Darko Suvin                                                                                                (1990-96, 16,200 words)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

To Jean-Pierre Vernant, and to the póthos of

Ce texte, je ne vais pas l’expliquer. Je vais seulement énoncer
quelques … sorties du texte.
(I am not going to explain this text. I shall only utter some …
departures from the text)
Barthes,”Les Sorties du texte” (untranslatable pun)

sind die sätze, die
vor euch gesagt sind, benutzt, wenigstens widerlegt? ist alles
durch erfahrung? durch welche?
brecht, “der zweifler”
(…Are the sentences,which were
Said before you, used? at least
Refuted? is all provable?
Through experience? what kind of?
Brecht, “The Doubter”)

0. Entry: Barthes and the Tool-kit: Organic Body vs. Organon

0.1. Roland Barthes’s volume of fragments on a supposedly imaginary Japan, The Empire of Signs has, to my biased and largely theatre-oriented eye, at its centre some sections or fragments devoted to the Bunraku puppet-performances (which were, in fact, originally published as one essay called “Les trois écritures” in Tel Quel 1968). These are the sections “Les trois écritures,” “Animé/inanimé,” and “Dedans/dehors,” on pages 63-82 of the French edition (48-62 of the English edition). Japanese classical theatre (not only Bunraku) is my eventual convergence point, but I shall in this occasion undertake a lengthy detour by way of Barthes. I wish to examine how his text may — partly by contraries and partly by indirections, both proceedings which he would, no doubt, appreciate — lead us toward different understandings of individuality consubstantial with a different cultural macro-framework prevailing in Japan, which can be seen in terms of immanentist religion and group orientation. For my present purposes, then, I want to focus not so much on his fascinating and apposite observations about puppet vs. naturalist theatricality (mainly in the first fragment) — though Barthes as a very important, if incidental, theoretician of theatre is quite unduly neglected. I want rather to see what may be extrapolated from his observations on performance to the crucial or root discussion of the whole volume, that of exteriority vs. interiority and of its most important human application, “Western” animation or soul-possession versus its “Japanese” blessed lack. Further: while Barthes is in Japan seeking, and with a sigh of relief finding, the absence of meaning, I believe that Homo sapiens is a meaningful animal. As Barthes himself realized in his frequent Fourierist utopian moments, “l’écrivain est un donateur de sens: sa tâche (ou sa jouissance) est de donner des sens, des noms” (RBRB 81: “the writer is a giver of sense: his task (or his enjoyment) is to give senses, names”), so that I have to ask: What do Barthes’s insights nominate and mean? Reading him against the grain, I have to add: often in spite of his terminology and horizons?

In other words, the fact that I engage with this book means that I allot it not simply a symptomatic but primarily a cognitive value. Yet some of its most important conclusions, and almost all of its horizons, I cannot share: they do not make sense to me. One could try to split Barthes up into Barthes 1 and 2 (for example: the oppressed intellectual versus the Byzantine Parisian), and accept no. 1 while rejecting no. 2. Indeed, one could play 1 off against 2. This, however, is a pastime for more hopeful political and epistemic times, when one can afford rejections. Today, I must be more modest or defensive, mainly proceeding in a subsumptive (culturally accretive) rather than polemic or antagonistic (politically activist) way, and content myself with disentangling what I can use by questioning my author’s semantics (cf. also Suvin, “Utopian”). It is probable that his alloy of insight into phenomena and — literally — nonsensical systematization (visible even in the adopted compromise of fragments) is a disease of language. “Qui lingua^ ferit, lingua^ perit” (“they who offend by language perish by language”) might be my motto for the deconstructionists, whose precursor Barthes began growing into with this book, rightly abandoning the false scientificity of Hjelmslevian semiotics. However, I shall resist the temptation to treat The Empire of Signs as a stage in this author’s or a school’s development. Since I want to use Barthes rather than explain him, or explain him away, I shall further slight here some (by no means all) of his precise terms and many of his networkings in order to construct a reticulation of my own, suggested by and cannibalizing him.
0.2. An initial look at all our tools (including mine) is mandatory here. What do Barthes’s oppositions of East vs. West or Japan vs. Europe imply? Mainly two matters. First, that in spite of his search for a system he is still (and as another foreign visitor half a generation later I can readily sympathize) under the tremendous impact of spatial dislocation: Japan is in terms of bodily impressions — jet lag, unreadability of script and behaviour, different evaluation of gender and age, etc. — indeed halfway to the Moon for a European. It is the nearest approximation to a science-fictional planet we can actually live in, with deeply strange yet tantalizingly permeable relationships forcing us to constant decipherment on pain of anomie. Its signic syntagmatics hint at an elusive Other Paradigm (cf. Angenot), directed at our senses rather than at the Cartesian mind/soul — a good paradigm which may also be a breathtaking absence, the blissful paradigm of a Zero Paradigm. The familiar Morean polysemy and phonetic play (approximating standard Japanese poetic practice) of Greek eutopia (good place) vs. outopia (no place), both pronounced [jutoupija] in English, is at work here. Yet when we impute our utopian horizons to a new locale (say, as the series of hypotheses about the Country of the Eloi by Wells’s Time Traveller), we should at least watch out, and compensate, for our blind spot (Wells’s Morlocks).

This leads into a second set of implications for and in Barthes’s oppositions which is more complex; and at the outset I wish to say, in his defence, that he had real enough reasons for his escape into a signic utopia. One reason I share: it is a pulsional, “visceral” (but of course most rational) disgust at the deadly bourgeois mode of living. In several interviews Barthes was to note that The Empire of Signs constituted a counterproject to the stifling hegemonies around him in Europe, including scientism and pieties across the political spectrum. The passages are very revealing, not the least for the significance in, e.g., his confusion between atheism and polytheism as well as some other semantic glitches:

[Japan] for me expresses the utopia of a world both strictly semantic and strictly atheistic. As many of us do, I profoundly reject our civilization, ad nauseam…. I felt the necessity of entering completely into the signifier, i.e. of disconnecting myself from the ideological instance as signi fied, as the risk of the return of the signified, of theology, of monologism, of law. (G 83-84)2/

The Japan I wrote about was for me a countermythology, a kind of happiness of signs, a country which, as the result of a very fragile and quite unusual historical situation, finds itself plunged into modernity and yet so close to the feudal period that it can maintain a kind of semantic luxury which has not yet been flattened out, tamed by mass civili zation, by the consumer society. (G 158)

…le Japon est [le pays où l’auteur] a rencontré le travail du signe plus proche de ses convictions et de ses fantasmes, ou, si l’on prèfére, le plus éloigné des dégoûts, des irritations et des refus que suscite en lui la sémiocratie occidentale….Le signe japonais est vide: son signifié fuit, point de dieu, de vérité, de morale au fond de ces signifiants qui règnent sans contrepartie. Et surtout,…la grâce érotique dont [ce signe] se dessine [est] apposé partout….
Japan is the country where the author has encountered a sign-work nearest to his convictions and phantasms, or, if you prefer, the most distanced from the disgust, irritation, and refusals that Western semiocracy raises in him….The Japanese sign is empty: its signified flees, no god, no truth, no moral is to be found in the depths of these signifiers that reign with no counterpart. And most of all, the erotic grace by which this sign is drawn is everywhere applied….
(F, Barthes’s inner front cover blurb in the Skira edn.)

And he concluded, with intelligence and wry honesty: “This is our situation, we have to live amid the unlivable. As Brecht used to say…: ‘That’s the way the world goes, and it’s not going well’.” (G 87)

And yet, in my eyes Barthes did not draw the necessary consequences from such possible positions. This can be exemplified in the elegant balancing act attempted in his series of phenomenological sketches or égratignures: that of walking the razor’s edge between Orientalism and Liberalism. It is the razor of finding a true yet understandable Other, a personalized Blochian Novum. Orientalism is constituted upon the recognition of an exotic Other, almost always inferior in some ways (childishly carefree, bloodthirsty, Rousseauist, unserious, etc.) and inevitably tending to a bad “race” — a demonized scapegoat for the broad imperial current leading to Nazism (and “Tennô-Fascism”). Liberalism is constituted upon the metaphysical premise that there is no true Other, a repression: “The Colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady/ Are sisters under the skin” (Kipling on British classes in the Raj’s India — notice that he didn’t say “Neeraj Choudhuri and Judy O’Drury”). Everybody is capable of being remade into “us” (the subject-position definers, i.e. the political and discursive power-wielders — Europeans in the 19th, North Americans in the 20th Century): and everybody therefore ought to be — shall be — remade in our image, into the monotonous likes of us, into brothers despite the skin. Orientalism is the philosophy of the Catholic conqueror from the absolutist State, Liberalism of the Protestant missionary from the market-circulation State (Anglicans were in the middle: democratic Liberals at home, absolutist Orientalists abroad). While each of these positions offers some partial insight to be recuperated (in the first case, that there is a real Other, in the second, that she ought to be understood as having a position equivalent to Ours), both these dangerous horns are, the dilemma as a whole is, to be repudiated. The difficult narrow path to the far-off Other, blazed in Europe by Montaigne’s essay “On the Cannibals,” must be explored and broadened instead. Not primarily for better communication: but for understanding, through the estranging (verfremdend) mirror and dream of strangers, how we must better live.
0.3. Centrally, we live from and in capitalist imperialism; we inherit 400 years of bloody wars and the untold miseries of psychophysical oppression. Art or science cannot clean our hands: “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism” (Benjamin 256). After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

It should, then, be clear, that — for any purposes which take up abode outside of Barthes’s vocabulary of those years — his quite basic, indeed founding dichotomy of Japanese vs. European (or “Western”) is unfortunate and insufficient. True, right at the beginning of his book he cannily affirms he is not writing about Japan but about an imaginary country à la Garabagne: a fictional object formed of verbal and graphic signs and fashioned into a system. He declares, refreshingly, that he is not lovingly gazing at any “oriental essence” but simply lifting from the Orient a stock of traits whose manipulation will allow him to play with “an unheard-of symbolic system, entirely detached from our system” (F 7). But this perhaps well-meant excuse soon wears thin. The warning of the first page is not repeated or incorporated into the book’s deep structure, and so it is forgotten by the fascinated reader, say, ten pages later. And what did it mean in the first place, paradigmatically? The description of any country or locus is always a negotiation between describer and described, and to that extent (we have learned) always imaginary. All countries are imaginary in this sense of partaking more or less of the describer’s imagination, her knowledge and desires, so that my own implied Japan of pre-bourgeois experience, of a sensual or sense-conveyed and sense-conveying aura, is no doubt partly also a wishdream. The saving grace is in the adverb: not all countries are only imaginary. To paraphrase Blair, some countries are more imaginary than others.

