April 25, 2006


"I know only what is enough." This is a phrase I came across in Alex Kerr's Dogs and Demons, a phrase which signifies what Kerr calls the "pure poverty" of Japanese traditions (which are disappearing or already have). So now Japan has a more profane indigence, one of pachinko and not tea ceremony, a sheer lack of common sense instead of the self-less action and intuitive revelations of Zen koans. There is a Zen saying that I read somewhere that reads, " Better to see the face than to hear the name." In modern Japan, certainly the name, the ideal, the thing as it is represented, remade, or just re-named (and what Kerr tragically asserts has relinquished all grasp and importance of the thing itself) takes precedence over something authentic, genuine, a thing, act, or quality which is valuable in itself and not just functional for a technique. I have harped on this theme far too many times in my earlier blogs, but there is always a need for repetition. One clause of Kenneth Burke's definition of man is that he is "estranged from his environment by instruments of his own making." Another is that he is "goaded on by a sense of hierarchy." As I finish this book, finish my term up in Japan, I see where, when, with whom, why, how, and to what degree I have been goaded and estranged; I see that what Kerr talks about in his book as the "demons" of modern Japanese society can easily be transposed onto other nations. He talks about how the Japanese education system, in asserting the solidarity of "us" versus the remaining "them," the hermetically sealed vacuum of uchi(inside) that elicits xenophobia and bullying of every kind, also stifles an "awareness of the brotherhood of mankind." Since we are on this topic, I could relate it to some part of society anywhere I go. In a book about the fundamental and far reaching differences between Native American tribes' world views and that of the various colonial powers who entered America, the author (whose name I forgot, the books is called "The Way of the Human Being") phrased it as an "ontology of fear." We (who am I talking about now?) identify ourselves by what we are afraid of, who or what is above and below us, and what was once originally a plan to keep us safe, bring us happiness and longevity, comes back to unravel our minds and lives in a strange sense of order beyond our disorderly sense of order.

Well, this entry has certainly unravelled. Perhaps, in the midst of an intense intellectual drought and emotional aporia I have come to the realization that I, like most of us these days, don't know enough. Either that, or I am just too late in realizing I have gone too far.


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