Monday, April 20, 2015
Reciprocal Resurrection of Simulacra
This essay explores the intersection between Derrida's Post Card (1987), and Baudrillard's simulacra (1995) in Western and Japanese culture: word/idea pairs and images respectively.
Most Western philosophers are unintentionally obfuscating. They want to tell their readers that it is okay, That the way we understand the world is not a grotesque lie. A few, larger French philosophers such as Baudrillard (1995) and Derrida (1987, 1998, 2011) attempts to pull the lie apart, to expose its untruth. But, because they are polite and the lie ingrained, they is not quite persuasive enough. Obfuscators take the mickey out of their "Parisian logic" (Mulligan, 1991).
In order to see oneself it is self-evident that one has to model the perspective of an other and or mirror. However, when talking about oneself to oneself, this need for another, real or simulated, is not apparent. Many clever people (I am thinking of Steven Heine e.g. in Heine, 2003) claim that face, or image is essentially for others whereas language, (that most social of media!) and our Western narratives selves are for ourselves.
Indeed, most Westerners think, that when they think they are thinking, talking simply to themselves (and not to Mel Gibson's Satan, above right). Seeing oneself requires a spatial distance that makes the alterity of self-observer far more apparent. But speaking, hearing oneself speak, does not seem necessarily to involve anyone else, real or imagined, at all. Derrida rejects this possibility forcefully (Garver, 1973).
The truth in my humble opinion, and experience is, that as Derrida argues, speaking to oneself does require an other, simulated or real. But few people, or atheists at least, seem to realise this. How can I convince folks of the truth, that self-narrative requires an other to be meaningful?
Derrida's gambit is something on the lines of the following.
When I talk about myself I use signs, signs like "Tim" and "I". Each time I say or think a sign I may be slurred or abbreviate but for the phoneme to mean, it needs to be one of a group of other iterations of the same sign. Signs are iterative. I can say Tim TIM Tm, tem, timu, timm, with all sorts of slurings and blurrings but for "tim" to mean me it must be member of the set of signs that are iterable. It must be one of the sayings of "Tim." "Tim" as a sign is a sign by virtue of the fact that it is recognisable and distinguishable from tin (can).
Therefore, Derrida opines, since signs have this property in themselves of being repeatable and recognisable their use implies a distance or disappearance of the subject that uses them. Derrida fundamental insight is I think that this iterability implies speech is no different from writing.
Mulligan (1998) is right to point out that it is going to be difficult to convince anyone that the iterability of signs implies anything threatening about the Western self. Conversely, the fact that signs are iterable (repeatable in time) is a phenomena that obfuscating philosophers have used as evidence for the existence of "presence:" the co-temporal, co-presence of "ideas".
That signs are essentially "iterable" is a proposition that Derrida gets from Husserl who he paraphrases in the following way.
"When in fact I effectively use words, and whether or not I do it for communicative ends (let us consider signs in general, prior to this distinction), I must from the outset operate (within) a structure of repetition.... A sign is never an event, if by event we mean an irreplaceable empirical particular. A sign which would take place but “once” would not be a sign; a purely idiomatic sign would not be a sign. A signifier (in general) must be formally recognizable in spite of, and through, the diversity of empirical characteristics which may modify it. It must remain the same, and be able to be repeated as such, despite and across the deformations which the empirical event necessarily makes it undergo. A phoneme or grapheme is necessarily always to some extent different each time that it is presented in an Operation or perception. But, it can function as a sign, and in general as language only if a formal identity enables it to be issued again and to be recognized. (Derrida, 1967, p55—56; Derrida, 2001, p.42 see Mulligan, 1992, p.5.)
Derrida also states more pithily “a sign which would take place but `once’ would not be a sign”
Hansen (1993) traces this distinction too, between sign tokens or instantiations and signs, and points out Western philosophers since Plato and Aristotle have claimed that (Aristotle writes, see Hansen, 1993) "spoken sounds are symbols of affections in the soul, and written marks symbols of the spoken sounds. And just as written marks are not the same for all men, neither are spoken sounds. But what these are in the first place signs of-affections in the soul-are the same for all; and what these affections are likenesses of - actual things - are also the same."
