the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Japan Quote: Masks do matter

Originally from NeoJapanisme, then from here:

What I see in Japan, and maybe this is my own myth, is that behind all these notions of politeness, snobbism etc. The Japanese are well aware that something which may appear superficial and unnecessary, has a much deeper structural function. A Western approach would be: who needs this? But a totally ridiculous thing at a deeper level might play a stabilizing function we are not aware of. Everybody laughs at the English monarchy, but you'll never know.

There is another notion, that is popular now amongst American sociologist, the civilizations of guilt versus civilizations of shame.

The Jews and their inner guilt and the Greeks with their culture of shame. The usual cliche now is that Japan is the ultimate civilization of shame. What I despise in America is the studio actors logic, as if there is something good in self expression: do not be oppressed, open yourself, even if you shout and kick the others, everything in order to express and liberate yourself. This stupid idea, that behind the mask there is some truth. In Japan, and I hope that this is not only a myth, even if something is merely an appearance, politeness is not simply insincere. There is a difference between saying 'Hello, how are you?' and the New York taxi drivers who swear at you. Surfaces do matter. If you disturb the surfaces you may lose a lot more than you account. You shouldn't play with rituals. Masks are never simply mere masks. Perhaps that's why Brecht became close to Japan. He also liked this notion that there is nothing really liberating in this typical Western gesture of stealing the masks and show the true face. What you discover is something absolutely disgusting. Let's maintain the appearances.

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