Let me take a stringent example: when Swift — surely an expert in imaginary countries — entitles the Third Book of Gulliver’s Travels “A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib, Luggnag, and Japan,” he is bringing about a deliberate confusion between Garabagne-like, newly invented and empirically impossible countries (such as the flying island of Laputa) and the exotic but empirically possible Japan, already identified as existing in travelogues and other entries constituting the English reader’s “encyclopedia” in his time. But he does so for a tongue-in-cheek validation of satirizing England and the European civilization (cf. Suvin, Metamorphoses ch. 5): Swift’s purpose is to elicit from the reader a negation of his hyperbolically negative countries. Barthes’s series of philosophico-semiotic speculations or meditations has a direct (or perhaps only somewhat metaphorically oblique) cognitive goal, his confusing lacks Swift’s double-negation purpose and seems simply disingenuous; seen from the end of the book, his initial excuse looks as a somewhat supercilious, privatized gesture equivalent to “don’t bother or confuse me with facts — or with the possible effects of my language.” Even worse, coming from somebody attentive to the body and its pleasures or oppressions, it can be read as an equivalent to “there are no facts (referential anchorings) outside language — and possibly graphical signs.” Finally, even or especially in linguistics, Swift’s procedure of semanticizing the differential traits is central and mandatory: how is it possible to even begin fashioning and understanding an “unheard-of” new semiotics (which Barthes will identify as one without meaning) except as the Other of some very much heard-of semiotics centred on deep meaning — as a “freedom from the tyranny of the centre” (G 86)? Can this tyranny be overthrown by some of us elegantly walking away from it?

Thus, the Hegelian laicization of Biblical teleology moving the Absolute Spirit spirally upward was in Barthes simply inverted: the spirit is meaningless, the next stage is an almost Buddhist escape from it. So far so good. But while Hegel’s orientation may have been repudiated, his Archimedean point in Europe was retained. Barthes’s pseudo-spatial East-West opposition (it would be fascinating to compare his use to a more frequent use in Cold War lingo 1947-89 as applied to NATO vs. Warsaw Pact!) goes back to a Hegelian historiosophic monolinearity only from whose privileged spacetime point of view the East is, e.g., east (from the USA or Canada, Japan is west). This has to be radically rewritten. For, a warning implicit in Barthes’s signic empire is that he who wishes to go off at a tangent from history may be condemned to relive it, and she who evacuates all referentiality is condemned to remain blindly glued to it. Genuine sympathies toward a certain Japan do not save you from falling into an upside-down ahistorical essentialism, not wholly exempt from the pseudo-cultural “continental” racism of “The West” vs. “Japan,” only favouring the latter. Still, if I wanted to interpret rather than use Barthes, I’d claim that at his best, i.e. in his Brechtian parallels and ascendancies, he had to bring in expressly (for example) the “bourgeois” stage contract: and presumably he would not deny that a certain bourgeoisie, petty and large, exists in Japan too — though not, et pour cause, in his wishdream Japan. However, I wish to proceed at my own peril rather than behind Barthes’s authority (though with much gratitude to him).

0.4. Without Barthes’s subterfuges, I shall try out two mutually supplementary proceedings. First, I shall posit that there is a good amount of reason and indeed cognitive constraint in a “weak essentialist” starting from such cultural monads as “Japan” and “Europe” (cf. Suvin “Two Cheers”). There obviously exists a historiosophic difference and yet accessibility between them. The difference as well as the accessibility (e.g. discursive availability) of one to the other could be taken as proven simply by the evidence of history, corporeal and discursive — such as the non-discursive fact of Barthes’s having written and disseminated The Empire of Signs. But if a minimal argument is needed, the similar beginnings in tribal societies and similar endings in capitalist industrializations of these two monads (as of all the others we today know of) might suffice. A somewhat technocratic formulation of this by Adorno runs: “No universal history leads from the savage to humanity, but there is one that leads from the slingshot to the megabomb” (312). This leaves everything else, i.e. the intermediary stage as well as the modalities of arriving from those beginnings to these (provisional) endings, liable to variation — but also to comparison.

But second, I am positing that the “cultural monad” approach is insufficient; if absolutized, as in Barthes, it usually turns positively pernicious. The vertical cut has to be supplemented with horizontal cutting. Given the sufficiently similar point of convergence in capitalist industrialization correlative to some variant of a bourgeoisie, though not necessarily (and in fact not) entailing identical capitalisms or bourgeoisies, I shall begin with a central opposition of “bourgeois” to “pre-bourgeois.” I am banking on the “bourgeois” pole being sufficiently clear to at least delimit and allow us to begin understanding the somewhat vague “non-bourgeois” pole, which is in fact my own (as it was Barthes’s) wished-for focus and goal. I hope that such elective affinities to my object strengthen both our subjectivities at the point of their (mainly implicit) friction. Therefore, I propose to substitute “pre-bourgeois” for Barthes’s “Japanese,” and “bourgeois” for his “European.” Barthes’s occasional invocations of Brecht as analogous to Japan might be a signal (since Brecht is, of course not “pre-” but attempting to both prefigure and be “post-bourgeois”) that the historiosophically proper term for my purposes would probably be “non-bourgeois,” without a time-sequence indication. This would also dovetail with my doubts about the usefulness of (necessarily monotheist) teleology. Nonetheless, history is real, and for the purposes of getting my discussion eventually back to Japan this would unduly complicate matters.
0.5. I proceed then to some isotopies educible from Barthes’s triple “Bunraku chapter” and its notions of the body. True, such binary dichotomization not only shares in but probably exacerbates certain cognitive limitations inherent in Aristotelian two-term logic, and it should be read more as a particular argument (cf. Haraway 12) than as a full account. Still, this fits well with Barthes’s own notion of “sorties du texte” — tangential departures from the pre-text — cited in my epigraph, and it is a useful initial instrument of cognitive orientation:


BOURGEOIS                                                      PRE-BOURGEOIS
“Animated” body                                                Substantive body
Organic unity, simulation of                          Sensuous abstraction/eduction from parts
Physiological essence                                        Plastic functions
Body governs single actor,                               Body is governed by various
the artist serves                                                   sovereign craftsmen
Unity of individuals on the                              Unity of performance in the
stage (character & actor)                                   spectator
Performance media & sign-systems are:
— continuous, fusing                                   — discrete, adding up

While there are many stimulating points here to which I hope eventually to return, at present my main interest is in what I take to be the three furthest generalizations which can be, in Eco’s Peircean terms, abduced (or maybe abducted) from Barthes’s formulations:

Body as fetish                                                             “Lovable” body

Model: truth (= inside the                                  Model: caress (= relationship
individual, in his deep cen-                              between two foci — people
ter = nucleus of indivisible                                or semiotic aspects = bi-
atom)                                                                     polar molecule)3/

Soul                                                                         Sense

I shall devote one section each to Truth and Soul, while the Lovable Body will provide a ground bass for my comments, get qualified by a section on the traps of cross-cultural anthropology and (non-)politics, and eventually issue in a final section on Aesthetic Body, with a codicil on Sense.
1. Body as Ostension of Inner Truth or as One Pole of Caressing: A Noh-Play Scene

From Philip Sidney’s “Look into thy heart and write” (still communicated to him by a public, upper-class Muse of poetry) to the innumerable European repetitions perhaps best epitomized in the (of course, US-American) immortal words of the plebeian Jimmy Durante, “Let it come straight from heart,” we have an embarras du choix as evidence for the “nuclear truth” model. From a presumably equally wide choice evidencing the “bipolar caress” model in Japan (e.g., a goodly part of Japanese poetry could be used — cf. my Essay 2 and Essay 3), I shall use only one example, from the Noh-play Senju:

Geni ya Azuma no hateshi made
Hito no kokoro no oku fukaki
Sono nasake koso miyako nare.

The translation by Shimazaki Chifumi reads: “Indeed, in the remote corner of the East,/ In the heart’s innermost, a deep-lying/ Tenderness belongs to the Capital [i.e. Kyôto, DS]” (83). On the face of it, this would seem to speak against Barthes, and testify that already in this 15th-Century play, attributed to Komparu Zenchiku, there is a well-defined Japanese interiority that vouches for the protagonist’s deepest affection. In this lyrical “Woman Noh,” the shite Senju, a tender-hearted courtesan whose thoughts are spoken here by the Chorus, is trying to comfort a young high-ranking nobleman from Kyôto (a place associated to his days of power and glory), now held prisoner in the eastern city of Kamakura and destined for quick execution. The lines cited come at her first entrance, and allude by metonymy to her sentiments of sympathy and regret for the prisoner from Kyôto. And there is no denying that her sentiments are being hidden from the nobleman both by reason of shyness (referred to in the line immediately preceding: “Hazukashi-nagara mimien — Shyly I approach him”) and because the two of them are probably being spied upon by the shogunal jailers. Thus, there is clearly an opposition here between seen and unseen, manifest surface covering and hidden under-the-surface covered. But first of all, the sentiments are not hidden to the audience: they are fully externalized by the chorus, and in fact the argument could be made that neither the shite-actor nor the Senju-“character” has to or indeed can have any sentiments. The shite speaks and dances, the chorus chants, so that it is a disease of the language of bourgeois sentimentality which leads us to take the inferential walk imputing sentiments to a dance specialist and a non-existent person. True, deep sentiments are present in the Noh performance: they are, however, the audience’s sentiments.

