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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.

Friday, June 19, 2015


Horror as the Origin of Self

Horror as the Origin of Self

Lacan argues that the self is an illusion, or (mere) representation, at the intersection between, at first, a reflected image in a mirror, and later, the "I" narrated in language, in either case seen and then later heard and understood from the point of view of a simulated fictive other. I believe that here in Japan the sequence or importance, is reversed, with autoscopy, self-sight rather than self-speech, being the preferred, adult mode of expressing the self.

Numerous psychologists claim that in order to know ones self one needs to see oneself from the perspective of another. We could not evaluate ourselves unless we were to see it from the point of view of another self, or "impartial spectator" (Smith). In order to have a self we need to use language and internalise a generalised other (Mead). Since we are separated from our mothers by our fathers we internalise the lost mother from whose perspective we hear ourselves via an "acoustic cap" (Freud). While we speak about ourselves in rehearsal (Haidt) to imagined others (Bakhtin, Hermans and Kempen) we always have an extra other to whom we address ourselves in addition to these imagined others, a "super addressee" (Bakhtin) though we are rarely fully aware of doing so.

Indeed it seems to me that his selfing that we do could not be done if we were aware of the other in self, so something horrible must be going on. As Satre points out we can, or should, know that any representation is not oneself since it is within consciousness. Self therefore entails a paradox. Freud and Derrida point this out. The awareness of the other, would make it clear that the self is also a representation, an other. For the most part we are blissfully unaware that we are a group, that we are representing ourselves for someone at once so familiar, and yet now so unfamiliar, uncanny, fearful. The other needs to be taboo and horrible since otherwise we would see it. It becomes doubly taboo and horrible because we have also lived a life engaging it, and realize that our being is nothing but this deed. The horror is in sense a the solution to the paradox, a way of scumbling over it, ensuring that we do not see it, so that we can maintain it.

Concretely speaking, Freud and Derrida hint -- they do not bring themselves to say it -- that the horror that keeps us unaware of the way in which we speaking to a simulation based upon our mothers, is that the relationship becomes sexualized. This is I believe the meaning of the myth of the Fall in the bible, and the malfeasance that precedes the death of the Sun Goddess in the Kokiji. Westerners hid the self-desire. Japanese brought it out into the open.

We, westerners, speak to the internal simulated woman, a second mother, as daddy would which means that (at least in the case of males) the relationship they have with our internal other is horrible in most of the ways that we society trains us not to like. It is masturbatory, homosexual, incestuous, and paedophilia, and perhaps murderous since in our imagination we replace our father. We have thus created an identity in a narrative which continues the most disgusting of plots, which at the same time sustains our being. We are up to our necks in it and like Macbeth -- "things bad begun make good themselves by ill" -- and must keep doing it rather than face up to the horror of what we have been doing, kept doing, again and again, all along.

We can try and replace the internal interlocutor with someone very asexual and unselfish so that at least our self-love, which is at the heart of self, becomes less grotesque and self-serving. It is not that we have an imaginary friend but how we have it, how we know it, that makes it horrific.

In Japan however, the other is visual a forgotten terrifying eye or gaze. It is not quite so hideous. It not sexualized. It is out in the open. The structure is only as hideous as a grown adult looking at themselves like they are their own child. It is even portrayed in almost comic ways in for instances the video forKyary Pamyu Pamyu's Pan Pan Pan, as the mother that looks in through the window. However, in the Japanese case also, the structure has the aforementioned Macbethian-force-to-continue, since once a Japanese persons starts off petting their "selves", as image, in this way, then the realisation that they have been doing this is equivalent to the loss of their identity. The image that they thought to be themselves becomes a mere image, and they die.

In these permissive days, after 'the sexual revolution,' it is this second loss and destruction of self, which is the more horrific. The older one becomes the greater the horror of having lived ones life as a pornographic or sickly ingratiating, self-admiring fiction. Oh my god what have I done?

