Monday, September 30, 2013
The Western and Japanese Self
The Western and Japanese Self, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Westerners think of themselves as a narrative. I think therefore I am. They also think that they are universal, "homonarrans," but they are not.
The Japanese are homo-mirrans, or homo-imaginans.
The really interesting part of this difference is the fact that each culture contains a bit of the other.
The Western narrative loop can not be completed. There is no way that I can speak myself into existence without referring to my visual image. The visual image is a mere image, a covering. It is just a stepping stone that is trodden upon only so very briefly, when I explain that my narrative is not someone else's narrative: my narrative takes place in that, my face.
For example, Dawkins (2006 p361) writes "I see the human effort to understand the universe as a model-building enterprise. Each of us builds, inside our head, a model of the world in which we find ourselves." (my emphasis) This is very true, but "our head" is also part of our model, so how can the model be in part of the model? We can believe in this possibility, that a model can be inside a model, due to a quick flash of visual self imagination.
Westerners that like their face are rather naff and "Narcissistic" - like the hero of the myth, into their image.
Japanese identify with, and are, their own imaginings. But likewise they can not loop the loop. Whose imaginings are these? The required twist in their Möbius strip requires, for a brief step, their name (Pika, Pika-!). Liking ones appearance, staying thin, wearing the right gear, having hair, behaving in the right way, posing the right pose, and looking cute, is however, as important as any American's spiel. But, in Japan, liking ones name, or ones phonemic self-representations, is as naff (or as juvenile) as liking ones visual self representations in the West. Liking ones self narrative, or rather self-spiel is naff in Japan, narcissism-Japan-style.
But both cultures step, and have to step, briefly, into the other domain to maintain the illusion of their ability to self-refer.
Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion. London: Bantam.
Labels: japan, japanese culture, nihonbunka, 日本文化
Ray Honing his Totemism: Pokémon
Ray Honing his Totemism: Pokemon, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
To think, totemists use "bons a penser", Levi-Strauss quipped (Those Frenchies are fond of puns and I am too) meaning "good to think" and "goods (things) to think (with)".
It is still not clear to me whether LS thought that phonemes are not "things" (bons).
His definition of "things" (bons), slips between the fingers of my mind. For the most part, the things that LS said totemist think with are real, as real as things get, such as bulls (or sitting bulls), and ant-eaters, eagles and other animal species. It is particularly animal species that totemists are thought and found to use. But not always. There are examples of peoples using manufactured things (gourds, even modern manufactured water containers). There are also examples (as found in Pokémon) of peoples using mythical/imaginary things such as dragons to denote their names, clans, tribes. And there is geographical totemism, where peoples named themselves using, and felt a familial bond, with features of the landscape. This seems prevalent in Japan, even though few would say, few seem to realise that the Japanese were geographical totemists.
LS's point seems to have been, however much he praises the noble savages, that since they use things, totemists were constrained by the morphology of the things that they were thinking with. A bull can sit. An eagle can be bald. There are various types of ant-eater. So the thinking of totemists is constrained. If a woman wanted to have two husbands, then rather than use the infinitely malleable world of phonetic signs (Polyandry) they would need to find a thing that mirrored the new category that they would, or could not, conceive. Totemists are botchers, hotch-potchers, or "bricoleurs" that use, or attempt to use, the variance in the world to convey, express and think of innovation. Compared to us modern thinkers, they are thus impaired by their inability to use the "arbitrary" - anything goes with anything in any way - sign.
Recent linguists have found that the phoneme is not entirely arbitrary. Phonemes for big things tend to be deeper more wide mouthed than phonemes for small things which are higher pitched and small mouthed. The word for "name" has a fascinating commonality amongst disparate cultures, often beginning with "N" (Even Japanese "na(mae)"). This may originate, it is argued, in some sort of nasal pointing "NNNN" to mean that which is in front of one.
Okay, let's say that the phoneme is pretty arbitrary. But what of the things-for-thinking of totemist?
The big problem for me is that it is clear, and documented in LS's books that mythical entities such as dragons were used as clan representing signs.
And so to Pokémon. I think my children are totemists.
There is a book chapter on the heroes of Japanese children, that are colour coded, generational, multi-classified, and thematic, which suggests a link between Japanese childhood thought and totemism. My son here above is memorising the types, appearance and (yes) phonetic names of Pokémon.
The Pokémon are mythical. They do not exist in the same way that an eagle exists, but they are as real as mythic dragons.
Does he think with them? I can not report and instance where he uses Pokémon monsters to classify his surroundings but he does use the categories of Pokémon to categorize other Pokémon: those that evolve, emerge from eggs, do martial arts, resemble animals. Pokémon are organised, in tribes or clades, and he takes pleasure in remembering them.
They are also highly arbitrary. The possibilities are largely, but not entirely, unrestricted.
What is the difference between organising entities according to phonemes and organising them totemistically, or Pokémon-style?
I get the feeling that there is a ('Nacalian') reversal in the phonetic vs visual domain.
Pokémon in the plural have a plethora of visal aspects, and they also speak, but when speak they generally only speak one word; their name. Their utterance of this their name. They step, 'narcissitically' for a brief instant upon their name, and return to their visual selves. Their name is (like the western visual face) the twist in their mobius strip, that allows them to think that they are looping the visual loop, and like self-views of western faces, it is unitary, and kind of naffly self loving.
I need a knew image to explain further.
Labels: japan, japanese culture, totemism, 日本文化
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Pokémon Demonstrates the Futility
Pokémon Demonstrates the Futility, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
My daughter May is at the age where she has got the language bug and goes around mumbling to herself, in a perpetual monologue, often based on the theme of Pokémon, a cartoon series that she watches with her elder brother.
Pokémon are pocket monsters: little creatures with large superpowers that live in the pockets of their human trainers. The most famous pictured (poorly) above is Pikachu, a cross between a mouse (that say "chu chu" in Japanese) and a lightening flash, "pika", in Japanese onomatopoeia.
The interesting thing about these monsters is that while they speak, the only thing that they say is their name. Pikachu only ever says "Pikachu," or "Pika" for short, in various tones of voice, often by means of self-encouragement or self-comfort. Pokémon are bundles of auto-affective cuteness that use language solely to remind themselves of themselves and how cute they are.
Various theorists have argued that language is useful for communication (Dessailes, 2007), and the most famous that language must be useful for cognition (Chomsky, 2002). But the truth is Pikachu.
The mental mirror that language provides when we use it, the means, is the end. Futility!
Incidentally, the nuclear bombs were called "pika don" (flash boom) by the Japanese children upon whose cities they dropped on. Perhaps even, through Pokémon, they will have peaceful, but mind-blowing retribution. Pika!
I note that Pokémon can even dangerous to Japanese children.
Radford, B., & Bartholomew, R. (2001). Pokémon contagion: photosensitive epilepsy or mass psychogenic illness?. Southern medical journal, 94(2), 197-204.
Labels: japan, japanese culture, Jaques Lacan, Nacalian, 日本文化
This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.