Second, do these lines really entail simply a centred “deep-lying heart’s innermost”? Again, the strong locution “oku fukaki,” which suggests something like “deepest depths,” would seem to speak in favour of that. Yet to begin with, “kokoro” in Japanese does not allude to the physiological organ of heart, it means equally what is in English expressed by heart, mind, feeling, spirit or conception, i.e. something like the aware and feeling essence of personality (to get ahead of myself, where there is no atomic “soul,” awareness is awareness of one’s emotional personality, not split between body and soul, or reason and feelings). “Kokoro,” a person’s disposition, is described positively as “akaki” (bright) or “kiyoki” (clean, pure), negatively as “kuraki” (dark) or “kitanaki” (dirty); manifestly, it is envisaged as intrinsically visible from the outside — though it can be overlaid by layers of the perceiver’s ignorance, the perceived’s dissimulation, and other difficulties of understanding — rather than intrinsically a mystery of the spheric centre. The covered-up or concealed “dirty disposition” is that shameful, axiologically “deep” offense against the community that is sometimes hastily translated into the Western term of “sin” (cf. Sansom, History 80 and Japan 496). Thus, while a strong personality speaks here, connotations of anatomical interiority, which would magically induce “depth” psychology, are weakly and dubiously present.

And further, “oku fukaki” itself is caught in a complex web of homonymy and parallelisms, which make it simultaneously bear the vector of verticality and a vector of horizontality. First of all, both “oku” and “fukaki” (or cognate expressions) were stock adverbs used together with mountains or bamboo groves in the tanka (and later also the haiku) tradition, such as “oku-yama ni” in the Kokinshû (e.g. KKS “Autumn” 4: 215) or the great Saigyô’s dozen or so poems with some variant on the traditional line “fukaki yama ni,” both meaning “in the mountains’ deep.”4/ Second, in syntactic parallelism to “Azuma no hateshi — the Eastland’s farthest ends,” this also means “the farthest Northland” (as is well known to all lovers of haiku from Bashô’s famous haibun volume Oku no hosomichi, usually translated as Narrow Road to the Far North). Now the island of Honshu curves first roughly east and then roughly north, and the Japanese word for “northeast” is “tôhoku,” literally “east-north”: east, the direction of the rising sun, has traditionally dominated Japanese orientation (Palmer 89). To the standard Sinified connotations of the North with the cold and darkness — the opposite of the splendid Capital — this geopolitics adds that it is the frontier against barbarians and even further from the western Kyôto than the eastern Kamakura. The meanings of distance from the nation’s centre are thus accentuated. But that centre is not the centre of a geometric figure but more of an asymmetrical “focus” or “antipode.” It is on a surface vector, not vertically inside (indeed, in value terms the capital was thought of as being high, certainly not deep) but horizontally distant, on a flat expanse which was traversed by the prisoner in battle and captivity and which he yearns to retraverse in freed return. This second meaning interferes with and chips away at the first “oku fukaki” meaning of vertical distance, which could have suggested pointing downward from surface into depths, already disturbed by the qualitative rather than localized connotations of “kokoro.”

This argument would accord well with durable Japanese topologies of shamanic origin, which some theories have as composed of a horizontal (flat) cosmology and a vertical one going straight up or (more rarely) down, into the ground or the sea (see Blacker 28-29 and Grapard 199ff.), and referring to one or more further layers and not to spheric interiority. Barthes was right, there is no organicism in the Japanese (or East Asian) tradition by virtue of which the capital would be something like a heart: even Buddhism, though coming from the cradle of organicistic thought, India, did not manage to make serious inroads into the Chinese and Japanese indifference to the microcosm metaphor. Finally, the last line from the Senju quote could denote a refined emotion for or (among other possibilities) worthy of the Capital.

Thus, one could just as well translate these three Noh lines, with somewhat less Europeanized vocabulary, eschewing the reification of “the heart’s innermost,” as:

Indeed, even in the furthest East,
Even in the furthest North or deep within our spirit,
A tender sympathy for the Capital lodges (or:
A tender sentiment worthy of the Capital is found).

The coordinate system here is multiplex, not one-directional. Depth does exist, but it is not necessarily individual, nor especially oriented from surface to spheric centre — it can also be from surface to height (as in going up, and then descending from, mountains; more rarely from surface to bottom, as in the sea) or from outlying reaches horizontally to centre (as necessitated by the historical development of the Japanese state expanding from the Inner Sea area east and north, because of which the shogun’s seat too — the site of this play — was pitched in Kamakura, away from the Imperial capital). Both of these common experiences are present in what Eco would call the Japanese “encyclopedia” of the 15th Century, when — it should be remembered — plays were performed equally in the old capital Kyôto and the outlying provinces. In short, while there is vectoral depth, there is no centripetal “nuclear truth” in these lines. On the contrary, though one of the semantic foci or poles in them is triplex (east, north, and deeply within the spirit), they seem to me good enough preliminary evidence of a “bipolar caress” model.

2. Selfhood: The Soulful Individual, God, Teleology, Devil

2.1. However, how could it be said by Barthes that (even his imaginary) Japanese have no soul, while they obviously have strong personalities, strong feelings, etc.? Isn’t “soul” just the theologically founding term for individuality, which everybody possesses? Isn’t Barthes then being involuntarily patronizing, celebrating its absence? The answer, as I suggested at the beginning, lies in unpacking our language, in what one could call — in a paraphrase of Ernst Bloch — “differentiations within the notion of individuality.” I shall proceed here upon the tracks of Jean-Pierre Vernant’s and Paul Ricoeur’s approaches to such differentiation in the Colloque de Royaumont “Sur l’individu” of 1985. To simplify, streamline, and sometimes contaminate them, they distinguish three notions, which can in French be elegantly called “l’individu stricto sensu,” “le sujet,” and “le soi” (or “le moi”). The first is a not further divisible physical token of any logical type, and especially of a biological species in Julian Huxley’s sense of “indivisibility — the quality of being sufficiently heterogeneous in form to be rendered non-functional if cut in half” (cited in Dawkins 250); in that sense, I translate it, with hesitancy, as individual (for that word is often used also in the ideologized bourgeois sense of Self — the third notion here). It designates any Something (this goldfish, bonsai tree or province) by three principal means: definite description, proper name or indicator (pronoun, adverb, etc.). The second is a human (and I would argue even an animal, or at least mammal) “individual” communicating in her own name, expressing himself “in the first person” with traits that differentiate her from others of the same logical type-token and biological species-variety-race (etc.) — most importantly, from an ethnic, class, and gender group. To the individuation above, this adds identification, and I shall call it the Subject. For a Subject, the pronoun “I” is no longer a shifter, an itinerant marker applicable to any speaker, but it is anchored in a fixed stance or bearing; this makes dialogue possible, where — however — the anchoring is reversible, “I” can be understood as “thou” and viceversa (cf. Ricoeur 62). Finally, the Self (ipse, Selbst) is constituted by the practices and stances

which confer upon the subject a dimension of interiority…,which constitute him from within as…a singular individual whose authentic nature resides wholly in the secret of his  inner life, at the heart of an intimacy to which nobody, outside of herself, can accede…” (Vernant, “L’individu” 24)5/

To ground this a bit in terms of literary genres: the biography and the epic would correspond to an individual (usually a Plutarchian, i.e. famous, type — the warrior, the statesman, the Amazon). Here, e.g. in Homer, the “individual” (in the first above sense) body of a hero is permeated by superindividual powers such as desire (eros), domination (kratos), and fear (phobos), which “invest…but also transcend and surpass any single bodily envelope” (Vernant, L’Individu, la mort 21), so that the same body or individual “may also, when the gods lend a hand, rise or fall in the hierarchy of life-values whose reflection and witness it is…” (ibidem 25). The autobiography, the pre-bourgeois lyric or diaries such as the Japanese nikki genre, where the writer as a rule looks at herself in publicly normative stances (cf. Konishi 114-15), correspond to the Subject, which can perhaps be deciphered as a type seen from within (e.g., the poet, the lover, the hermit — cf. Suvin, “Can People”). Often, in the nikki as well as in the monogatari and later tales, the female author is identified as “Daughter of X” or “Mother of Y” (X and Y being males) while male protagonists are identified by rank and not proper name (solely, e.g. Middle Counsellor or Minister of the Left, or predominantly, e.g. using the rank hôgan for the main legendary hero Yoshitsune). Possibly most telling is the case of the greatest prose author of them all, Murasaki Shikibu: “The ‘Murasaki’ is a nickname derived from the heroine of the first two sections [of The Tale of Genji], and the ‘Shikibu’ indicates that a male relative had a post in the Bureau of the Rites” (Miner, Poetics 191). Not too much should perhaps be made of this anonymity: the Japanese medieval noblewomen obviously had quite strong and distinct personalities or Subjects; but semantic repression participates in reality. Obversely, Vernant remarks that in Hellenic lyrics the first-person subject gives his own sensibility the status of “a model, a literary topos … [so that] what is felt individually as interior emotion…acquires a kind of objective reality” (30-31). Only the genres of confession, beginning with Augustine of Hippo, the intimate memoir, and the profoundly changed post-Renaissance lyric and prose epic (i.e. novel) would correspond to the Self. To anticipate, the Self is initially semanticized only in relation to God, as the soul, defined by Plotinus as that which is found when “everything is taken away” (see Vernant, L’Individu, la mort 226); then it is fully developed in the richness of thisworldly relationships as the interiorized character seen simultaneously from inside and outside, as public and private, therefore stereometrically or “in the round.” No doubt, all kinds of grey zones, precursors, and anachronisms must be conceded to this scheme if it is to work. Nonetheless, it seems to be at least getting at a very significant, perhaps central set of distinctions. In this optic all classical Hellenic and Asian literature, from the tragedy to the Tale of Genji, seems to be fully or predominantly of the first two kinds, featuring individuals or Subjects as types rather than a Self as character (cf. Benedict 195-97 and passim; by the way, this is not at all a judgment of quality: The Oresteia is to my mind on the whole more significant than A Doll’s House, and The Story of the Stone [Hung-lou meng] than Madame Bovary).

