horror where (generally female) monsters emerge from images. Traditionally they emerged from lanterns (Oiwasan) scrolls (bottom left), more recently they emerge from mirrors (Juuon, Mirrors), photo developer (Juuon), and most famously a television set (Sadako).

I suggest that perhaps the ability to see oneself from an external, non-particular, generalised perspective, relies less on our ability to generalise a perspective as to find one of them so frightening that we repress it. This explanation suggests that God is some sort of Bogeyman, but that is not my perception. Rather that the total absence of a belief in a generalised view (God), results in a situation which is, as Bakhtin says, hell: well and truly horrifying.

Bibliography to follow

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