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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.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Communal Fantasy

Communal Fantasy by timtak

Communal Fantasy, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Takaaki Yoshimoto's famous book (pictured above) "Theory of Communal Fantasy" (1969) was very disappointing to me when I picked it up about 20 years ago, because I had not the foggiest what he was on about.

The Wikipedia page on the book claims that it is not only a difficult book but also that it is like a Rorschach inkblot test in that different people read into it different things.

Yesterday I read it again and found it in a way of describing that which replace Oedipal, sexual fantasies in Japan.

In the preface Yoshimoto introduces "communal fantasy" (共同幻想) as fantasies or psychological constructs shared by a society. He later uses the example of mythology. Under this interpretation "communal fantasy" is close to Jungs' collective unconscious and the culture of cultural psychology: "shared understandings."

However in the first chapter "communal fantasy" emerges from a discussion of taboo in Freud, as an alternative class of taboo.

Yoshimoto notes that taboo is associated with ambivalence. Those things that taboo are not only rejected and hated but also loved and wanted at the same time. Then as an alternative to the "pair fantasies" manifest in incest taboos - the fantasy of incestual sex - "Communal fantasies" are introduced to describe initially the ambivalence towards kings and chiefs. (Yoshimoto does not need, or can not, mention the emperor since certainly the emperor of Japan is taboo subject in Japan).

Thus, the word "fantasy" (幻想) is used not only to describe psychological contents but also aspiration: fantasy in the sense of what people fantasise about, what they want, what they desire (even if they hate it as the same time).

Secondly, when he talks of sexual fantasies as "pair fantasies," (対なる幻想) the meaning of "pair" is transformed from a subject to an object or objective. Incestual sexual fantasies as "pair-fantasies" are not, necessarily at least, fantasies held by pairs, but fantasies about pairing. I don't think that Freud argues anywhere that Oedipal fantasies are necessarily, or even often, held equally on the part of mothers and fathers - the fantasies are held largely or exclusively on the part of children. Equally, , as a parallel concept, "communal fantasies" are not simply or even necessarily fantasies held by communities so much as fantasies of communing, of merging, melding, being one. And this fantasy may also be taboo, as there may also be taboos associated with the commity represented in the person of a king, or emperor*, for example.

As previously discussed, bearing in mind the bedroom arrangements in Japanese homes, the way that nakedness, communal bathing, touching and sleeping together are all everyday events that are not the subject of taboo, it seems clear that sexual incest taboos are not a prime mover in Japanese development. Children already get to sleep with their mothers. Their fathers do not step in with their paternal prohibition, but rather on the far side of their children, sandwiching their children closer to their mother. So how could the Japanese bow be tightened? How could, how do the Japanese ever grow up?

Cynics might say that the Japanese do not grow up, but it seems to me, with all the studying and almost religious ascetic practising of sports, and martial arts, that the Japanese child's trajectory into Japanese adulthood is no less motivated, the Japanese bow is no less taught. So, to coin a war poem, what made fatuous Japanese toil to break out of mummies bed at all?

My answer is that rather than incestual "pairing fantasies", the Japanese are propelled into the world by "communal fantasies", they desire communitas, they want to merge (合体), with mother, with father, with the community of parents, progenitors, ancestors and even eventually the gods.

Considerations such as the above may also related to the previously discussed way in which images and mothers in the West, and fathers and symbols in Japan, are to blame for, or catalytic in propelling the infant in a quest for something else something more.

The father in Japan, even as he says, go on sleep next to your mother is living symbolic proof - "father" - that the child is not a parent. A child of my acquaintance fantasised that a sibling was that child's own child. But the presence of the father and mother, the fact that they come as a set, presents a different type of prohibition, a parental prohibition that says to the child "No! You are not one of us. You are not a parent too!" And so all that toil, and study, and waiting and sweating and longing begins.

天皇は、日本國の象徴であり、日本国民の総合の象徴であって、その地位は日本国民の至高の総意に基づく。The emperor is the symbol of Japan and the symbol of the will of the Japanese people, and this status is based in the highest will of the Japanese people.

吉本隆明. (1982). 共同幻想論 (1982年) (改訂新.). 角川書店.

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