This is basically the same argument as presented by Husserl about 2000 years earlier. Our feeling of their being identity in difference, of a unity, despite multiple instantiations, demonstrates to us that there must be existences underpinning them. Words are somehow the same every time we use them. This is not true, but we feel it strongly.
I think it is possible to be far more persuasive, and threatening, by taking a detour through Japanese culture. The use of Japanese culture as an analogy is similar to writing a book of self addressed postcards (Derrida, 1987) to illustrate the weirdness of self-addressed speech, except that the Japanese, unlike the postcard writer of Derrida's book (ibid), are not fictional, and I believe they send themselves blank postcards - images without words (Kim, 2002) in the form of selfies, purikura (Toriyama et al., 2014), souvenir photos (kinenshashin: see Davidson, 2006 p36), third person memories (Cohen, Hoshino-Browne, & Leung, 2007), and autoscopic video games (Masuda and Takemoto in preparation).
I argue that whereas Westerners hear a shared, identical unity behind multiple slightly differing sound tokens, Japanese may feel the same way about images. A copy of a shrine, horse, bonsai tree, karate form or a face, though it changes in each instantiation call to the Japanese mind a similar sense of unity as called to the mind of Westerners when they hear words.
Despite, upon consideration there being a plurality of word phenomena, each instantiation is as good as the others. No word is inferior to another, no word is a copy of another word, since they all refer to a (illusionary) underlying unity. All words are authentic because they match up to ghostly metaphysical meanings. Westerners until Dennet (1992) find it difficult to deny the existence of these idealities, because they are one of their number. Our self, existed traditionally as an idea in the mind of God, or according to Dennet, who somehow manages to obfuscate even as he reveals the truth, is an abstraction or fiction.
Similarly Japanese may be able to feel that "foreign villages" (in Japan - gaikokumura 外国村) are as good or the same as villages abroad, or that video tapes of a deceased grandfather require funeral services just as did the body (image) of their grandfather, or that a sculpture or even a picture of a horse (ema 絵馬) is as pleasing to a god as real horse, or that a mask or face can represent the underlying unity of a person (Watsuji, 2011).
Nowhere are simulacra, or authenticopies, more visible than the Japanese religion, Shinto. Shinto shrines, especially that of the sungoddess are rebuilt (senguu 遷宮） made in miniature for household shrine shelves (神棚), and replicated (e.g. the replica of Ise shrine in Yamaguchi city's main shrine) but in all cases thought to be authentic. Japanese deities are infinity divisible (bunrei 分霊) and and transportable (kanjou 勧請) to be enshrined elsewhere (bunsha 分社). Originally this would require the copying of the object felt to contain the spirit/deity (goshintai 御神体）, but more often now simply by stamping the characters on a piece of wood, card or paper to form a sacred token （神符), as in the case of the sacred talisman that serve to transport the deity into household shrines (ofuda お札) and inside protective amulets (omamoriお守り）. Sometimes these sacred stamped tokens (shinpu/ofuda神符/お札) were felt to fall from the sky causing great merriment, singing, dancing and tourism（"("good isn't it?" or "hang loose" ええじゃないか）. Just as the Lords prayer on the lips of one bishop is the same as that on the other so the stamped names of Japanese deities are the same in all their instantiations. Conversely, in Japan words without material representation are felt to be hot air, as the Jesuits lamented being required to bring presents and not express gratitude in words.
It does not matter that faces age, seals smudge, or that there are minor differences between sculpted and real horses, just as it does not matter that I might say my name, or I, with a hoarse voice (To the Japanese the voice is always horse..!). That is not to say that the Japanese are fully identified with their bodies. Traditionally the Japanese were also aware of the field of vision, that which which sees, the mirror as soul. But that space is no different from that which is seen, or rather contains the authenticopies as they are, without their need to be unified and represented by an idea.