And so we begin to glimpse a startling correlation: only monotheist cultures seem to have invented the Self and its whole host of attendant ways of understanding and organizing the world. “The notion of person will appear in Christian thought” (Meyerson 476). It is not necessary to enter here into why and how this happened: one can simply remark with Vernant that for the individual “uncoupled from sociality….[t]he search for God and the search for Self are two dimensions of the same solitary ordeal” (“L’individu” 36). The Subject implies other Subjects. The Self implies Another: Platonically — The Other, transcendentally — God. The search may be called theology, or — from Bacon and Descartes on — Science, it is in all cases proceeding upon the One True Way. (Parenthetically: all talk about The Other, including mine, and all talk about ethics which does not enter upon the dialectics of personal and collective, is therefore still essentially individualistic, even if laudably bipolar rather than monolithic.) The consequences, from politics to epistemology, were to be huge.

2.2. What this effects is a diametrical inversion of vectors. Earlier — in narration, say, up to and including Boccaccio and Giotto — the Subject was for others as well as for herself a twodimensional limit-zone where collective bodies or groups (traditionally transcribed as types) meet and interfere: a woman, an adult, an aristocrat, a member of the Ono clan, a beauty, a famous poetess, etc., all of which goes to make Ono no Komachi. The Japanese Subject had been “inscribed” first of all into its clan: if female, possibly into a prominent male kinsman’s (family-head’s) name, if male, possibly into rank; Agamemnon was rather distinct from Menelaus, but both were largely determined by being Atreides — rulers and warriors against Troy. Now, the Subject begins to be seen (first by himself and then by others insofar as they recognize they are Subjects too) as the central point around which the world becomes that point’s environment (cf. Suvin, To Brecht, Part 1, elaborating upon Lukács), a three-dimensional sphere seen from the inside. This evolution may be glimpsed in a number of plays by Shakespeare: Lear is a King, a choleric Old Man (Senex), yet the buyer of love in exchange for property turns into everyman, hovering on the brink of depth psychology. Soon, by morphological analogy and validating necessity (of which more anon), a central point is found inside the Subject itself which relates to the individual body as that body does to the rest of the environment. That central point, the irreducible principle of utter alterity or originality whose loss would be the death of Self, and thus a fate worse than bodily death, is — as I suggested in 2.1 — initially and most clearly identified as soul (though in “humanist” laicizations shamefaced synonyms such as the personality, ego or the individual sensu lato are substituted for soul — cf. Williams, ss. vv. “Individual” and “Personality”). A cosmological and political doctrine according to which the human individual (in this “soulful” sense) is the final building brick of the body politic, just as other individual entities (e.g. the unsplittable atom) are the final building blocks of all other cosmic levels, is then the ideology of individualism.6/ The clairvoyant reactionary Tocqueville first identified individualism in the USA, where its semantics were invading all other collective categories (such as time and space), as “a novel expression, to which a novel idea has given birth” (cf. the discussion of character and individualism in Suvin, “Can People” 686-88). Individualism as ideology “engender[s] the cosmico-political dimension and public space itself starting from the sole ethical selfhood…without the originating social dimension” (Ricoeur 72). In Aristotle’s Politics, we may remember, the only Subjects who could be sundered from the polis, which is superordinated to individuals as the whole is to the part, were gods or beasts (I:2:1253a) — in human terms, divine magi or monsters. Thus, all the descendants of Robinson Crusoe in the narratives of political economy and similar fiction brought about by the bourgeoisie would be monstrous for any non-individualistic (e.g. the Hellenic or East Asian) tradition.
2.3. This most novel idea of Selfhood, which flew in the face of all human (or in the apt theological vocable, all “gentile,” i.e. gens or tribe-derived) experience and notions, needed to be validated by a transcendental grounding (or is it assumption?). No doubt, the idea that Truth was situated in the Center of, say, a mystic geometrical body reared its Pythagorean (etc.) head much earlier. But such a notion is not only not immediately apparent but counter-intuitive: surely the truth of a tetrahedron is that it has so-and-so many sides of such-and-such a kind. While recollocation of so-called immediate sense-data into sense-making but in some way “hidden” categories of the “mind’s eye” seems to be a prerequisite for any and every cognitive endeavour, why should our categories be inward-looking ones? This Hellenic idea lacked a sufficiently powerful myth of origin. Whence did the truth get into the Center? A mouth-stopping, transcendental validation is the best answer: Truth was put there by an omnipotent God, Who is as central to the whole universe as that particular truth to the body it occupies. In the huge social breakdowns of the Roman world empire, whose fears and horrors may be comparable only to our century’s, where polytheism foundered together with the notion of equal political rights of citizens and communities, this validation from the new universal Lord of (Christian) monotheism won out. For every individual this amounts to the incarnation of truth; it is signalized and symbolized by the Son’s incarnation into Jesus, by the breath of the Holy Ghost “in-spiring” such inner truth. In the logocratic tradition of Christianity, mediated by a Holy Scripture and its exclusive interpreters and enforcers, this is the verbum vitae, the Word of Life in direct genealogical relation to the Creator, Truth as the offspring of monotheistic authority. In spite of Bacon’s reply that Truth was the Daughter of Time (i.e. of understanding through experiment), Romantic anthropology held fast to this Central or Nuclear Truth of Man, a supreme value which has to be unveiled as the dazzling Thai”s and Phryné or shelled as peas from the pod. Every individual was a subject of the Lord, but he also had a divine right to be himself because she had a divine spark in herself.

This Promethean spark — the soul — thus persisted after the Catholic Lord had been supplanted by Protestantism and humanism:

In modern Europe the idea of a planned creation of the world order by one single God was secularized, and thus prepared in the interior of people the way to creating a system of formal rights, a rationally organized bureaucracy, and a unified monetary system through the absolute monarch as the free subject of responsibility. The ideational mediation was here exercised by none less than Descartes, who separated spirit from matter and undertook the construction of the world of experience through the cognitive subject (reason [and Self in my sense, DS]) following the principle of the “cogito.” (Maruyama 56)

It was Descartes (or at least the “Descartes” of European intellectual history, cf. Suvin “Polity” passim) who transplanted from theology to lay philosophy the image “of a single inner space in which bodily and perceptual sensations…, mathematical truths, moral rules, the idea of God, moods of depression, and all the rest of what we now call ‘mental’ were objects of quasi-observation” (Rorty 50). Of course, “There was nothing farther from Greek culture [or from other non-individualist cultures, e.g. in East Asia, DS] than the Cartesian cogito, the ‘I think’ set forth as a condition for and foundation of all knowledge of the world, of oneself, and of God” (Vernant, “Introduction” 11). Concomitantly, Descartes’s philosophical soul apprehended metaphysics and cognized through a reason opposed to the fallacious bodily senses. As he wrote, “this ‘me,’ that is to say, the soul by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body.” The locus of individuality and subjectivity shifts to the “Je suis,” the soul as “moi”: “I am a thinking thing,” proclaim the Meditations, whereas “I possess a body with which I am very intimately conjoined” (Works 1: 101 and 190). Two or three centuries later, there remained the lonely Self. Which may be leading us to understand why Barthes so urgently needed to get rid of this Nuclear True Self.

The West Asian notion of a single personalized God (with capitalized inital approximating a proper name), a (male) Creator from the chaos of base (female) matter, a “master-will external to [the] creation” (Mote 8), is significantly absent from East Asia. Such a Yahweh, God the Father or Allah is a transcendental guarantor of sense who cannot be imagined apart from a purpose or ultimate goal for his Creation and its Creatures. While polytheism entails pragmatic phenomenalism, monotheism necessarily entails teleology as its orientation in time and history, to the final triumph or revenge which will make sense (possibly after the death of all of us) of the indignities suffered by the righteous. It is not a very logical construct — in Christianity, Creation is a small temporalized interval within eternity, and it is taken back at the Last Judgment — , but exactly this proton pseudos is the original sin of historiosophy in the Euro-American tradition, most clearly in the Middle Ages and in the Romantics. In Hegel, a perspicacious Japanese critic has observed,

world history is narrated within a fundamental identity, and successive, heterogeneous “worlds” are appropriated into this as “stages.” Exteriority or difference…is sublated within interiority, as contradiction. Hegel’s spirit is in this sense the unification within a centralized, linear perspective of what had been a network of communication with multiple centers and directions. (Karatani, “One” 616).


The central spatial truth about Man’s interiority becomes here the sense-making trajectory of the World in time. But if this is so, what can be the cause of the retardation in righting the suffering? And in a universe of personalized intervention, who is the cause? Enter the Devil, an entity neither Hellenes nor East Asians have especially needed. The Demon (a sorry semantic variation on the original daimon, a polytheist entity not too dissimilar from the Japanese kami) is an agential personification of antagonistic conflict, separating it into neat oppositions so exclusive that they can be personified. The concept of polarized Good and Evil as absolute or elemental duality seems not to be present in the Japanese cultural tradition (cf. Benedict 189-91, Pelzel, Loy passim, e.g. 182ff., 218, 295ff., and the exemplary comparison of St. John’s vs. Nichiren’s apocalypses in Sansom, History 427; I draw some consequences from it in Essay 4). Conversely, in Christian tradition it is not possible to have at the centre of the main mass (though never a circle’s centre!) of the dark, female, cold, etc., force a fragment of the bright, male, hot force — and viceversa — as in the Chinese yin-yang system (though the old legends of Lucifer as archangel hint at it). A universal scapegoating principle has been found as an empty category, into which women or Jews or Blacks or communists or reactionaries may be readily thrust. Every proper Christian individual can also be seen as situated between the dark and bright angel, ferociously and ceaselessly scrutinizing his consciousness of Self for traces of perdition. “A new form of identity,” remarks Vernant about this short circuit between exteriority and its redistribution into all Subject interiors, “is brought about at that point: the human individual is in it defined by his most intimate thoughts, her secret imaginings, his nocturnal dreams, her sinful impulses, the perpetual obsessive presence in his interior of all forms of temptation.” When Augustine speaks of the “abyss of human consciousness,” this marks “the starting point of the modern individuum and personality” (Vernant, “L’individu” 36-37; see also Hadot). It only remains to equate, as of Calvinism, perdition with poverty (which makes some sense at least), and the modern marketable individual will be born out of the spirit of monotheism, moving on the tracks of teleology.

