Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Japan and Lacan

This just in from Sally Suzuki:
I thought you might be interested in these two articles on Lacan and Japan:
1. Shingu Kazushige, “Freud, Lacan and Japan” (2005)
2. Ogasawara Shin’ya's rather opaque “The Instance of the Letter in the Japanese Unconscious” (1996, translated from French).
Lacan’s argument, I think, goes like this:
a. Without repression, there is no need for psychoanalysis.
b. The Japanese language, because it is split into two “modes of satisfaction,” ie, onyomi (text) and kunyomi (speech), “frustrates the process of true repression” (Kazushige, 53).
c. The subject is always torn between these “duplicities of register,” ensuring that “whoever speaks Japanese speaks another language [i.e., Chinese] without even knowing it.”
d. Forever poised between these two readings, the Japanese are “the limit of analyzability.”
I’m still not quite sure how he gets from “c” to “d.” Shingu then elaborates on the social dimension of this split in subject:
Divided not only in speech and writing, the Japanese subject is fragmented in the formality system of the Japanese language, in which a variety of modal expressions indicate social situation, and grammar requires different declensions according to these modalities; there are also multiple terms for the first-, second-, and third-person pronouns. Notwithstanding this fragmentation, or more correctly, owing to it, the Japanese subject maintains unity through a principle of constellation: the Japanese see themselves reflected in the social-institutional hierarchy, which they perceive as being as eternal as the celestial bodies. Thus, the Japanese seem to be exempt from the anxiety of aphanisis that arises at certain times in life. For such people, psychoanalysis is neither necessary nor possible (Shingu, 53).
I'm still not very well versed in Lacanian terminology, so let me spend some time with this and get back to you in a few days. In the meantime, you might want to take a look at this.
Sally Suzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Notes on Alastair Bonnett’s 『The Idea of the West: Culture, Politics and History』 (2004) (Part 2)

This just in from Nabil al-Tasnimi:
In the first chapter, “From White to Western: ‘Racial Decline’ and the Rise of the Idea of the West in Britain, 1890-1930,” Bonnett traces the rise of the concept of the West as constructed by Westerners. He sees the idea of the West as arising out the earlier “idea of whiteness,” which had gone into disuse by the 1930s when “white values” were replaced by “Western values."

Whiteness discourse had a rather short history, lasting roughly from 1890-1930. Its severe limitations began to show during what Bonnett calls “the white crisis” period, which saw a proliferation of works celebrating the virtues of whiteness, and warning of the dangers posed to it. The fact that the racially reductive assumptions of the literature (namely, that whites are best) did not line up with the facts (namely, that there are plenty of stupid and inferior whites to be observed in the world) produced a great tension, eventually bringing about the decline of white supremacy discourse. Also, the fact that disparate ethnicities were all lumped together in the “white category” did not help its advocates’ case for “white unity.”

Numerous other inconsistencies helped to rupture the notion of “white unity.” Both the fratricidal First World War and the great class divide exposed whiteness as "an inadequate category of social solidarity" (18). This was the case not only in Europe but in America, too, where whites were realizing that the bond between, say, poor white trash in Alabama and elite neo-aristocratic WASPs from the east coast were more tenuous than once thought. "White identity,” they were to discover, “does not possess a discrete history" (23). The idea of “the West,” by contrast, proved far more applicable, flexible, cosmopolitan, and only subtly ethnocentric.

How did “the West,” then, which was not a common term in Britain before the late 1800s, suddenly become a central unifying idea by the first two decades of the 20th century? The term was first used in its current sense in the late 19th century, and spread in the early 20th century with the help of three competing forces: the rise of America as an imperial power, the Bolshevik revolution, and the rise (and eventual collapse) of the colonial powers of Europe. It was during the unfolding of these three historical shifts that “the West” as a unified subject, perspective, and cultural grouping was invented.

As the terminology moved from whiteness to Western-ness, the notion of race became increasingly irrelevant, or at least sort of. While there emerged a new tendency toward abstraction and universalistic sentiment, the more perceptive critics saw that behind all the lofty rhetoric was still a racial hierarchy that placed the white race on top, and that the alterations in terminology were no more than the proverbial lipstick on the pig, and were motivated by self-serving political convenience.

