Comparing Davidson's Japan to Shohei Imamura’s 1961 film 'Pigs and Battleships'
In the Preface to “36 Views of Mount Fuji” Davidson outlines her overall project, which seems to ruminate on the notion of perspectivism
, and thematically glean from an experiential philosophy, a multiplicity of views from her travels. Consider, “My version of 36 Views of Mt. Fuji focuses on individual encounters, intimate moments, and small revelations which helped me make sense of Japan. If a theme underlies the memories of this book, it is what I learned from the rituals, celebrations, customs, and traditions through which the Japanese cope with life— both its joys and pains” (3). Davidson continues, commenting on the effect to which her “Japanese experiences” mediated the painful happenings, which she carried with her during her travels. This seemed to me to be a personalized, or lyric conception of a ‘pilgrim’s progress’ wherein the travel has an allegorical sensibility for the one who claims the travel. The pilgrim’s burden, in this case, Davidson’s, is negated as consequence of what is learned throughout the travel. In this sense, Davidson’s account takes on a visual morphology of a Gestalt image. As Lacan evokes the transformation in a subject, one that assumes an image (in Davidson’s case, the image of herself in Japan) in his theory of the Mirror Stage
What I found of interest was the notion of a blindness that Davidson elucidates. The closing statements of the introduction begged a phenomenology of visual process, which in the philosophical tradition has been brought to light by Merleau-Ponty,
and within contemporary theory has been explicated by Judith Butler- “Theories of Subjection”
. As such, the statements “In some of Hokusai’s woodcuts of Mount Fuji the mountain is seemingly not pictured at all. The events in these pictures take place on the mountain itself, reinforcing the basic Buddhist and quintessentially Japanese) idea that the person closest to the subject or event can never really see it. Sometimes it is the person passing through and at remove who has the clearest view. As an American writing about Japan, I’m hoping Hokusai is right” (4). This remove, or space from the self-reflexive subject does indeed relate to the notion of a blind spot. In Merleau-Ponty’s 1964 seminal work, Eye and Mind
, he explicates the notion of ‘seeing and being seen’ that colors the Davidson’s work. Commenting,“The enigma derives from the fact that my body simultaneously sees and is seen. That which looks at all things can also look at itself and recognize, in what it sees, the "other side" of its power of looking. It sees itself seeing; it touches itself touching; it is visible and sensitive for itself. It is a self, not by transparency, like thought, which never thinks anything except by assimilating it, constituting it, transforming it into thought—but a self by confusion, narcissism, inherence of the see-er in the seen, the toucher in the touched, the feeler in the felt—a self, then, that is caught up in things, having a front and a back, a past and a future….” (3). He also further elucidates the ‘remove’ of the see-er, the painter as Davidson relates to the status of the travel writer, “What we have just said amounts to a truism. The painter's world is a visible world, nothing but visible: a world almost mad, because it is complete though only partial. Painting awakens and carries to its highest pitch a delirium which is vision itself, for to see is to have at a distance; painting extends this strange possession to all aspects of Being, which must somehow become visible in order to enter into the work of art (5).
However, I am not sure that the ‘remove’ that Davidson connects to her status as a Westerner in the milleau of Japan is exactly analogous with the function of distance that Ponty speaks. The opening observations in chapter, Seeing and Being Seen
brought me to a different comparison, reminding me of a Japanese director, Imamura’s examination of the western presence in Japan, in his film, Pigs and Battleships
. Davidson’s visual rendering, “Neon everywhere, billboards as far as the eye could see, concrete apartment blocks dingy with pollution”- coincide precisely with the opening shots of the film (5). Throughout Shohei Imamura’s
1961 film Pigs and Battleships
i.e. ‘Buta to Gunkan’ the Western notion of ‘bastard’ is tropologically codified within the dialect of the film, insofar as its chief characters’ evident for the viewer through a series of repetitious acts and utterances the symptomatic perpetration of the notion’s etymological dyad,
connoting an affected sociology implicit to the presented hybrid culture. The dissemination of American idioms-- ‘shut up,’ ‘butt out,’ ‘idiot,’ and ‘bastard’, as well as the imagistic ‘welcome’ all punctuate, moreover halt the communication, and subsequent relations between the trying social structures prevalent to the scene. Such structures, align mostly within two sub-categories, one being, the pseudo-familial hierarchical castes, which order the ''yakuza'' gang members on a vertical plane, the other, the classic romantic dichotomization of male/female counterparts, which moves on a horizontal plane in accord to degrees of emotional and literal distance, or proximity between the pair. On the thematic register, of both Pigs and Battleships
and Davidson’s travel piece, acquisitions, whether epistemic or economic, are governed by the displacement and subsequent denigration of American and Japanese ideological fulcrums. Inasmuch as the formalization of hereditary lineage are historically privileged within the latter’s cultural base, and the former appreciates an individual’s opportunistic modus of operand. Thus, ‘bastardization’ of said nationalistic ideals from the verifications of present or historical source [insofar as such ideologies are absent, within the film’s scene, of the personal actualizations to substantiate them within the social schemata] copulate the characters with the egregious outcome of such misplaced ideological pursuits, illuminating instead the ominous reverberation of continued American presence in post-occupied Japan’s port, Yokosuka.
Considering for a moment, the expectation of Japan that is not met, “even the details radiated a sense of urbanization run amok” and Redfoot’s touristic orders- one finds the author within the domain of the second order tourist. Though the bleak image of Japan is contextualized and thereby transfigured, “We Japanese like to say we have a great sense of beauty and no sense of ugliness” (5). The notion is used again but this time applied by the author to her experience, the image of herself, as in Japan, “a nation that could tolerate ugliness without loosing its appreciation for beauty would probably be a pretty forgiving place” (13). I myself wonder if there is a bastardization of Davidson’s pre-Japan self, the person whom brings the classical images and motifs of Japan to the current scene. The author seems to have disassociated from her former being, one ignorant of the experiences of her journey- therein reconstituting the constituent perspectives that make up herself, her gestalt image.
1. Pigs and Battleships
. Dir. Shohei Imamura. Perf. Hiroyuki Nagato, Jitsuko Yoshimura and Masao Mishima. Nikkatsu, 1961. Hulu
. Web. 01 Apr. 2012. <http://http://www.hulu.com/watch/229286/pigs-and-battleships>.
2. “Etymology: < Old French bastard, modern bâtard (= Provençal bastard , Italian bastardo , Spanish bastardo , Portuguese bastardo ) = fils de bast , ‘pack-saddle child,’ < bast (see bastn.2) + the pejorative suffix -ardsuffix” Specifically relevant is the sense derived from the suffix, -ard, with sense of ‘one who does to excess, or who does what is discreditable.’ cf.“bastard, n. and adj.”Second edition, 1989; online version March 2012. <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/16044>; accessed 03 April 2012. Earlier version first published in New English Dictionary, 1885