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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.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


The Homo Narrans are coming! Kim and Kyari vs the Ningen

The Homo Narrans are coming! Kim and Kyari vs the Ningen by timtak
The Homo Narrans are coming! Kim and Kyari vs the Ningen, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

All these great and erudite scholars will tell you that the logos the narrative is alive, and universally so: that humans narrate themselves into temporal existence. Humans are, they tell us, their words, not their faces, nor what they see. These Western scholars are to themselves at least, to coin an ideogram, 人言 ningen people-words.

Fortunately, Hejung Kim (Kim, 2002; Kim & Sherman, 2007) has already demonstrated that East Asians do not narrate themselves unless asked to do so, and then they find it a chore. It should be noted however, that professor Kim does not believe that East Asians think using their imagination. Personally, I think that that is because the medium of our selves is the water in which we swim, and as Bruner argues "the fish will, indeed, be the last to discover water unless he gets a metaphysical assist" (Bruner, 1987, p31-32).

Kyari Pamyu Pamyu shows how life can be lived almost without a linguistic narrative at all (her song is at least partly "weah" and "pop" repeated over and over again), splendidly, with zest, in the visio-imaginary.

But then, finally, if Clifford Geertz (Geertz, 1977, p448) can call a cockfight a narrative, then Kyari Pamyu Pamyu's mind may be said to be narrating, just in a different way, in apples, turtles, dinosaurs, sculls, sharks and masks. Contral the majority of Homo Narrans theorists however, Pamyu Pamyu's narrative is not temporal, however but takes place (Nishida).

Bruner, J. (1987). Life as narrative. Social research, 11–32. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/40970444
Bruner, J. (1990). Acts of meaning.
Geertz, C. (1977). The interpretation of cultures (Vol. 5019). Basic books.
Gottschall, J. (2012). The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Kerby, A. P. (1991). Narrative and the Self. Indiana University Press. (Kerby gave up philosophy and became a musician)
Kim, H. (2002). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Kim, H. S., & Sherman, D. K. (2007). “ Express Yourself”: Culture and the Effect of Self-Expression on Choice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(1), 1.
MacIntyre, A. (1997). After Virtue (New.). Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd.
Niles, J. D. (2010). Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature. University of Pennsylvania Press.
Plummer, D. K. (1995). Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change, and Social Worlds. Psychology Press.
Ricoeur, P., & Blamey, K. (1990). Time and Narrative (Reprint.). Univ of Chicago Pr (T).

Some sooths from the homo narrans.
Rudd, A. (2009). In defence of narrative. European Journal of Philosophy, 17(1), 60–75. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-0378.2007.00272.x/full

(Rudd, 2009)
For a narrative is not just something I tell retrospectively; it is something that I am acting out as I live my life. Insofar as I am not in a zombie-like state of automatism, I am aware of myself (even if only implicitly) as acting in a certain way in order to bring about certain results, which I want because they fit in with certain plans or ambitions that I have. Insofar as I, the world around me, and the other people I interact with, make sense to me at all, it is because I can (and at least implicitly do) locate them in such a narrative. [My emphasis. Mind your mouth, Professor Rudd!]

(Plummer, 1995)
The ceaseless nature of story telling in all its forms in all societies has come to be increasingly recognised. We are, it seems, homo narrans: humankind the narrators and story tellers. Society itself may be seen as a textured but seamless web of stories emerging everywhere through interaction: holding people together, pulling people apart, making societies work.

(Geertz, 1977)
448 What sets the cockfight apart from the ordinary course of life...Its function, if you want to call it that, is interpretive: it is a Balinese reading of Balinese experience, a story they tell themselves about themselves.
452 The culture of a people is an ensemble of texts, themselves ensembles, which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulders of those to whom they properly belong.

(Ricoeur & Blamey, 1990, p52)
between the activity of narrating a story and the temporal character of human experience exists a correlation that is not merely accidental but that presents a trans-cultural form of necessity.

(Niles, 2010)
"The point that human time is created through narrative is a key one in the work of the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, who has articulated it in his three volume study Time and Narrative (1984-1988). By the end of that work Ricoeur arrives at the conclusion that identity, whether it be of an individual person or of a historical community, is acquired through the mediation of narrative and thus is a function of fiction.

(MacIntyre, 1997, p212)
It is because we all live out narratives in our lives and because we understand our own lives in terms of the narratives that we live out that the form of narrative is appropriate to understanding human action. Stories are lived before they are told - except in the case of fiction.


1)The ideogram(s), 人言(pronounced "ningen", in the same way as human 人間) may be a good way of expressing Japanese humanity since it is a graphically/visually/imaginary meaningful representation of a phonetic word, and is a bit like Derrida's "différance" a word that means, something other than the usual difference, only in the visual domain, by virtue of it being spelt (graphed, written, visually represented) incorrectly.

2) The big question. Are the Japanese just plain visual, or are they visually symbolic? In my posts about Jane Bachnik's indexes, and Kyari Pamyu Pamyu's kata, I have been opting for the Japanese being visually symbolic.

It is very clear to me that the Japanese are into symbols. This is especially clear when considering their super-heros that transform by virtue of having a symbol. One of the earliest, Mirror-Man, transformed by holding an amulet (symbol) in front of a mirror.

Accepting that the Japanese use visually symbolism then:

2.1) Is visual symbolism of the Japanese just simply symbolic in another media? Are the Japanese, as Clifford Geertz would argue, telling stories with their bodies? This might make homo narrans theorist happy-ish. We'd all be able to agree that narrative is essential, it is just that some (Westerners) speak in phonemes while others (Japanese) in ideograms and bodily movements.

2.2) Or is the visual-symbolism of the Japanese -- their "kata," Kyari Pamyu Pamyu's corregraphed dance, which ends up being able to speak -- a means, or stepping stone, to an a-symbolic visuallity? Lacan's (Westerner's) "mirror stage" is a stepping stone on the path towards symbolic existence. Is Japanese visual *symbolism*, similarly a stepping stone, towards visual-imaginary-ism?

I go for 2.2. When learning a path (karate, tea ceremony, archery, what have you) the "kata" or visual symbols are to be learnt and then surpassed. My take is that the visual symbolism of the Japanese is a symbol-stage (the converse of a mirror stage) in the path towards visio-imaginary-ness. While I can't stand (and don't understand) Lacan, what I like about him is his insistence upon a "borromean knot", or a need for two (incomplete) feedback paths. We can not really cognise ourselves in either plane/world "imaginary" or "symbolic" (=linguistic. Lacan's word 'symbolic' is fraught since that we can imagine can symbolise too as noted above in 2.1), but because we have both incomplete feedback loops we can play a sort of shell game ("which cup is the shell hidden under" game) which convinces us that our favourite feedback loop is complete. I can not say myself, enunciate the enuciated. I can not imagine myself, the imaginer. But with both of these ways of cognising myself I dream that I can do one or the other.

Oh boy....The above all sounds(!) like(?) bullshit. I write when I have something visual to describe, that I have created visually. When I have to talk to the silence, to the super-addressee, to the Other (that I want to dissolve), then it hurts. Hence I write on flickr, describing my photos first. I empathise with ex-philosopher, Mr. A. P. Kerby who became a musician. His music is beyond the logodome.

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