3. Traps and Amiabilities: Bodily Anthropology and Politics

3.0. The foregoing discussion of some main implications of the “Bunraku chapter” validates Karatani’s thesis that “Barthes’s project [in The Empire of Signs] was to reexamine Western thought in terms of an exteriority free of the sovereignty of the thinking subject, which would be called ‘Japan'” (“One” 624-25); in my terms, Barthes’s Japan was a place freed from the domination of Individualism, so that the Subject would need no Self, no interiority with a “soulful” centre, and therefore no God (or Devil) and no teleology. Karatani sees Barthes’s Japan as “a place of absence” of the transcendental meaning (which would be connected with the individual through the privileged conduit of Soul). I have attempted to very roughly sketch this in, and it can also be understood as the opposition of the “corps aimable” (lovable body) to the sexual repression of the body by the Father and his interiorized Word of Life.

But if Soul or Self disappears 7/, the Subject’s body does not. It remains the Subject’s anchorage and validation for saying “here” or “now,” for inscribing the Subject’s time and space into the socially recognized time and space. This holds not only for location and dating but also for the name (cf. Ricoeur 64-65). The Japanese way of prepositioning the clan name (e.g. Ki no Tsurayuki: “of the clan Ki the individual member Tsurayuki”) inscribes the Subject first of all into the superordinated group, and the habit of name-announcing (in the battles, or in the nanori of Noh plays) tells us why: so as to know what relation — of enmity, deference, etc. — the addressee not only could but is constrained to take. This has not disappeared in Japanese capitalism: even today, introductions are often done by prepositioning the institutional “umbrella” to the profession, in the form of “This gentleman is from such-and-such a university” or “I am from such-and-such a TV company” rather than “He teaches literature” or “I am a producer” (cf. Maruyama 102). Of course, roles are today much richer in Japan, and not exhausted by one’s official position, but then they often have to be disambiguated by specifying in which role one is speaking (Maruyama 140).

In sum, the body, phenomenologically pinpointing and validating the “inscription” of its here, now, and name into the central collective categories of space, time, and agency, grows in a devaluation of Self not less but much more important. How does it relate to other bodies, how does it perceive the natural and social universe? We can call the perception question (even etymologically) aesthetics, and expect that Barthes will have illuminating matters to say about it. But first, his understanding of the relation between bodies in “Japan” will be examined.

3.1. Clearly, sexual relations belong here, but — though they subtend and suffuse much of The Empire of Signs (see RBRB 159) — the intensely private Barthes did not choose to textualize them. His definition of the “Japanese” body could be, in fact, taken for his own ideal: “Over there the body exists, acts, unfolds itself, shows itself, gives itself, without hysteria, without narcissism, but according to a pure — though subtly discreet — erotic project” (F 18). The sexed body is one “text” which Barthes here refused to translate and articulate in natural language (he would later devote much of his writing to attempts at distinguishing the “erotic body” from the philologically discussable “pheno-text” body). It is a wise instinct: for the attempt would have exploded the whole project for colonization of semiotics by linguistics on which Barthes’s imperialist use of terms like “language” and “text” here still relies. The body’s erotics remain either fugitive general statements, as the one just cited, or presuppositions, traces, and hints, e.g. about the semiotic of arranging trysts and the accompanying delicious body language (cited in 4.1 below; and see the three handwritten notes on F 23, 27, 33; anecdotal lore about Barthes’s stay I have heard in Japan is much richer). On the other hand, however, collective bodies and their shaping of individual bodies (cf. Suvin, “Polity” and “Subject”) are scarcely acknowledged in the book. This is its central blind spot. And yet even in Europe such collectivities stood in a most intimate relation to Barthes’s subjectivity (e.g. the Tel Quel circle, the homosexual scene and its shifting position in French law and practice, the various bureaucratic educational apparati in which he participated).True, in Europe this relation is severely repressed by the unceasing barrages of individualist ideology: but the author of Mythologies was capable of looking beyond them. And in Japan, the welter of collective bodies would seem to have been quite evident. It was a series of collective bodies that paid and hosted Barthes’s stay in Japan: he was sponsored by the French government representatives, lectured at universities, was interviewed in newspapers…8/ This is seen from maps and photographs in the book, but never articulated. It is almost as if, enclosed between the Gaullists and the Stalinists, politics (for there is no other word that will do for this interplay of collective and singular bodies) had become a taboo discourse and domain for Roland Barthes. It seems totally evacuated from The Empire of Signs. Barthes’s variant of an “empty centre” sign-system knows only individuals and million-bodied crowds divisible into anthropological and esthetic body “classes,” distributively (but not collectively) accessible and beautiful in the “great syntagm of bodies” (“Des millions de corps,” F 127-33). Aisthesis (sexuality and aesthetics) yes, politics no (the lucid Barthes was later to acknowledge this quandary in an imaginary conversation with Brecht, see RBRB 57, also 172). It was a basic and weighty choice.

This is, I think, why Karatani can go on (not unjustly) to reproach Barthes that his critique of the despotic European 19th Century — in my terms the reign of the triumphant bourgeoisie — forgets that the “Japan” discovered by him is not transhistorical or eternal but also a 19th-Century creation, in its way equally despotic (“One” 625). Karatani’s objection, if sustained, would largely nullify any liberating power of Barthes’s book. I shall attempt to examine in my final section, on the evidence of the body in Japanese theatre (even that drawn from the proto-merchant-class oriented Bunraku — the evidence would be much stronger in the case of the undoubtedly pre- and non-bourgeois Noh, and I shall approach this discussion in Essays 4 and 5), how far may Barthes be rescued from it. My hypothesis is that Karatani’s critique (incidental to some weightier considerations in his essay) is partly but not fully applicable; that the Japan seen by Barthes is not only a Meiji-period creation. There is, of course, no absence of meaning but probably a surfeit of multiple meanings in Japan; only a gaijin (foreigner) protected from them through his ignorance and the privileges of his affluence, the deference and real helpfulness (one could also say amiability) shown by most Japanese to a distinguished and elderly visitor, and most of all kept outside the circuit of meanings by his lack of practical ties and commitments to any Japanese group (even to an ad hoc collective body), could have ever thought otherwise. In that sense, Barthes behaved as a photographic negative of the typical European ethnologist or utopographer: where the latter was an “objective” observer getting at the frame of meanings through particulars, he got at the subjective particulars refusing the possibility of any frame except a zero-frame (which the author of Writing Degree Zero, confusingly, at times equated with no frame, as if white or bleached were not a colour — cf. Jameson 68-69). Yet my hypothesis that Homo sapiens is a sense-making animal (shared by Barthes in some other books, cf. the quote in 0.1) requires that such a frame for sense be supplied.

Why is, to take up and possibly refunction Karatani’s terms, 19th-Century Japan in some ways radically different from 19th-Century France? A very short answer summing up a long (and disputed) argument would be: because the Meiji “restoration” was not the French Revolution but (something not foreseen in Marxist theory though not at all incompatible with it) a change of social formation initiated by a fraction of the ruling class of the ancien régime for historically explicable reasons. Diachronically, this latched on to the peculiar, very long duration, ruling-class continuity (no abrupt social revolution seems to have taken place in the Japanese islands for at least one thousand years). This has resulted in accretive layering in many domains. Tsurumi Kazuko posits even that “in the highly modernized society which Japan is today, there exist the primitive, archaic, medieval, modern, and supermodern patterns of feeling, thinking, making things, and human relationships,…piled on top of each other as geological layers” (5). This is a tad systematic for my taste, but the layering from medieval times on (with significant tribal remnants, which I suppose is what Tsurumi means by her “primitive” and “archaic”) is well-known in theatre or poetry. As she too sugests, however, much more fundamental and significant is the layering in behavioral patterns in relationships among people: for — just as the Noh, the tanka or the haiku touched upon in my following essays — they may well have preserved (and I think did preserve) structures of feeling that have vanished in practically all other urbanized and more or less affluent societies; and (paradoxically) these structures are still able to show themselves rather clearly in certain aspects and situations. For example, the claim that “to this day Japanese aesthetic perceptions and Japanese views on such matters as the true nature of love derive essentially from the court traditions of a thousand years ago” (Miner, Introduction 4) may be somewhat hyperbolic, but what matters is that it can still be seriously made. Indeed, if it were not so, I fail to understand how could there still be literally millions of faithful and enthralled audiences for and part-time participants in Noh and Kabuki performing (there is an estimate of two million students for various components of Noh in 1971 [Harris 73], and today there are probably more) or haiku and tanka writing. It is these structures of feeling that Barthes’s sensitive antennae caught.