Narcissus is a fool for mistaking his reflection for himself but there is identity, Echo, in his voice (Brenkman, 1976). Likewise Susano'o is a fool for repeating his words but there is identity, Amaterasus, in his image. Iterability in time is like copiability in space - there is a ridiculous distance. When Narcissus falls in love with his self reflected in the water we want to shout "but that isn't you!" There is an obvious plurality, a painful not-one-ness. It is as ridiculous to a Japanese person to hear someone speaking to themselves or praising themselves as it is to a Westerner watching Narcissus love his image. in each case evaluating subject can not escape from evaluated object, and the loop is felt incomplete.
These differences in perception depend upon culture not some inherent superiority of one or other media. Writing is no more a record of speech than speech refers to writing.
This is due to the nature of the Other being simulated in the mind. There never was a layer of ideas, or metaphysical realm, just a partner in the heart. Westerners from Plato to Baudrillard (1995) tell us that is God that In the West we feel (and or do not feel) as if a super-addressee is always listening and Japanese feel (and or do not feel) as if someone is always watching.
By "and or do not feel" I mean that the Other is both felt and hidden. That on the one hand I "feel" someone is listening make this preposterous self-speech that I do, even in my head, meaningful, pleasurable but on the other if the door were to open and I were to see what I am speaking to, I would recoil in horror. So in that sense I do not feel the presence of the other. I will come back to this.
I think that the two forms of ridiculous distance should start to erase each other in those that experience them. The way in which Post Cards and images destabilise the structure of the word/idea complex is also discussed by Baudrillard (1995).
Baudrillard writes "[Iconoclasts] predicted this omnipotence of simulacra, the faculty simulacra have of effacing God from the conscience of man, and the destructive, annihilating truth that they allow to appear—that deep down God never existed, that only the simulacrum ever existed, even that God himself was never anything but his own simulacrum—from this came their urge to destroy the images.rage to destroy images." (1995, p4)
Baudrillard's term "simulacra" seems too broad, being used to mean words, images, simulated subject positions and even perhaps the imminent universe. Nevertheless he has a point. It seems to me that the two types of simulacra that I differentiate (Western words, and Japanese images or "authenticopies") should have a tendency to draw attention to the limitations of each, and not so much erase but resurrect (!) or make people aware of God, in one person or another, as intra-psychic other.
By consideration of Edo period artwork and research on Japanese artistic representation (Masuda, Wang, Ito, & Senzaki, 2012) third person memories (Cohen, Hoshino-Browne, & Leung, 2007) the Other of the Japanese is not "in the head" but outside of it, a spatial distance but still in their psyche, that is to say a simulated, undead viewpoint. Japanese ancestors look down and protect. Though simulated, I don't think they could ever be as dead as words and images since it is a simulated subject position, but in the title I am using "simulacra" to be simulated subject positions, a viewer, or hearer. It is really these that have ensured the meaning of Western Words and Japanese images.
Theists experience these subject positions as their Gods: ancestors or Amaterasu, and Jesus. Atheists may experience them as the monsters shown above Sadako of "Ringu", (Nakata, 1998) and Satan of "The Passion of the Christ" (Gibson, 2004).
When Baudrillard further writes "If they [iconoclasts] could have believed that these images only obfuscated or masked the Platonic Idea of God, there would have been no reason to destroy them. One can live with the idea of distorted truth. But their metaphysical despair came from the idea that the image didn't conceal anything at all, and that these images were in essence not images, such as an original model would have made them, but perfect simulacra, forever radiant with their own fascination. Thus this death of the divine referential must be exorcised at all costs." (1995, p4) he is correct to say that images do not require a second term, a "divine referential:" ideas. However, both word/ideas and images do require a third term a simulated hearer/view point. Images exist in the mind of their god unmediated.
