A comparison of European and Japanese cultures

Bob Dylan's song, "I contain multitudes" begins: "Today and tomorrow, and yesterday too, the flowers are dyin' like all things do...."[1] I compare/contrast this with Murasaki Shikibu's little poem from "The Tale of Genji": "Nothing lasts forever in this world where one season changes into another." (Please, my reader, see my page here: compare/contrast: USA v. Japan.)

Denotatively, very similar thoughts. But I think the Japanese version has a lightness, lucidity.... which contrasts with Dylan's heavier, European/Western (American) words. I cannot imagine The Shining Prince, Hikari Genji, saying Dylan's words to a lady of the Heian court, e.g., his Murasaki (lavender).

Of course, Japanese history also includes very "heavy" stuff, esp. The Rape of Nanjing and Fukushima. And, on this side of the western pond, Mies van der Rohe said God is in the details. Philip Johnson's "Glass house"[2] is not very heavy, either. I easily romanticized Japan for myself before reading about the botched placement of the emergency cooling diesel generators at the Fukushima (F-ck you island?) nuclear power plant. So, back to Genji, at least Edward Seidensticker's translation of it, and my sake cup by Kakumi Seiho, and Soetsu Yanagi's book "The Unknown Craftsman" and his Japan Folk Crafts Museum.... A museum where even the glasses for water to maintain humidity level in the display cases are beautiful handmade objects (which one could buy for about US$2 when I was in Japan and I did buy one and much use it).

These things are "light" whereas things Western seem to me generally more "heavy". The Shugakuin Imperial Villa (please watch the "Video of Facilities" on the home page of that website) -- Shugakuin perhaps could only survive the winter in a place with the gentle climate of Kyoto, and, yet, even where the winters bring deep snow, the traditional Japanese house survives, albeit the inhabitants have difficulty "keeping warm", their way of heating the places often providing more the illusion of heat than BTUs. "My Japan" is an endearing haiku.

But traditional Japanese culture did not independently invent modern or even classical Alexandrian science and technology or elaborate philosophical appropriation of such cultural achievements. I do not think there is any Japanese Edmund Husserl or Thomas Kuhn.[3]

My "net"? I think we, as Husserl's (1935) "good Europeans", need to get on with fulfilling our perhaps only once in the universe or at least on earth (and so very fragile/endangered, even by "our own" politically correct and other neo-barbarian people!) destiny of becoming a culture which transcends all "cultures" and reflectively, and also summa cum connoisseurship and play, [re-]appropriates everything. (Am I "missing" some culture here?) Bob Dylan's "I go right where all things lost are made good again"[4], including, per Roz Chast's famous New Yorker magazine cover depicting all the underground strata beneath New York City's streets -- electric cables and subway tunnels, etc. --, the bedrock level of "lost cat toys".

An antipodal contrast within Western culture: Bidu Sayão and Bob Dylan.

Aside: Christians and jews

In my elementary school class there were Christian boys and there were jewish boys. The Christian boys were for myself epitomized by one named, fittingly: Christian Powell. Xian + Pow! The paradigmatic jewish boy was Richard Starr, who was a star student. Christian boys beat on each other; jewish boys studied. Saul of Tarsus had an epileptic seizure on the Road to Damascus, where, if he walked into town today, Bashar al-Assad or members of his security forces might welcome him.


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  1. A spontaneous thought as I write this: "as all things do" could be substituted by: "And so too are you". "You" === inter aliis, me, BMcC. "Follow me close, I'm going to Daisen-in.... I go right where all folks are made whole again.... I drive a Corolla and I eat cat food.... " Proposal for another song for Bob Dylan to make: "I am Everyman". "I am Everyman. Death visits me. Viruses like pollen [/] fallin' from the trees..."
  2. Another spontaneous thought: Is this building, with its utility cylinder core, a bit like a beached Monitor ironclad? I'll take a Mario Botta house, e.g., House at Riva San Vitale (1971). Long live the memory of Louis I. Kahn!
  3. There is a to-me amazing life-size wood sculpture of a standing monk (ca. 1050CE), in the collection of the Kyoto National Museum. Perhaps it says something about the "cleverness" of monks: This monk's face is slit (or split...) open down the center, from forehead to neck, and the skin pulled aside, revealing a second face underneath the first. --Psychoanalytic false-self / true-self problematic long before psychoanalysis; sociological masking of a person's real intentions.... And this cultural achievement when the Western "world" was, I believe, largely sunk in darkness.
  4. Of course, that is possible only in spirit, not in fact. Sort of like "Next year in Jerusalem!", for us post-Holocaust and post-Hiroshima? And [ref.: Elsa Morante] history still always continues. Je me souviens (I remember).

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2022-05-25 08:23:38