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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, February 12, 2014


Kata as The Japanese Mirror Stage

Keep Trying Guys by timtak
Keep Trying Guys, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Lacan's theory of "Mirror Stage" is famous despite having been at least partially refuted by at least two experimental psychologists whose papers I have read.

No, infants do not first become aware of themselves via mirrors, their mirror self-awareness is concomitant with their linguistic self awareness. Lacan himself prevaricated and or re(?) described the "stage" as a logical stage, not necessarily prior but necessarily implicated in the formation of a narrative self.

Lacan's theory of the mirror stage is useful at least as a metaphor to explain how the narrative self is also an other.

The majority of Western theories of self, at least those trending currently (Dennet), and probably since Plato, certainly in Mead, and probably in Adam Smith, see the self as a product of self narrative. These same, seemingly down-to earth, non-Lacanian, non-French, almost common sense and widely applied theories introduce otherness, the "impartial spectator" or the "generalised other" and have even the most staid economists and psychologists persuaded that our selves, are like others even to ourselves.

Here, Lacan's theory of "the mirror stage" is useful to explain, at least as a metaphor, how our narrative self is also an other. How could it be that the self is an other? Isn't this a grammatical error, a contradiction? Lacan's theorey provides a metaphorical solution. The self as narrative is routed in the self as mirror image, and as a replacement for the mirror image, a self representation. The self as narrative is a replacement for the self as mirror image, but while replacing the mirror image it remains at a distance, a wordy version of oneself in a mirror.

That said, according to Lacan (and implicitly in Mead and others) the self as narrative is superior to the self as image, in that it can be achieved, held, recognised, without the cooperation of real people or real reflecting surfaces outside oneself.

To use an analogy from chemistry, the "mirror stage", for the Western self, is a sort of catalyst. The need for a catalyst demonstrates a hurdle, a gap, but catalytic action does not occur prior, but concomitantly, it gets the ball rolling, but even as it gets the ball rolling it is accompanied by the reaction that it is there to ignite.

Recent work in neuro psychology (mirror neurons) and the philosophy of self (ego tunnel) has shown however that the common sense assumption that you need a mirror (or other people's faces, a reaction, an audience) to see yourself
is just not true. Humans can see themselves from the point of view of others just as clearly as they can hear themselves from the point of view of others.

As an aside, the surprising lesson from this recent mirror neuron related research for me, is not so much that "Wow, we have found that humans have the ability to see ourselves from the point of view of an other!" but rather, "Oh, come to think of it, hearing ourselves, our self-narration, from the point of view of an other is pretty darn amazing. How did we come to be able to do this?" Lacan's answer "Because, we saw ourselves in mirrors" goes only part of the way towards an answer.

Now to the point of this post which is merely a modification of a previous one using the same image, above, Judith Butler argues in "Bodies that Matter," that iterable (repeatable) movements allow for bodily, self representation. Taken on face value, this seems to imply that the (Japanese, I assert) self is a sort of sign language. I groaned inwardly as I contemplated Butler, and wondered if the Japanese are narrating themselves using bodily movements.

The point of this post is to suggest that no, that Japanese autoscopy, the Japanese imaginary, mirror self is not a self represented by Kata, of symbols that are moved rather than spoken. Rather, the Japanese iterable movements, their Kata, are equivalent to the mirror image, catalyst of the narrative self.

In other words, Kata to the Japanese, and mirror images to the Westerner, are a catalyst that kick-starts a fluid, independent (as it gets), self cognition.

Westerners see the mirror image and learn to narrate it, the Japanese say, or sign, their Kata and learn to see them. Or, rather, the mirror image, self as image, is catalyst for the narrative self, the Kata self as signs, a catalyst for the mirror self.

In Sumo, Judo, Karate, there are names for all the moves. But people who have learnt the kata, and know the moves, go beyond them. The kata are a stepping stone, a stage, a catalyst, like the Lacanian "imago" in the mirror.

I have been doing Karate, badly.

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