3.2. Why did Barthes find a “lovable body” in Japanese theatre — and culture — as opposed to the fetishized body in bourgeois culture? This could be glossed as meaning that the fetishized body is either demonized as impure, or — in the Fascist populism of projected identification — reified into the stars of spectacle: theatre, mass media, spectator sports, and politics. I would like to concentrate here on the first alternative, and look at it from the well-known anthropological observation that East Asian societies have, parallel to an absence of monotheist teleology and God-Devil dualism, never invented sin — or its internalized Protestant and lay equivalent, guilt (cf. Delumeau). In the Chinese case, as Needham formulated this, the world was seen as “an ordered harmony of will without an ordainer” (cited from his Science and Civilization in China [1956], 2:287, in Mote 8). In Japan the multiplicity of kami-ordainers and their only intermittent presence, may, I would speculate, be functionally equivalent to the lack of an ordainer as a denial of transcendentalism and affirmation of immanentism or phenomenalism. At any rate, a number of writers, notably Benedict (222-25), have identified Japan too as a society where order or norms are kept through shame rather than guilt (Barthes was one of them, see G 123). In a “shame and honour culture, as opposed to guilt and duty cultures…which necessarily refer to the moral personality’s intimate conscience,” the Subject’s value, his “face,” is inscribed onto, or at least strongly dependent on, his or her body. Just as in Hellas, to that body belong “his name, his lineage, his origins, his status within the group along with the honours connected to it, the privileges and respect that he may rightfully expect, as well as his personal excellence, all of his qualities and merits — beauty, strength, courage, nobility of behaviour, self-mastery…, demeanour, bearing…” (Vernant, “Introductin” 18). Shame is an other-directed rather than inner-directed activity; it is directed towards being seen by other members of your social group rather than by God speaking through your conscience. Conflicts in a shame situation are metonymic, as of part to whole, and tend to supersession, rather than antagonistic, as of God to Devil, and tending to victory of one side (I develop this further in Essay 4). The characteristic Euro-American bodily destruction is murder, usually expressing inner impulses, the characteristic Japanese one suicide, proving one’s sincerity (makoto) to others (cf. Pinguet, Wolfe).

Now it is one of the basic commonplaces of Japanology that group-consciousness in Japan — while not at all preventing identification, heroism or great personalities, rather the contrary — nonetheless right up to the present envelops the Subject much more completely than in countries where capitalism was ushered in by a bourgeois revolution, such as western Europe or northern America. Taking some hints from Hellas, we could see personal and bodily experience as differently organized: the Subject is “an open field of multiple forces” (Vernant, “L’individu” 32), which seeks and finds itself in the various collectivities. A Japanese philosophical way of putting it is: “the wave which is produced and disappears…would be the ordinary self of man….[S]uch an ordinary subject revert[s] back from wave to water — i.e., return[s] to its source — and re-emerges as the True-Subject or True-Self…” (Hisamatsu 97). Individualism as an ideology was a “Western” export into all pre-bourgeois societies, and still seems to have a tough time to fully develop in today’s Japan. Sometimes this is ironically called “community at home, the Japanese way of doing things” (Najita 402); in standard works such as Nakamura’s it is called the emphasis on a limited social nexus, which entails that interpersonal relationships — in the family, in other limited, “clannish” groups, and on the scale of the nation as a whole — take precedence over or indeed largely constitute the individual (ch. 35). In theatre (including the Nô world) such a group is the ie, a fusion of kinship lineage, occupational specialization, and hierarchical — patriarchal — monopoly. This often means “a blind subordination to authority” arrogating itself the representation of the whole group, so that, as Hegel observed about Eastern religions, “the single Substance alone is True, and…an individual is only capable of assuming true value by uniting itself with Substance [i.e. with the Universal, DS], when this individual, however, is no longer a ‘Subject’…” (in my terms a Self — Nakamura 12-13). Such a social nexus has two complementary consequences. First, the Self is by no means a clearcut building brick of the universe, so that traditionally the Subject is not even externalized or objectified (and I don’t want to even enter upon frequent similar discussions of the grammatical subject, or of the recomplications in modern Japanese intellectual discourse — cf., e.g., Miyoshi & Harootunian 649 and a detailed discussion in Sakai):

The Japanese people, in general, do not give objective representation to the self as subject of action. In Japanese, “mizukara” (self) is not a noun but an adverb, that is, it is not perceived as an abstract conception. The word “onore” (self) is often used as a noun, but it is rare that it is used as subject. The Japanese have therefore never used words which mean self — for example, “ware,” “onore,” “mizukara” — as philosophical terms…. Thus, the Japanese people have seldom confronted objective reality as sharply distinguished from knowing subjects. This attitude may be called their common way of thinking. (Nakamura 574-75; cf. Suzuki 111ff. and 163ff.)

Obversely, every gaijin is stricken with uncomfortable awe upon seeing just how intimately relations of rank and intimacy have infiltrated the syntax and semantics of Japanese language, in a feedback cycle with people’s consciousness. This density of social networks impedes the Subject’s direct relating to general or impersonal Truths. There are even claims that historically “the Japanese on the whole have not been fully aware of th[e] relation [between the particular and the universal]” (Nakamura 535-36), so that they have deficient logical or abstracting powers. The great Japanese Confucianist Ogyû Sorai remarked: “The great sage rulers of the past taught by means of [particular] ‘things’ and not by means of [universal] ‘principles.’…In ‘things’ all ‘principles’ are brought together, hence all who have long devoted themselves to work come to have a genuine intuitive understanding of them.” (Nakamura 537) The most cherished Western abstract principles, applicable to every individual Self regardless of its personality, are unknown in this way of thinking: “There appears to be no close Chinese or Japanese analogy to [the abstract idea of Justice]” (Sansom, History 81).

All of this can be best seen and documented in Japanese literature. It is difficult to find in the virtuoso tankas and haiku that the poet’s subjectivity is being upheld as the touchstone of happiness or suffering, beauty or goodness, as certainly happens in Europe already with Sappho, Catullus or Ovid, and even more so from Petrarca on. The subjective, individualistic time is in Japan recuperated into the cycles of cosmic and social time; even aging and loss are socially recognized commonplaces which the tanka poet approaches (to put it into a medieval European slogan) as non nova sed nove — by new variants of the same thematic field. The classical Japanese “narrative agents” are oriented outward, towards others, as in the Shining Prince Genji’s many loves, or in Sei Shônagon’s and Kenkô’s zuihitsu, “encyclopedic” (or should one say miscellaneous) sketch-collections of bric-a`-brac observations. They do not constitute a closed interiority only within which they may be authentic, as in the novels from Don Quixote on. “I think, therefore I am” (or even: “I feel, therefore I am”), would make as little sense to a pre-Meiji Japanese as for a pre-Augustinian Hellene or Roman. This is properly (and has been) matter for book-length studies, but I want to solidify this rapid sketch with two indicative references.

First, for classical literature, with Miner’s persuasive overall argument that in Japanese collections of verse, as a rule, the Western “single identifiable personality [is] dispersed in favor of multiple personality and narratorship… [, with] integrity assumed to exist at the collective level” (“Collective” 43). Japanese poetry reveals “a conception of collective integers, of large, composite wholes that the very brevity of the poetic units either made possible or was in fact responsible for encouraging” (“Collective” 53-54). In other words, the identity of the poets, named and anonymous, who participate in a tanka collection or a linked-verse sequence as a kind of extended family or improvised clan, is in a feedback with the participation in this polyphonic enterprise. The group enterprise allows them scope for a voice both recognizable as individual and continually blended with other cognate voices. Miner’s general conclusion is that, distinctively, Japanese literary entities are (I abbreviate his suggestive series for my purposes): “1. interdependent, not discrete; 2. varied, not equal in status; 3. defined by relation to other also unequal units and to a larger, composite whole…” (“Collective” 54). Second, for modern (Meiji-period) literature, beyond what Karatani has persuasively identified as its invention of the previously unknown interiority-exteriority split (Origins ch. 1 and 2), I want to briefly adduce Maruyama’s persuasive framework for its “desperate attempt to grasp the reality of an ‘I’ which was being simultaneously endangered by two gigantic forces that propelled the Japanese ‘modernity’ forward — the ‘family’ (ie) and the bureaucratisation.” He pinpoints four main circumstances that determined modern Japanese literature:

[F]irst, the character of the Japanese language, which is no doubt extraordinarily rich in words expressing emotional and sensual nuances, but at the same time poor in words for theoretical or general concepts. [S]econd, and relatedly: the tradition of Japanese literature to express human feelings by means of seasonally changing nature, respectively to observe most precisely people’s behaviour and relationships and to lay hold in extremely refined language of their tiniest emotional movements. [T]hird, [Japanese] Realism… easily combined with […the] tradition of absolutizing concrete reality and sticking to direct sensual experience.. ..[F]ourth, the literati were…’superfluous’ existences, which had deviated from the ‘normal’ way of an imperial-Japanese subject. (Maruyama 66)

This list gives much food for thought as to the character of Barthes’s convergence with the epistemology of both the traditional and (as Karatani well argues) the Meiji-period Japanese literature.

3.3. Of course, there are traps here, of great danger. Nakamura rightly objects against some of the huge generalizations which I have been surveying in 3.2 that they cannot define any essential “Orient,” since e.g. the European Middle Ages had some very similar characteristics (12-17; cf. Barker, especially his remarks on Hamlet’s empty interior, 36-37). I would be inclined to accept this, and take all the above traits as manmade in a contingent history, which might be traced back to smaller human power in face of nature, the social formation of “Oriental despotism,” and other factors, none of which is confined to Asian soil. Surely the very long duration of pitiless upper-class dictatorship — say the Fujiwara or the Tokugawa eras — has something to do with people’s habit of obedience to it and its infiltration into or indeed moulding of language (such as the inescapable “politeness registers” of all Japanese propositions). Nonetheless, even when we have disposed of any “racial” causality, more important queries remain. And centrally, should what we would today feel as an at least semi-fascist collectivism be revaluated at the expense of bourgeois individualism, now that the latter is triumphantly threatening to destroy our globe, or should that individualism be praised at the expense of such a stifling collectivism?

