Saturday, July 16, 2005

The blessing and closure of language.

I was having a late night (or rather, an early morning) chat with two editors, Takeshi Masuda of Chikuma Shobo, and Kanako Oshima of Gentosha. Chikuma and Gentosha are major publishing houses in Tokyo, and they are both editing my book. At around 2.00 a.m. and after several glasses of beer, I suddenly hit upon an idea that the language game concept of Ludwig Wittgenstein might have relevance to the problem that I have been thinking a lot about recently, i.e., the blessing and closure that the faculty of language bestows on us.
Language makes it possible for us to communicate with each other. At the same time, it forms a closure for those who do not understand that particular language. What I write here does not make any sense for people who do not speak English. If I write in Japanese (which I do a lot) a larger number of people do not have access to the contents.
Isn't language frightening, when you consider both the blessings and closure that it brings. When there was no language, there was no breaking of symmetry. Once there is language, symmetry is lost and you have both blessings and closure. You open your eyes to many people, yet at the same time your mind is closed to others. I am growingly concerned about my own language policy, that's why I write my diary both in English and Japanese, hoping something would happen in my brain to appease the situation.

My diary in Japanese

Friday, July 15, 2005

Who writes the history?

The Chichu art museum on the island of Naoshima is celebrating its first anniversary. The director Yuji Akimoto came to give a lecture in my class at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (Geidai). He showed how the "Art House Project" started with plain ordinary houses on the island. "There was a particular difficulty in starting from the chaotic space that the interior of the abandoned houses presented, and shift to the domain of abstract expression, culminating in the refined art that we find in the Rei Naitoh and Tatsuo Miyajima houses today". Yuji said.
Later in the evening, we had the Chichu Art Museum first anniversary symposium. Michael Govan of DIA art foundations gave a talk. Some audiences expressed concern that DIA is perhaps too much concerned with the promotion of American artists. I thought:It is natural for DIA to be concerned with American artists, since it is based in America. Although Michael stressed that it is not DIA policy to promote only American, there is a natural tendency as anybody can see. The whole question boils down to "who writes history". There is no single authoritative history. If the Japanese art world has been under the shadow of the history of contemporary art as dictated by people in the "mainstream", they have been doing so by their own choice. You can just ignore whatever mainstream framework there is, at your own freedom and at your own risk. Freedom comes with risk.
I enjoyed the evening overall.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Piet Hut's Future of Science.

Piet Hut of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton came to visit us. First we met near Waseda University. Piet gave a guest lecture in the "Introduction to Psychology" course that I have been giving this semester. Piet talked about the "Future of Science". As an astrophysicist, Piet had an unusual approach in the temporal dimension, standing away from the modern history of science and taking a long-shot view of things to come. He talked about two possible scenarios. In one scenario, the progress of science from now on would experience a state of stagnation, with pretty much secrets of the universe already discovered and expressed in science in its present form. In another, which Piet thinks is more likely, we would continue to make progress, so that 100 or 1000 years from now, science as we know it would be changed beyond recognition. Piet was kind enough to visit our lab, and give yet another informal talk. We went to the Toono-Monogatari restaurant in Gotanda and had a chat over beer and sake. A very stimulating day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Seiji Ozawa's ill-posed problem.

I went to see the rehearsal of Brahms's 2nd concert by Seiji Ozawa. It was interesting to observe how Ozawa tried to overcome the ill-posed problem of conducting the full orchestra, consisting of a million different parameters. What he did was first to vocalize what he sensed with fitting language, and then translate it into appropriate action commands. For example, he talked about "consonants" and "vowels", and asked the violinists to be more outgoing with the "vowels". In terms of specific action, he instructed them to press the bow stronger. Thus, he acted as a transformer of sensory perceptions into motor actions. You need to be a keen appreciator of music as well as a general actionist of instruments in order to be a good conductor.
At the end of the day, with all the skills of perception and verbalizing action commands, it is still an ill-posed problem, conducting a full orchestra. Someone close to the orchestra mentioned that at the moment Ozawa appeared at the podium, the sound changed. That means something beyond a simple controlled action is happening. Perhaps being conducted is like expressing one's heart in the presence of a experienced mentor. If you feel that your mentor is understanding and is attentive to what you say, your words become more expressive, more true to heart, profound. Thus, the ill-posed problem is overcome by the spontaneity of the agents involved.
We all live an ill-posed life spontaneously.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Club culture.

I had a chat with the famed music critic Reiko Yuyama. She gave a few funny tips on which Sushi restaurant to go to in Tokyo. (She recently published a book). Otherwise we talked about the Club culture. I am not a Club fanatic and the exposure to the latest has been scanty and scarce. However, I did notice that there are some fundamental changes taking place.
For one, people do not "show off" any more. A club is not a place to be seen and to see. You have this cozy individuality among the crowd, oblivious of the eyes of the others. It is not something "above" daily life. It is rather a continuation of the every day, with the music not depicting a particular theme or meaning. It is just here and now. The Club is becoming an arena for just being oneself, in the smooth and rapturous flow of sound and beat. People do not differentiate any more, reflecting the "end of history" as such, in which man has struggled to overcome and catch up with the various schisms that existed. Sure, there are some walls still to be overcome, but you want to overcome them in a different way from the past. Maybe there is a quantum jump.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Sunday walk

On Sunday, I went to Heirin-ji temple to take a walk. In the Kanto plane, there are certain types of natural forest where I used to look for insects when I was a kid. I used to collect butterflies, but nowadays I look for all kinds of insects, observe their behavior and habitat. I feel as if I am a bird, looking for food. As a bird, I need to differentiate the species, know their behavior, and taste. Humans do not have a monopoly of natural history. Wild animals have a inherent drive to get to know the environment.
I went to the Gusto restaurant in the evening. I had a stir-fried pork dish. While I was at it, I was struck by the idea that the kind of food I am having daily is very different from what is naturally available from the environment. More oil in it. Therefore lies the reason for obesity. We cannot go back to the natural, but it is good to go back to the past from time to time.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Language policy.

Soon after I came back from my California trip, one phrase started to ring in my head. "Language policy". I did not know where it came from. I just felt that it was relevant to some situations happening to me and the nation. I look up in the dictionary, and I find that it refers to how the government treats the minority languages within its jurisdiction. That is a bit different from what I expected, but related.
You must know that in Japan, nationalistic arguments are on the rise, especially towards the neighboring nations. Every nation has the right to be proud of its history, and is justified to wish for its own welfare. But nationalism is a bit like wishing for the success of yourself and your family. Sure, it is a natural thing, but you hesitate to call it idealism in the modern world. If someone says that his ideal is for his family to be successful, you would think that he is a bit naive and petty. These adjectives are appropriate for some "patriots" that are rampant in the Japanese media. I would not go far as to call them scoundrels, though. Johnson's famous quote is not really appropriate. It is not even their last resort. They are not living a full life requiring one.
In the modern world, in order to have a full life, you need to adapt a good language policy. Since English is the de facto standard, it is easy to have one for native English speakers. They even don't need to have one. I am not a native English speaker, so I will not touch upon non-policies.
What is happening in Japan is a domestication of discourse. The Japanese "patriots" can say what they say in the media, because they are saying it in Japanese. Some of their claims would be unsustainable if expressed in a more international language, as the English. It is like boasting in a family gathering, "the house of the Mogi (that's my family name) is great!" The family members will listen to you, but nobody else.
I am not saying that everyone should speak English. It is something subtler.