Tuesday, March 31, 2015
The Gates of Hell
I wrote recently about the creation myth of Guam. To recap, it goes like this.
Human souls were all slaves in hell but due to a conflagration, one soul managed to escape to Guam where he made a human child out of soften rock and gave it a soul made of the sun. When the king of hell came looking for his lost soul he thought it must be that of the child and tried to bring him back down to hell, but hard as he tried, he could take the child to hell, because its soul was made from the sun.
The creation myth of Guam is almost a paraphrase of that of the Japanese in the Kojiki where it relates that soul of the Japanese is also made from the sun -- the mirror of the sun -- and that the creator of this sun-mirror-soul went to hell - or the underworld - and came back.
Indeed, the deities and heroes of Japanese mythology are always going somewhere rather under-worldly. Susano'o visits the Sun who hides in a cave with hellish consequences. Yamasachi HIko goes down to the kingdom in the sea. But they always manage to come back. And their soul remains, according Heisig's reading of Nishida, visual, self-seeing, in the light, made of the sun. How did the Japanese achieve this?
Consider first the alternative. What is hell or "the underworld." Having at last worked out what Derrida means by "mourning," and what Freud was hinting at by his "acoustic cap," I now realize that hell is that which was nearest and dearest to me, and where in large part I live. Hell is a place where there are dead people. I don't see them, I talk to them. I talk principally to a dead woman, a woman who was never really alive, or even a woman, in my head. This is the essence of the narrative self. Mead calls it a Generalized other, Bakhtin a "super-addressee," Freud the super ego, Lacan (m)other, Adam Smith "the impartial spectator" and I think that the Bible refers to it at first as "Eve." A dead woman to keep you company, for you to get to know, and have relations with. Hell indeed. (There is a Christian solution, that involves replacing the internal interlocutor, with another "of Adam" and, quite understandably, hating on sex.)
So how did the Japanese manage to avoid talking to the dead woman? There are various scenes in the mythology. Izanagi runs throwing down garments which change into food (this chase with dropped objects turning into things that slow down ones attacker is repeated all over the world. I have no idea what it means). And in the next myth cycle, as mentioned recently, the proto-Japanese get the woman to come out of her cave with a sexy dance, a laugh, a mirror and a some zizag pieces of paper to stop her going back in again. In this post I concentrate on the last two, shown in the images above.
The mirror was for her to look at her self. She became convinced it was her self and told the Japanese to worship it as if it was her, which they had done every since, eating her mirror every New Year, until quite recently.
The zigzag pieces of paper have two functions. One in purification rituals where I think they are used to soak up words since the woes of humans are in large part the names given to those woes (e.g. of the proliferation of mental illnesses). As blank pieces of paper are waved over Japanese heads a priest may also chant a prayer about how impurities were written onto little pieces of wood which are used to take all them back to the underworld where they belong.
The other use of zigzag strips is that they can also be used for all the sacred stamped pieces of paper which are used to symbolize identity in Japan, and to encourage the Japanese to realise that words are things in the world - not things that should be in your head. And until recently (Kim, 2002) the Japanese managed to keep the words out of their mirror soul.
But alas it seems to me that the Gates of Hell are opening and the children of the sun are in danger of being sucked back in. How might this be achieved?
The following is the beginning of a recent Japanese journal article (Iwanaga, Kashiwagi, Arayama, Fujioka & Hashimoto, 2013) in my translation (the original is appended below) which, intentionally or not, aims to import Western psychology into Japan.
"As typified by the way in which the phrase "dropouts" (ochikobore) was reported in Japanese newspapers and became a social problem initiated by the report from the national educational research association in 1971, the remaining years of the 1970's saw the symbolic emergence of a variety of educational problems. Thereafter there was an increase in problems such as juvenile delinquency (shounen hikou), school violence (kounaibouryoku), vandalism (kibutsuhason), academic slacking (taigaku), the 1980s saw the arrival of problems such as the increasingly atrocious nature of adolescent crimes including the murder of parents with a metal baseball bat (kinzokubatto ni yoru ryoushin satugaijiken) and the attack and murder of homeless people in Yokohama (furoushashuugekijiken), domestic violence, and bullying, and then in the 1990's the seriousness of educational problems such as the dramatic increase in delinquency (futoukou), dropping out of high school (koukou chuutai), and a series of murders by adolescents steadily increased. "(Iwanaga, Kashiwagi, Arayama, Fujioka & Hashimoto, 2013, p.101)
As you can see the writers are partially aware that all the "problems" that have assailed Japan since the 1970's are in part an "emblematic emergence" or impurities. While some of these problem have worsened in fact, many of them are simply the sort of thing that should be tractable to purification. The Japanese are not for instance assailed by an increase in adolescent crime which as Youro (2003) in his book "the Wall of Foolishness" points out, has decreased and become less violent post war in Japan.
The Japanese are assailed by a variety of emblems - names of problems - which nonetheless cause real suffering.
If it were only this plague of names of social ailments swarming out of hell, then I think that the Japanese would be
fairly safe. The problem is that the above paper, Japanese Education Department, and a great many Japanese clinical psychologists and educators, are offering the Japanese the infernal equivalent of the mirror: self-esteem, a dialogue with the dead woman that allows one to enjoy "mourning," telling oneself for instance, that one is beautiful as one stuffs one's face. The title of the paper (Iwanaga, Kashiwagi, Arayama, Fujioka & Hashimoto, 2013) is "Research on the Determining Factors of the Present State of Childrens' Self-esteem," in which the authors blame the lack of Japanese self-esteem -- the Japanese hardly sext themselves at all-- on the emergence of all the social ailments. What fiendish genius: the cause is being represented as a cure! The Japanese may indeed be dragged back in.
Note Opening paragraph of (Iwanaga, Kashiwagi, Arayama, Fujioka & Hashimoto, 2013) in the original
Iwanaga, S., Kashiwagi, T., Arayama, A., Fujioka Y., & Hashimoto, H. 岩永定, 柏木智子, 芝山明義, 藤岡泰子, & 橋本洋治. (2013). 子どもの自己肯定意識の実態とその規定要因に関する研究. Retrieved from reposit.lib.kumamoto-
Yourou T. 養老孟司. (2003). バカの壁. 新潮社. Retrieved from 188.8.131.52/jsk02/jsk03_toshin_v1.pdf
お祓い串 by Una Pan, on Flickr
This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.