The question is badly put and as such allows of no intelligent answer. Should we say, with Foucault, that knowledge generated by the centred Self is simply an avatar of power, so that Said’s determination of maleficent Orientalism could be a metonymy for all such knowledge? I think knowledge is not wholly reducible to the apparatus which produced it, and that Foucault’s assumption of a deep genetic taint or authoritarian Original Sin is over-hasty. But even if Foucault’s indignation were right, would we therefore have to go back to the Right-wing chauvinism of kokutai, and attribute the really specific traits of Japanese culture or semiotic constellation to either race or an unchanging nature outside social history? The attraction of kokutai, the ideology of a specifically Japanese “national body,” was that it was originally “neither something fully interior nor fully exterior” so that it could be used to conjure away the limits of State authority in relation to its subjects (Maruyama 48) — and to the Subjects in my sense. Tennôism, the (mostly fictitious) central position of the imperial house was proclaimed to be “the nucleus of State order [which was] itself made into the nation’s spiritual axis” (Maruyama 45). This was eventually theorized in a sophisticated variant of near-Fascism, as in Nishida Kitarô’s eulogy of the emperor precisely as the locus of nothingness (see S. Tsurumi 67), or of straight Fascism, e.g. in Watsuji Tetsurô’s pernicious worship of the State, transposed from Hegel’s Prussia to the Japanese empire as “the expression of the absolute whole which is the same as absolute negativity or absolute emptiness,” and opposed to Anglo-Saxon selfishness and Hobbean individualism as ethics to quantification, as Gemeinschaft to profit society (Bellah 581 and passim, and cf. the brilliant analysis by Sakai). (Lest I be accused of vague metaphoricity when I speak of Fascism, let me note that the undoubtedly perspicacious and dialectical Watsuji studied in Germany and belongs, I think, to what J.-P. Faye has called “the left wing of Fascism,” e.g. Pound, Jünger, or Heidegger — the S.A. rather than the S.S. faction, in German terms.) In sum, should we really conclude that Oriental despotism is better? Surely the thrust of Karatani’s article on the “two 19th centuries,” say Benthamite and Meiji, is to warn us against plumping for either horn of this dilemma; and I would answer we should not. A dose of if not individualism then certainly individuality (i.e. the self-affirmation of one’s Subject) and civic consciousness (i.e. the recognition of the dignity of other Subjects) — values consubstantial with the great bourgeois revolutions — might just be what an average Tokugawa, Meiji, or even present-day Japanese subject needed. Obversely, the war of each against each would obviously destroy Japan more quickly than most other nations (much of Watsuji can be understood from this). My conclusion is that we should exclaim “A plague on both your houses,” with the lovers Romeo-Juliet, their amiable bodies, and their fantastic theoretician Mercutio.

Now, one of Barthes’s central epistemological passages is the amateurish reading of mu (emptiness) in his fragment “Centre-ville, centre vide.” It identifies as consubstantial with (this version of) mu the invisible emperor, a sacred “nothing” and nobody who is “an evaporated idea, existing there not in order to irradiate any power but to confer to the urban movement the support of his central emptiness” (F 43-46, underlined DS). Now mu or so-called Oriental Nothingness has many characteristics the debate about which fills volumes, and it is difficult to make a semantically non-empty statement about it. The nearest one could come, however, would probably be that it means also (as Nothingness should) “without inner or outer” (Hisamatsu 82). Furthermore and clearly, in the light of the deeply repressive history and ideology only faintly hinted at in the preceding paragraph and culminating in the tennôist axis becoming a part of the world fascist Axis, Barthes swallowed a goodly dose of second-rate (or, as in the case of his Nietzschean affinities to Nishida and Watsuji, first-rate) Right-wing metaphysical politics. His mu reading thus reproduces as a deep insight “the epistemological structure of the Japanese [post-Meiji] State” (Maruyama 50), falling, as it were, from the Law of the Mythological Father into the Law of the Deified Grandfather. To do so because it was served up in a pseudo-Buddhist sauce and kanji calligraphy seems to me at the least profoundly naive, and at the worst profoundly misleading. It casts grave doubt on the whole enterprise of evacuating sense: you expel meaning and power from the centre, it recurs as imperial traffic direction…9/

4. Illuminations: Body as Aesthetics

4.0. Is, then, The Empire of Signs merely the sign of another, Nietzschean empire? I trust not. In spite of his unsatisfactory framework of explanation, Barthes may have through a Kantian aisthesis caught aspects of a non-bourgeois structure of feeling. That is predicated on believing, as I do, that a spread running from topological orientation and emotions as implied in body language through space arts and music to sung lyrics and fiction, i.e. from non-conceptualized through not fully conceptualized understanding, may be just as cognitive as conceptual verbalization or mathematics, though in different, complex and still poorly understood ways (this is argued at some length in Suvin, “Cognitive”). As Nietzsche also observed: “Thou sayest ‘I’ and art proud of this word. But the greater one …is your body and its great sense [Vernunft — intelligence, understanding]: it does not say ‘I’ but it performs ‘I'” (28-29). Yet no doubt, the corollary of the potentially cognitive character of X (standing for anything) is the potential use of X for lying and mystification. Metaphors may be used for lying, music in concentration camps, and the fetishization of image as against word, or of aesthetics against politics, has since Brecht and Benjamin been recognized as a hallmark of fascism. There be tygers here; but in certain circumstances, there is much grace in a tiger.

A further query might be raised as to the place of such non-conceptual cognition in Barthes’s opus and in this particular book. Isn’t it enclosed within an unsatisfactory (anti-)system as a small ghetto, a vent for the unsatisfied which combines attention to human sensuality with disinterest in political de-alienation, in a manner reminiscent of the famous sex-cum-art quarters of major Japanese cities of the Edo period, e.g. the Yoshiwara one in Edo city, with its courtezans, kabuki, and ukiyo-e prints? My feeling is that this is often so, and that this should not be forgotten, but that I can pick up and clean up the somewhat tainted raisins from Barthes’s cake, and reuse them to my taste.

4.1. For, on the bright side, Barthes is much stronger and more believable as an attentive observer of lovable bodies than as theoretician (witness the clever disaster of his Elements of Semiology, which he was just sloughing off in Japan). The materiality of the body, understood as the materiality of signs — or better, of signifiers — is something Barthes can relate to directly, without bothering about the signified, without having to exorcize the “inner truth.” As with Janus, the negative face whose gaze empties the centre is accompanied by the positive face whose gaze caresses the body, and which may be well glimpsed in the fragment “Sans paroles” (F 17-18). For complex historical reasons of the Cartesian tradition as well as of Barthes’s individual history, the negation is associated with language, with the Word, demonized in Manichean fashion as The Other of the body (rather than as an instrumental part or function of the body). “Living in the interstice, freed from all full sense,” having lost his “mother tongue,” dispenses Barthes from all its identifications which are also alienations — nationality, status, normality, etc. (He would have been totally unable to enjoy Japan had he filled in its “empty meanings” by learning Japanese!) On the other hand, while this interstitial status makes for poor theorizing that throws language out with the soul, it allows Barthes some — to my mind — quite significant insights into sense. It supplies him with a vantage point from which to challenge bourgeois logocracy (in theatre, say, that of Realist dramaturgy), whose slogan is: “There is no communication except by word.” I have indicated earlier how direct a monotheistic filiation can be found for this slogan, which is a technocratic translation of verbum vitae. To the contrary, in Barthes’s Japan:

It is not the voice (with which we identify the “rights” of the person) which communicates (communicates what? our — necessarily beautiful — soul? our sincerity? our prestige?), but the whole body (eyes, smile, the lock, gestures, clothing) which enters with you into a sort of babble which the perfect domination of codes has stripped of all regressive, infantile character. To settle a rendez-vous (by means of gestures, drawings, proper names) takes, no doubt, one hour, but during that hour, for a message that would have cancelled itself out in an instant had it been said (simultaneously essential and insignificant), it is the whole body of the other which had been reconnoitered, assayed, received, and which has unfolded (to no true end) its own story, its own text. (F 18)

I wish to close this essay with what I think may be recuperated from a decoding and recoding — better, desemanticizing and resemanticizing — of Barthes starting from the “Sans paroles” fragment.

Some careful disentangling may be necessary here. As I suggested above, it is a logically illicit, hyperbolic trick to pass from a voice that in a given situation — i.e., when one is ignorant of the language — cannot be used for communication (“Ce n’est pas la voix…qui communique….”) to a metaphysical opposition between bad voice and good body (by which is meant “eyes, smile…gestures…,” that is the body minus verbal apparatus). There is a conflation and confusion in this book between saying that the utopian body (in later works described as the body of jouissance) is “the whole body,” a totality of all human sense channels and sign-systems, and saying that it is what remains after subtracting verbal communication, that dominant form of bourgeois or post-Cartesian rationality and explanation. A formulation that fits better human communication, and its foregrounding in the exemplary theatrical reality, is (as a rule — with exceptions such as dance and mime, which Barthes never addresses) that it is not only, but then also, the voice which communicates (cf. Hoff’s well-taken critique of his depreciation of voice as preventing a full appreciation of Bunraku). Though Barthes does not, it seems to me, fetishize images, his devaluation of voice and language (coming at the heels of, possibly as a penance for, his phase of linguistic imperialism) is perilously near to a fetishization of the body: his awareness of that proximity is present, I think, in his preemptive denial of being regressive.

The second clash of denotations and connotations has to do with infantile vs. adult. Barthes pointed out above that the body’s semiotic, non-voiced “babble” is not infantile, simply unripe: “[T]he infantile phase… consists in not reflecting on language…: obviously, this refusal to turn language back upon itself is an open invitation to major ideological impostures” (G 144). To the contrary, the utopian body — or, I would say more precisely, the body’s bearing or stance — is ostended in its own right and as its own goal, sensually and cognitively. But elsewhere at that same period, Barthes seems to equate babble with nonsense: “l’appareil du sens n’est pas détruit (le babil est évité)” (“Sorties” 58 — tr.: “the apparatus of sense is not destroyed, babble is avoided”). He was to comment on this, tongue in cheek: “Il faut que le babil japonais ne soit pas régressif, puisque les Japonais sont aimables” (RBRB 154: “Japanese babble cannot be regressive, since the Japanese are lovable”).

