Jul 202007

I happened across this one via History News Network:

C. Douglas Lummis: Ruth Benedict’s Obituary for Japanese Culture

Back in the 80s our liberal Congressman, Howard Wolpe, wrote a column for the local paper in which he told about a visit to Japanese factories, how the Japanese workers would do calisthenics together, and how could we as Americans compete with a culture in which people were like that. I presume the implication was that our industries needed the intervention of the state like in Japan. It was a common topic at the time. I wrote a letter to the editor blasting him for treating the Japanese as mindless automatons. I may have said something about how we shouldn’t stereotype others like that.

I was right, but I really had no idea. My wife and I have recently started enjoying Japanese movies together. Ikuru made quite an impression on both of us and taught us that we have a lot to learn. We don’t know what all we have to learn, but it is fascinating, keeping in mind of course that it’s probably as dangerous to learn about Japan from Japanese movies as it is to learn about the U.S. from American movies. Be that as it may, we are learning about things and people we hadn’t known much about before, and much of what we had known was wrong.

It was somewhat in that spirit that I found this Douglas Lummis article to be fascinating.
Here’s a section I found interesting:

Culture patterns then carry a double meaning. When the culture is dead, its pattern has the same beauty Benedict found in the faces of dead people – the aesthetic closure of something reconciled and finished. But for the living, the patterns are a kind of death-in-life, an oppressive, imprisoning force. If the living do not struggle to liberate themselves from them they will never be fully alive.

I sometimes get to wondering why on my bike rides I’m so fascinated with stopping to take photos of dead trees, rusted out bridges, rotted fenceposts, and abandoned farmsteads. One reason of course is that I like an excuse to take a break. Another is that dead things don’t usually mind being photographed. But do I also share an aesthetic with Benedict? I have no idea, nor am I sure how to think about it or whether it’s even worth thinking about.

It’s an interesting article, just the same.