Since speech is required of the Western type of selfing, and the speech that we do to this monster inside us, is a ritual chant of our behaviour carried out by children up to age five (Vigotsky), we gradually become quiet and presume, or claim, ourselves to be speaking to ourselves. We presume that our thoughts are expressing timeless ideas in our minds that accompany words in the presence of the moment (Derrida), when in fact we are rather engaging in a grotesque radio play that will not stop, that never stops. I cannot turn off the radio, but the way that linguistic selfing can be made silent and hidden from others in this way allows us to hide our deed, by claiming that we are only speaking to ourselves. It is for this reason that we claim that we are individualists, that our self-speech is self-consumed, rather than faces up to the horror who we are sharing "a chamber" of our chest with, and what we are doing with "her."

The Japanese eye of the Other is hidden in the world -- in their psyche but necessarily if it is to see their face, outside their head -- and so they like to think that they are merely performing their selves for the eyes of the world (for which there is a word in Japanese: seken no me). Being a groupist, or someone who values harmony is something that the Japanese have traditionally taken pride in. As long as they are only doing things for others they can remain blissfully unaware of the eye before whom they peacock themselves for themselves, almost as grotesquely as Westerners self-enhance in their self speech.

The way in which the other remains hidden in Western culture is reflected in common tropes in horror Japan and the West. There are two prime differences. The first is in the nature of the grotesque self love that we are hiding, the second is the medium from which horror emerges.

Since the self love that we do and yet find so disgusting is sexual in the West, there is always some sexual element to Western horror. The Myth of the Fall relates how we got to "know" Eve and covered our nakedness. Derrida even goes so far as to claim that being ashamed of nakedness is a condition of being a "man" (human), and indeed this has long been a Western presumption. Western horror is almost always sexual. The Western monster is always coming looking for a bride (long list of horror). People who fornicate are slashed to pieces. Murders and violence takes place on wedding nights, in bedrooms, showers and beds. Anyone who gets naked in a Western horror movie will soon die. The monster wants to have sex with his victim since this is what the monster inside us is doing with our "selves."

In Japan there was no shame associated with nakedness. There remains far less. The self-love that the Japanese find so disgusting (which is also included in the Western version, which adds sexuality as another layer) is that between a mother and child, revolving around amae or dependence, so in Japanese horror the monster is a female that turns her victims into children before killing them. Male Japanese victims whimper and die before the female monstrous eye that thinks them cute. Western monsters are thwarted transsexual deviants, Japanese monsters wanted to have children.

The second difference in horror Western and Japanese is in the way in which the monstrous in each culture emerges from one or other media.

Western horror emerges from language and the voice. Voice takes on a life as it has within us and prefigures that death that it has already caused. One of the most vivid expressions of horror emerging out of language is in The Shining where Jacks repetition of "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," prefigures his murderous insanity as does the writing in reverse on the wall by his son, "redrum" (Murder). Writing on the walls, and glass, is a common trope in Western horror. Writing prophesizes the horror, telling us of the death that we are living. There is horrific wall writing on a mirror in What Lies Beneath, Black Swan, and I Know What You Did Last Summer, on walls in Candyman, The Exorcist III, Stigmata, Mother's Day, The Shining (1980), Hide and Seek, The Haunting (1999, 1963), The Lost Boys, The Blair Witch Project (1999, as runes near the climax), and twice in Se7en (1995), on glass in Carrie and twice in The Strangers (2008), on the stomach, written from inside, of the possessed girl in The Exorcist (1973). Most of the images taken from these movies, are from this blog post where a reader quipped, "if you can't read, horror movies will lose you". Derrida attempts the same reveal in his book, The Post Card. Writing is no different from speaking but it is more obviously dead, horrific.

Words can't live of course, so we are in that sense already dead. But if we make our word play self-serving and pornographic enough to be really stimulating, then we can believe in the living word, that the narrative is the centre of gravity of the self (Dennet), and keep the horrible other hidden. Murderers in Western horror also often phone in first. In Halloween (1974), Scream (1996), When a Stranger Calls (1979, 2006) the murderer phones the victims. The horrific denouement occurs when the phone call turns out to come within the same house, or from someone who is watching, because the monstrous speaker and listener are strangers within us, within the home of our heart. Often the horror takes place only, at least at first, in a phone call or audio such as the opening sequence of The Strangers (2008) and climax of The Blair Witch Project (1999). At others times such as in two of the most famous Western horror movies ever made, Psycho (1960) - which represents the Western psyche pretty perfectly and often tops lists of the scariest horror movies - and the Exorcist (1973), the monster is only a voice that inhabits an otherwise innocent protagonist. We might be innocent if we did not have that voice that whispers within us.