Returning to the way in which the Other is and is not here.
Husserl is adamant that no one is listening to thought, and it is precisely this fact, coupled with the fact that he can yet understand himself, that convinces him that something other than what happens when we speak to others must be going on. "He believes that he finds pure expression [of another layer of ideal things] in interior monologue because, in interior monologue, my thoughts seem to be present to me at the very instant that I say them." (VP, p. xxv). This argument convinces cleverer people than me, such as Mulligan.
When a Japanese person is looking at a mirror (which she may not need), or imagining herself, she may feel that that the person in the mirror or the image in her mind is herself. Looking at a Japanese person looking at a mirror I may want to to say "no, that is not you! Look you are on this side of the mirror not that thing over there!" But the Japanese lady is cleverer than me. She "knows", like Husserl "knows", there is no one else in her head, so there is no way someone can watch from the wings to claim "You are not the person reflected in the mirror."
To me sight is always seen by someone (an eye) just as to the Japanese (Mori, 1999) language is always heard by someone (an ear). Language in Japan is always contextual. Sight in the West is always contextual. Conversely, the "third person perspective" (Mori, ibid) exists in language in the West, and in those birds eye views that the Japanese see, feel and represent.
The experience of hearing oneself speak proves to Husserl that speech can be heard and understood without another listener (other than the one speaking) because he feels he is absolutely alone. Specifically Husserl can understand the word "I" to refer to himself.
The experience of seeing oneself imagined proves to Japanese that images can be seen and understood without another viewer (other than the one seen) because she feels she is absolutely alone facing the mirror. Specifically she can understand the image to be herself.
Addressing Husserl, Derrida says that consciousness is temporised, and that the other needed and simulated to understand the interior I is deferred in time. "You don't realise that you are writing letters to yourself in the future/ reading letters from yourself in the past." You are not alone at the level of simulacra.
Addressing the Japanese person I want to say that consciousness is spatialised, and that the other needed and simulated to understand the interior self image is distanced. "You don't realise that you are signing to yourself at a distance/ seeing yourself from a distance." You are not alone at the level of simulacra.
It is so obvious to me, a Westerner, that one can see imagine oneself from the outside. That is obvious to the Japanese too. But if the Japanese have an extra viewpoint that is horrifying, then erasing that viewpoint, and yet at the same time viewing themselves from it, they can misunderstand themselves as that which is seen, forgetting that they are not turning to meet the gaze of a monster, distanced, in the image.
It is obvious to a Japanese person that I can defer understanding, when I practice justifying myself for instance (Haidt, 2001). That is obvious to me too. But I if I have an extra ear-point, a super-addressee that is horrifying, then erasing that ear-point, and at the same time hearing myself from it, I can misunderstand myself as that I am that which is said, forgetting that all I am doing is deferring speaking to a monster deferred. Who am I going to meet?
All is needed for self is an other in mind which is too horrible to be fully aware of. That one is aware of but can not admit of, nor gaze at. Someone you know is there behind a door. Someone that will open a door one day, when Japanese people go somewhere.
That there are two ways of doing this auto-affection (which are interlinked) may at the boundary between the two make obfuscation apparent.
Am I oversimplifying? Regarding Derrida, his translator writes "In other words, if we think of interior monologue, we see that difference between hearing and speaking is necessary, we see that dialogue comes first. But through dialogue (the iteration or the back and forth) of the same, a self is produced. And yet, the process of dialogue, differentiation-repetition, never completes itself in identity; the movement continues to go beyond to infinity; the movement continues to go beyond to infinity so that identity is always deferred. always a step beyond." That sounds very complicated.
But if self-speech is just practice speech (Haidt, 2001) that we do all the time before meeting people to whom we explain ourselves to, then self speech is surprisingly mundane. Self speech might be compared to a love-song to a lover that we'll never meet, or a series of amorous post cards to yourself in the future (Derrida, 1987), or those letters that remain unopened in a Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.