This account of corporeal channels of semiosis could be somewhat (not fully — there are too many opaque spots and double entendres in Barthes) disambiguated and re-presented as:


Infants have a valid biological excuse for their lack of mastery of the language code; the bourgeois have none for their lack of mastery of the gestual code or (combined with voice) the holistic stance; and indeed historically one would have to assume they fell into this monophony from some kind of a more intimate union of natural language with body or haptic language, e.g. the one adumbrated by Eliot’s “dissociation of sensibility” or any such similar Right-wing or Left-wing accounts of the original sin of the bourgeoisie contracting out of its popular or plebeian matrix. When children, before their full bourgeois socialization, “babble” in pre-speech mode, or when they later take up holistic bodily stances, they do so spontaneously or as it were “naturally,” without a self-reflective knowledge of the “language” used. Bourgeois acculturation substitutes for this an inimical, repressive second nature that fragments the original wholeness, privileging the sole voice (by which, again, Barthes does not mean singing but only verbally articulated voice). Pre-bourgeois, “Japanese,” acculturation latches on to the children’s gestual babble (and at some stage their verbal babble, which after all supplies the vehicle for this metaphor), but now with a knowledge of “codes” or semiotic conventions that enables self-correction of ideological blind spots and an undogmatic facing of new situations. The upper right case is wholly negative, the worst case — that’s us, the Parisian or “European” addressees of Barthes’s original notes and book. In a mirror symmetry to this dystopia or hell, the lower right case is the best case, the positive utopia or earthly paradise which can only be glimpsed by Barthes in an imaginary Japan.

Isn’t this somewhat Rousseauist, the children — and the Japanese — “trailing clouds of glory” (Wordsworth) before being corrupted by bourgeois civilization? No doubt; and yet that is not the point. To particularize the argument from the end of 4.0 and change its metaphor: The point is where can one get to from this somewhat improvised springboard. I prefer to desemanticize Barthes’s original ideological aspect and to begin with approach a discussion of channels of semiosis as a technical or syntactic one: semantically neutral, it shows us preconditions for de-alienated communication. The semantic fulness of the lower right case is then for the moment secondary — as befits the good nowhere of utopia.

4.2. Returning at the end to the earlier mention in 0.5 of the (in Barthes notionally subordinate) section on Bunraku, “The Three Writings,” the relation of voice to bodily movement in theatre may be educed, with leads from Barthes but possibly taking his vector beyond him, to carry on to emotion, labour vs. art, and a chance for gestural critique of ideology. Such a reading of Barthes clearly dovetails with what Brecht was getting at; if you wish, I am “boldfacing” (Eco) the Brechtian aspect of Barthes. Most important, theatre as an activity (performing) is here being taken, in a very Brechtian way, as simultaneously an experimental laboratory for and condensation of everyday life: these are confrontations of bourgeois and non-bourgeois behaviour-patterns.

   BOURGEOIS THEATRE                                           BUNRAKU
(BOURGEOIS PRACTICE)                                 (NON-BOURGEOIS PRACTICE)10/

   Body dominated by voice                                   Body separated from voice

    Gesturer identical with                                        Gesturer separate from
gesture                                                                    gesture

     Activity of gesturer (actor)                                  Activity of openly ostending
conditional on activity of                                    gesture as activity
hiding it under the charac-
ter’s gesture

       Gesturer, hidden under the                               Gesture emotional (causing
character’s emotion, indu-                                 emotion), gesturer is not
ces the same emotion in                                     Stage role induces emo-
him/herself                                                         tion in spectator

        Gesture depends on emotion                           Gesture causes emotion
Conflation, fusion of ele-                                  Separation of elements/media
ments/media on stage to                                 on stage, addition in
infect spectator spectator

          Only art exhibited, labour                              Both labour and art exhibit-
suppressed as impure                                     ed, no shame in physicality

          Strict separation art:labour                            No profound separation art:
analogous to class hierar-                               labour, art is a (crowning)
chy bourgeois:worker                                      kind of labour

           Emotion contagious, submerges                  Emotion fluctuating — strong
passive spectator identi-                                  but dependent on active
fying with central charac-                                traffic with spectator;
ter/s/ “striated” stage media

           No psychic distance                                          Fluctuations of distance

           Empathy only                                                     Sympathy/antipathy

           Necessarily ideological                                      Critique of ideology possible

Clearly much work remains to be done in spelling out and clarifying the connecting links and implications within the above isotopies. But if The Empire of Signs had given us nothing else but a possibility to reopen this discussion today, it would suffice as proof of its usefulness.

It should be, finally, remembered that the French sens has three main connotations: those of meaning, corporeal sense(s) such as sight and touch (from which are derived “sensuality” and “common sense”), and orientation of movement (Barthes himself occasionally remarked on “the precious ambiguity” of the first and third connotations, calling them “signification and vectorisation” — “Sortie” 52). The third connotation is mostly lost in English. Nonetheless, senses as making sense seem to me a valid line of materialist defense and possibly even of a new advance — if not arrested by refusals of meaning or sense.11/ Barthes may, at the end, not transcend the abyssal depths (a metaphor that runs from Augustine to Heidegger) of the individualist Self — how could any of us do that? His systematic tendency is to proclaim, with Mallarmé and Nietzsche, that the abyss is empty — a negative but still monotheistic theology. Yet, like a motorcycle rider on the vertical walls of the circus, he is skating over the abyss on the strength of his nimble centrifugal wit. And the resulting “horizontal,” ludically skewed glance may have its values. Duly heeding the needful caveats, which I have tried to develop in the wake of Karatani, further uses of a “recoded” Barthes should be found. As I mentioned, this might be profitably done on the material of Noh plays, and in the proximity of Brecht’s stance.


1/ My special thanks go to Jean-Pierre Vernant, for materials (including an unpublished typescript) and discussions on the subject of the Subject, of which he is both a pioneer and a master. The analogies between his descriptions of Hellas and my speculations on Japan, based on the tertium comparationis of non-individualist or pre-bourgeois culture, are my responsibility (yet let us remember that Barthes had been a student of Classics).

2/ In subsequent quotations, F will indicate L’Empire des signes and G Le Grain de la voix; both are cited largely using but also changing the English translations adduced in the “Works Cited.” RBRB will indicate Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes, any non-attributed English translations being here, as elsewhere, mine.

3/ Some lines of Haraway’s own “binary dichotomization” chart of notions or “production” of body in bourgeois vs. postmodern biomedical thought (12-13) could be profitably compared to this chart, here in particular “Depth, integrity” vs. “Surface, boundary” and “Individual” vs. “Replicon.” Further dicussion of caress would have to come to grips with Sartre’s l’Etre et le Néant opposition between desire-caress and thought-language, obviously fundamental for Barthes too.

4/ E.g. Saigyô 34, 56, 69, and 86, cf. Konishi’s comment 81-82, and for religious implications Grapard 199-201 and passim. A suggestive piece of evidence for “depth” as a horizontal vector in Japanese verse is given by two successive translations of Tamekanu’s tanka “Edo ni moru” from the Gyokuyôshû (early 14th Century) with the participation of the same translator. In them, the final lines “Suzushisa ni fukaki/ Take no oku kana” are first translated as “…where the coolness/ Is deep within the bamboo grove,” and later “radically adapted” into “…the coolness further deepens/ The back of the bamboo grove” (Brower-Miner 366 vs. Konishi 406, the latter translation edited by Miner; italics mine). Further uses of “fukaku” and terms with the same stem in such meanings (far back, deep grasses) can be found in Carter ed. 202 and 214 for the 14th Century, also 310, 319, and passim.

5/ I suppress some matters in Vernant which do not fit into my argument. See for a much longer discussion of this Cartesian Self Suvin, “Polity,” and the whole special issue “Non-Cartesian Subjects, East and West,” in which that essay was published.

6/ Usually, however, it can be observed that there are limitations on groups admitted to fully individual status, roughly similar to the Athenian exclusion of women, children, slaves, strangers, and other “speaking cattle” from democracy. Much of the Foucauldian micro-politics latching on to “human rights,” from Blacks to gays and indeed “animal rights,” consists of breaking down these limitations.

7/ This matter of “the soul” in the Chinese cultural sphere (as in the Mediterranean Antiquity) is complex, much debated, and studded with semantic traps. So far as I understand it, invisible principles of life were certainly present, but usually multiple, often quite material, and as a rule “unsuited as a carrier of Ego” (Liebenthal 334); the Buddhist ghosts and demons, e.g., are different incarnations in material transmigrations (ibidem 337). My use is limited to the main denotation in any Western or post-Christian encyclopedia: the Soul as transcendent equivalent of an atomic human Self.

8/ Barthes submitted his annual report for 1965/66 as “Directeur d’études” of the “Sociologie des signes, symboles et représentations” in Annuaire 1966-1967, École pratique des hautes études, Section des sciences économiques et sociales, 239-40. In it, he lists under his “Activité scientifique,” beside a seminar in Morocco and one review, his “mission au Japon, auprès des Instituts français et des Universités (mai 1966).” I am beholden to J.-P. Vernant for a copy of this report.

9/ Strangely enough, in Barthes’s first (and masterly) book, Michelet, he already evinces the same attraction to the empty centre, finding it in Michelet’s medieval French kingship, whose “strength comes from its emptiness” (27), and indeed in Michelet’s France which Barthes deciphers as being composed of the Ile-de-France negative (!) nucleus and the outlying “positive” provinces (29) — an everted Rutherfordian atom, as it were. He even sees Michelet as identifying all the feeble kings (as well as Thomas à Beckett and Jeanne d’Arc!) with the people and Christ (34). This strange Barthesian nostalgia for a holy, feminized monarchy finally found its existing representative in the tennô.

10/ These two columns or isotopies can at the furthest level of useful generalization be called Pseudo-Nature vs. Counter-Nature (“l’ acteur est sauvé s’il fait partie de la contre-Physis, condamné s’il appartient à la pseudo-Physis,” RBRB 131; cf. Suvin, To Brecht 118-19). An even pithier formula of Barthes’s runs: “Il demande à l’acteur un corps convaincu, plutôt qu’une passion vraie” (RBRB 180: “He requires from the actor a convinced body rather than a true paasion”).

11/ Here a whole post-Fregean or Ricoeurian discussion would be needed to differentiate meaning and sense, but this too must be reserved for another occasion. I attempt to approach this discussion in relation to Shakespeare criticism in Suvin, “Modest.”

Works cited

Adorno, Theodor W. Negative Dialektik. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1966.

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