Nevertheless, a significant change occurred, and Bonnett traces this change from whiteness to Western-ness by examining five key figures from this era in British history whose varying uses of the term “the West” each typified the somewhat competing notions of the day. First was Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937), who served as Labour Party leader, and, later, British Prime Minister. He defined the West in terms of political discourse, using a partially deracialised, sometimes secular, and sometimes Christian terminology that emphasized a) humanitarianism and the alleviating of suffering, and b) the superior nature of the Western legal system and justice.

After MacDonald came Benjamin Kidd (1858-1916), who introduced the notion of "our Western civilization" in 1894. He saw the West "as a form of spirit, or consciousness, that is intellectually far-seeing and militarily enforced" (29). Though his rhetoric was often combative, he presented his ideas in mostly non-racialist terms, and in the guise of a priori truths which he saw only Westerners as capable of comprehending. These truths, he argued, must be mercilessly enforced, and it is therefore necessary to prepare for conflict in the defense of “Western culture.” To Kidd, whiteness was merely a "prosaic fact," while the West was "a higher and more important reality" (30).

Francis Marvin (1863-1943), a follower of Kid, was the chief organizer of the Unity History Schools, which were established to maintain and propagate a coherent idea of the West, which he saw as having been severely splintered during the Great War. Marvin, somewhat oddly, saw Western man as a single racial unit, within which many other races simultaneously existed. But untroubled by such inconsistencies, he insisted that race was not something to be apprehended by the intellect alone, but to be felt by the heart as an emotional truth.

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) too was inspired by the non-rationalist approach of Kidd. Spengler, most famous for his polemic The Decline of the West (1912), "leaves aside evolutionary biology" to argue instead that Western man is superior because he represents a form of Destiny. Race is feeling, not science, he asserts. In his Decline of the West he develops the notion of the life cycles of culture, which begin in growth and end in decay. The West as he saw it was now in its final stages of decay. Spengler also fought to abolish the term “Europe,” which he felt was misleading since it included Russians, who, after all, do not think like other Westerners.

Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) wrote A Study of History, in which he describes the rise and fall of thirty civilizations. Though he little mentions race, much of the focus is on the West. Like Spengler, he too considers the term “Europe” to be a misnomer, “since it appeared to link the West to the separate civilisation of Eastern Orthodoxy" (32). The future envisioned by Toynbee was a sort of utopia that was neither Western nor Eastern. Critics, however, would later claim that what he really describes is a world where the West has in fact eclipsed the globe, or erased itself, as it were, "in the process of its complete victory" (33). Toynbee also makes the important point that the "utility of deracialisation," rather than man’s moral development, is what led to fall of the white supremacy discourse.

Thus, by the 1930s white identity as a public ideal was largely dead, having been replaced by the idea of West-ness. (Notable exceptions of course could be found in Nazi Germany, the speeches of Winston Churchill, pamphlets dispersed at KKK rallies, and Pew Research Center polls.) Bonnett notes, however, that white privilege was no less real after this transformation; only the nature of that privilege had changed. “[White privilege] has become less visible, less acknowledged," and has adapted to global capitalist demands (34). The idea of West, Bonnett concludes, "helped resolve some of the problematic and unsustainable characteristics of white supremacism. Yet it carried its own burden of tensions," since, like whiteness, West-ness too came to be perceived as always in a state of crisis, and always in danger of decay or extinction (36).

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Afternoon of a Faun"

This just in from Mary Klecka:
Your translation of "The Nymphs," in which the narrator likens himself at the end to the nymph-crazed forest god Faun (bokuyōshin), reminded me of Stéphane Mallarmé's poem "L'après-midi d'un faune" (1876), which reminded me of Debussy's eponymous symphonic poem for orchestra, which reminded me of Najinksy's ballet adaptation of the Debussy work that caused a scandal at its Paris premiere in 1912 when Najinsky, playing the part of the Faun, simulated masturbation in the final scene, which reminded me of this lanky homeless guy in Vermont performing what appears to be the part of the Faun in a (rather loose) adaptation of Najinsky's ballet, without the masturbation scene at the end.

