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The Japanese Way of Silence and Seclusion by Elisheva A. Perelman

In Asia, mythology, society on January 11, 2015 at 06:00

From: The Japanese Way of Silence and Seclusion: Memes of Imperial Women by Elisheva A. Perelman, Japan Focus, http://www.japanfocus.org

With the sun metaphor, though she herself would disavow it, Hiratsuka recalled the origination myths of Japan, and the birth of the sun goddess Amaterasu, from whom Japan’s imperial household was purported to be descended. In Amaterasu’s origin, the relationship of men with women—both in the physical and spiritual sense—was shaped. The story of Amaterasu and her progenitors, Izanagi and Izanami, as an origin myth and a heuristic device, is far more complex than an obvious feminist manifesto. The tale of Amaterasu and Izanami, her “mother”, as conveyed by the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest extant chronicle, presents a legitimising meme of the subjugation of women, and of women’s attempts to circumvent subjugation; and this meme occurs not only within Japan’s origination myths, but also in far more modern iterations among Amaterasu’s current putative descendants.

Neither Amaterasu nor Izanami emerge from their stories unscathed. At the beginning of the Kojiki, following a commentary by the compiler, we are confronted by the primal void, which appears in so many origin myths, and from that void emerge Japan’s progenitrix deities, Izanagi and Izanami, male and female, respectively. The pair is tasked with creation, which is first undertaken through a rather pragmatic and perfunctory attempt at intercourse. While the actual, physical coupling seems to be fairly by the book, the postcoital utterance by Izanami ruins the encounter, forcing a miscarriage of form. It is Izanagi’s privilege to speak first, but Izanami, whether out of ignorance or excitement, blurts out her satisfaction with the partnering. Women are often charged with ruining aspects of origination myths—Eve and the apple, Pandora and the box—and Izanami falls into this trap. Her brother-spouse orders her silence after their next attempt, allowing him the first words following their union, and she complies with his command. It is his right to pronounce the union satisfactory first, whereupon Izanami is allowed to echo his sentiment. After all, when she was the first to speak, the offspring produced are, essentially, aborted, abandoned to the void. Izanami’s initiating speech is a miscarriage, a breakdown; her echo, a success. She complies, and, by choosing to hold her tongue, Izanami has been silenced, both by her partner and, in her acquiescence, by herself.

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Reposted with permission from: Japan Focus

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A Philosophy of Tickling by Aaron Schuster

In art, biology, philosophy, psychology on January 11, 2015 at 05:39

From: A Philosophy of Tickling by Aaron Schuster, CABINET Magazine, http://www.cabinetmagazine.org

… Aristotle famously defined man as the rational animal (zoon echon logon), and as the political animal (zoon politikon). But there are also passages in his work that indicate another less remarked upon, though no less profound, definition. In Parts of Animals, he writes: “When people are tickled, they quickly burst into laughter, and this is because the motion quickly penetrates to this part, and even though it is only gently warmed, still it produces a movement (independently of the will) in the intelligence which is recognizable. The fact that human beings only are susceptible to tickling is due (1) to the fineness of their skin and (2) to their being the only creatures that laugh.”1 Perhaps this notion of the “ticklish animal” was further elaborated in the second book of the Poetics, the lost treatise on comedy; indeed, the relationship between ticklish laughter and comic laughter remains an open question. Should tickling be investigated under the heading of comedy or of touch? Touch, Aristotle argues, is the most primary sense, and human beings are uniquely privileged in possessing the sharpest sense of touch thanks to the delicate nature of their skin. Though other animals have more advanced smell or hearing, “man’s sense of touch … excels that of all other animals in fineness.”2 We might view tickling as a side effect of the hyper-sensitivity of human touch. Our peculiar vulnerability to tickling is the price to be paid for more sophisticated and discriminating access to the world.

Does not tickling violate the basic mechanism of cause and effect, the principle that every action entails an equal and opposite reaction? The tiniest stroking produces a wildly explosive response, while a more vigorous rubbing may hardly elicit any reaction at all. On the most stupid bodily level, there is something miraculous in the activity of tickling that seems to contravene the everyday experience of causality, turning us into spontaneous philosophical skeptics. It is as if the lived body were split into two: a practical body governed by regular principles and interactions, and an oversensitive flesh that, with the slightest tingle, is apt to plunge all coordination and mastery into spasmodic helplessness.

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Reposted with permission from: CABINET Magazine

Hardscrabble: A Different Woody Guthrie by Megan Pugh

In criticism, fiction, history, literature, music, North America on January 11, 2015 at 05:29

From: Hardscrabble: A Different Woody Guthrie by Megan Pugh, Boston Review, http://www.bostonreview.net

According to his biographer Joe Klein, in 1934, at the Pampa, Texas public library, Guthrie read a Department of Agriculture pamphlet on adobe houses. He was captivated by the idea of building one. The rickety wooden buildings dotting the Texas Panhandle didn’t offer much shelter from the increasingly frequent dust storms. Dust would blow into the cracks, cover everything inside, and find its way into ears and mouths and lungs. Adobe seemed like a powerful alternative. It was solid, thick, and built to last. To Guthrie, recently enamored with Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet, there was something mystical about adobe, too. “Man is himself a adobe house,” Guthrie wrote to a friend in 1937, “some sort of a streamlined old temple.” When Guthrie gave a different friend a painting he’d done of adobe buildings in Santa Fe, he scrawled the same comparison on the back.

Adobe had another crucial advantage over wood: it was cheap. If you owned land, you should have been able to saw up bricks of it yourself. Never mind that Guthrie couldn’t quite manage to do that, though he tried, on more than one occasion, to follow the government pamphlet’s instructions. Adobe, Guthrie hoped, would be the solution to rural poverty, a way for people to carve out their own, meaningful existence from the very land on which they lived.

That’s the dream Guthrie gives to his characters in House of Earth. Tike and Ella May Hamlin, tenant farmers in the Texas Panhandle, receive a copy of the same pamphlet that Guthrie had read. They long to tear up their flimsy shack and build an adobe house of their own, but, as renters, they can’t. That’s pretty much the entire plot of the book, if you can even call it a plot. It’s more like one perpetual conflict. The Hamlins’ thoughts on the matter remain unchanged, but they restate them, again and again. They dream of an adobe house while making love, while taking shelter from a dust storm, and while having a child. Toward the end of the book, we learn that Ella May hopes to buy them some property with money she’s secretly saved, but things don’t look too hopeful: their landlord is unwilling to sell her anything of agricultural value.

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Reposted with permission from: Boston Review

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