Japanese horror on the other hand generally emerges from the image, such as lanterns, scrolls, television sets, mirrors, and photographs immersed in darkroom developer. When Japanese realize that they have been simulating an eye that loves them, they realize that their self is a dead image and die. Japanese monsters thus draw their victims into the images from whence they came. Sadako in the Ringu emerges from a video tape (image repository) of a well (with a reflective surface) from a television screen and turns her victim into a negative. The monster of Juon emerges from a developing photograph and a mirror to drag her victims into them. Ghosts routinely emerge from wall scrolls. Oiwayasan emerges from a lantern after being strapped two-dimensional to a door dropped into a lack to drag her victim into the same lake. The monstrous feminine in Joyuurei emerges from a film and drags her victim away somewhere.

Do Western monsters turn their victims into words or voice? They should. I think that is the significance of the ubiquitous Western horror scream. Men in Japanese horror movies whimper or make no sound as they die. Japanese horror often involves silent death being draw into an image. But the women, especially, who die in Western horror movies often die in and as a scream. Western death is being drawn into the vocal, scream because that is all we ever were. "I am, I exist, whenever it is uttered from me," because I am no more no less than an utterance, voice, scream.

There are other reversals. The Japanese think of themselves as their face or mask (Watsuji, Nishida) - that their own visually regarded aspect is alive, but that their voice is a dead representation. Westerners believe that their self-speech is alive, but their face is dead representation. As each type of horror makes the media that is felt to be alive to be horrific, but at the same time emphasizes the dead nature of the media which believed to be is dead. In Japanese horror, Ema the lord of hell puts hooks through the tongues of the dead, there is a silent telephone call (Ringu), or a telephone call from themselves dying (Chakushinari) that prefigures death. Japanese monsters often have especially dead speech like the sound of a Geiger counter. In Western horror the monster has an especially dead face, is often wearing a mask, as in The Strangers (2008), Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th Part III (1982), Scream (1996), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Saw (2004) sometimes, an emphatically dead mask, such as the face of another person strapped to the monster's head in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and the Jigsaw Tobin Bell face skin mask in the Saw series. A fuller list of horrible masks can be found at TV Tropes and a top ten video here. This is what we Westerners are: a monstrous would-be-living voice, wearing a dead mask.

I think it probable that humans internalize both types of Other and identify with both types of self-representation to greater or lesser degree. The breakdown of either type of self-identification can lead to the breakdown of self.

One thing that more than one religion have in common is the insistence upon human "sin". Even disparate religions such as Christianity and Buddhism maintain that humans have in some way sinned. The assertion that I had sin almost as a result of my birth seemed to me to be an offensive lie designed to cower and control. Later however, it seems to me that on the contrary the big advantage of religion, over science which speaks in less emotive terms, is its stress upon sin and its attempt to provide a cure. The problem with science of the self, as I am attempting here, is that this, what is going on, might become something we accept. That is not my intention. I think that the reality is worse that I can possibly describe and hope that readers approach the issue with "fear and trembling". It is possible that the more I write about this the more I damn myself and others.

Once again, in conclusion, there is no such thing as self except as other. Consciousness is everything, the whole universe including everyone in it, but it contains no self. Self arises from views of others. Thus anyone who has a self is either fully embedded in their groups and identifies solely with how others observe themselves, or they are sinning: cognizing, and enjoying, themselves in the simulated eye or ear of another. For this to take place for an other to be hidden within the psyche something supernatural, horrible or both must be going on, otherwise we would face the other and see it for what it is. At the same time something "pleasant" must be going on for that horror to have been chosen over truth in the first place. The horror is another aspect of the pleasure, or desire, that gives rise to illusion of individuality: which is in fact, a monstrous group called "self".

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