Ishikawa Jun's "On The Thought Patterns of the People of Edo"

This just in from Sally Suzuki:
Swarthyface, I have converted your translation of Ishikawa Jun's 1943 essay into a PDF file and uploaded it on Scribn. For your earlier, hyperlinked version, click here. For your brief intro to the essay, click here. For the original Japanese, click here. I hope this pleases you well.
**Removed to prevent plagiarism, Sally Suzuki, 1/25/12

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Zadankai (Roundtable Discussion) Between Ray Asaba and Swarthyface, On Swarthyface's Translation of the First Sentence of Ishikawa Jun's "xxxxx"

Sally Suzuki: Well, gentlemen, Mr. Swarthyface seems pretty confident about his rendering of the first sentence of Ishikawa Jun's "xxxxx." Just last night he was boasting to me: "Ne'er was there a sentence so perfectly translated." Here's the sentence in the original:

①  わたしは……ある老女のことから書きはじめるつもりでゐたのだが、いざとなると老女の姿が前面に浮んで来る代りに、わたしはわたしはと、ペンの尖が堰の口ででもあるかのやうにわたしといふ溜り水が際限もなくあふれ出さうな気がするのは一応わたしが自分のことではちきれさうになつてゐるからだと思はれもするけれど、じつは第一行から意志の押しがきかないほどおよそ意志などのない混乱におちいつてゐる証拠かも知れないし、あるひは単に事物を正確にあらはさうとする努力をよくしえないほど懶惰なのだといふことかも知れない。

And his translation:

②  I . . . I had originally intended to write about a certain old woman yet what comes to me now is not her image but only the stagnant waters of this "I . . . I . . ." that are about to spill endlessly forth as if the tip of this pen were a floodgate, and while this is partly because I am so exceedingly full of myself it also attests both to the mindless and impotent confusion into which I have already in this first sentence sunk and to the sheer languor that keeps me from even attempting to describe the world as it is.

We'll start with you, Ray. How do you think he handled this rather prolix sentence?

Ray: 上手いと思うけど、英語のほうが圧倒的に読みやすい。原文のうだうだしていて何が言いたいのかはっ きりしないままだらだら話を続けていく感じが"while this is partly because..."とかやたら論理的になってる感じがするのですね。けどそれは言語の構造上の問題であってどうしようもないかもね。けど"perfect"であるよりももっと崩した感じのほうが面白いかも。

Swarthyface: ま、そうだね。多少論理的過ぎるかも、僕の英訳では。でもどうやって崩せばいいか分かりません。具体的提案があったら教えてね。こういう文体は昭和10年前後に流行っ ていた「饒舌体」というものでね。太宰治、石川淳、宇野浩二などに多用されていて。それにぴったり合うような英語の調子を見つけるのは本当に大変ですよ。

Ray: 日本語は「...な気がするのは...」、「...けれど...」ていう風にだらだらと文章をつなげていくわけだよね。それによって、この一人称で語って る男は始めから自分の言いたいことがわかってはいないというか、あんま文章構成を考えないでしゃべってるという印象を読者に与えると思う。つまり、「~な 気がする」って言うところまで言って、その時点で「あ、その理由は~かな」みたいに思いついて付け加える。更に「そうは言ってみたけどこういう理由もあるかもとか思ってまた付け加える。文章が切れないでつづいていくからわかりにくいんだと思う。でも、それって日常の会話ではけっこう普通に行われてると いうか、皆そんな考えないでしゃべってるってことはよくあるよね。それがこういう思考がだらだらつづいてくような人の場合こういうふうになるってことなのかなと俺は思います(日常会話だったら「もっとわかりやすくしゃべれよ」とか「おまえ何が言いたいのか全然わかんねえよ」と言われるような)。訳では、"while this is partly because," "it attests both to ... and to ..."ていうのをいれるから、話し手は自分が話す文章の全体の構成が最初から見えてるということになってしまって全然違う効果がうまれると思う。


Swarthyface: いいことをいうね。実は最初は「or」にしたんけど、流れ的にちょっと変だなと思って「and」に変えた。でもやはり「or」の方がいいかもね。



Sally Suzuki: I want to thank both of you for participating in this first ever zadankai hosted by Beholdmyswarthyface. I look forward to more discussions in the future.