Friday, April 03, 2015
For the first time, I'd like myself to praise myself: But I can't
The modality of self-ing is the one in which reflexivity, such as self-praise, appears to entail no contradiction or duality.
On that day nearly 20 years ago, Yuko Arimori did not praise herself. Perhaps she was aware she could not. She only expressed the desire to do so.
From a Japanese socio-linguistic point of view (Mori, 1999), to be able to praise herself Ms. Arimori would have needed to have become two people.
This is why she used her, now famous phrase "For the first time, I want myself to praise myself ." Hajimete, jibun de jibun wo hometai to omoimasu. 初めて自分で自分をほめたいと思います
Ms. Arimori writes she borrowed the phrase from the poem of a folk singer and marathon runner as explained here in Japanese but in fact her version retains the duality (myself twice, "jibun de jibun wo"), expressed in the original only by the fact that it is addressed to the song's listener "you."
Arimori could no more praise herself than Westerners can see themselves without the aid of a mirror. A duality is required. The Nacalian transformation of Arimori's statement is Narcissus's gaze but that is not to say that Ms. Arimori is a narcissist - far from it. Both express the impossibility of self reference on ones own. And yet, Westerners praise themselves, and Japanese can see themselves without any apparent contradiction.
Mori, A. 森有正. (1999). 森有正エッセー集成〈5〉. 筑摩書房.
The original version of Ms. Arimori's explanation is here
I first heard those words when I was a high school student. For the three years of my high school I had always been the reserve team member for the prefectural long distance relay (ekiden). The Tomoya Takaishi (folk singer and runner) came to the opening ceremony, and the phrase was in a poem that he read. I was so moved by his words that I burst into tears. Then, when I was in training for the Atlanta Olympics, and became negative, when one of the crew said "If you think you are okay, then that'll do won't it?" I remembered Tomoya Takaishi's words. But then, I thought, "No, not now. It wouldn't fit. If I praised myself now, I'd get weaker. If I am going to praise myself, I'd like to do it after the race."
The song is here.
On the occasion winning of her second Olympic marathon medal, a bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics, Arimori Yuko famously said "I want for the first time to praise myself" before bowing her head in defiance, shame and tears,. Ripples of shock rang out through the Japanese nation.
To a Westerner it is a marvel that this might be the first time she praised herself, and a mystery as to why she might wish to bow, bashfully (?) and cry afterwards. But in Japan the soundbite became famous and even controversial. This is because in Japan it is rare, and not cool to praise oneself. Generally, and in Arimori's case in Barcelona, Japanese sports persons even or especially when they are winners solely praise other people (see the first half of the same video for evidence).
For example the postwar Japanese philosopher, Susumu Iribe (Kobayashi & Irebe, 2004, p42) who believes in linguistic nature of the self and (lacking a linguistic Other) the dependence of the individual upon the socius, criticized Arimori's words as indicating that she was happy just for herself, when he feels that she should have been running for the good of the nation.
In my opinion Japanese sports persons do run for themselves as well as for their nation, but there is something preventing them saying so -- a block to linguistic self-praise. This taboo is parallel, I believe, to the Western rejection of "narcissism" a term which particularly applies to be people who are infatuated with how they look like the hero of the eponymous myth. In either case the resistance to self praise or love in each media is because that media is not perceived to be self, and as such, it involves a duality.
This distinction between enjoying how you look and self-praise may explain the gap between boasting and flattery in Japan. The Japanese are big on flattery, use it liberally and seem even to enjoy it a little. From a Western point of view, anyone vain enough to enjoy flattery would also be likely to indulge in self-praise. But this is not the case. Japanese, like Arimori praise (and perhaps flatter) others liberally, but praise themselves only once in a lifetime. How can this be explained?
If how one looks matters then flattery praises that visual aspect of the self. Self praise on the other hand, praises the narrative subject .
Why can't Japanese linguistically praise their own self-image? I think that to do so would be to introduce a gap between themselves as acting, praising subject, and their self-image, which they generally regard as themselves, except in exceptional circumstances.
This event was one such circumstance. In both occasions when Arimori praises herself there is a duality, a self-to-self gap. In the second more famous instance she does not simply praise herself, as a Western sportsperson might, but used the now famous "For the first time, I want myself to praise myself ." Hajimete, jibun de jibun wo hometai to omoimasu. 初めて自分で自分をほめたいと思います。
In the same interview, three minutes earlier however, the interviewer had suggested it must have been tough running after on her heel, after her recent heel operation. Fending off the interviewer's attempt at flattery, Arimori responded (in what was in fact, her first self/heel praise) "Rather than think about the operation and all that, I was really pleased and grateful to [my heel which] had carried me all this way, and to the start line at the Olympics." Arimori's first self praise (of her heel) in the original was
Kakato no shujutsu no koto yori, koko made sasaete moraeta koto ga sugoto ureshikatta"踵の手術のことより、ここまでささえもらえたことがすごくうれしかった。
Whether Arimori's disembodied state of mind was encouraged simply by the interviewers question, or not I do not know, but I think that at the end of a long hard race, while being videoed on national television, Ms. Arimori was in an unusually disembodied state of mind, which enabled her to praise first her heel, and then a little later herself, "for the first time".
Conversely perhaps, Westerners are in a chronically disembodied state of mind which makes it easier for them to praise themselves.
Image of Yuuko Arimori from 9:03 in this video used without permission.
小林よしのり、西部邁. (2004). 本日の雑談, Volume 4. 飛鳥新社
Labels: autoscopy, collectivism, culture, image, individualism, japanese culture, nihonbunka, 日本文化
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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.