Friday, June 15, 2012

"Embodied cognition"

The modern world always thinks it has discovered something new, something the Catholic Church hasn't known for 2000 years.

We have known this for quite a while, and have called it "sacramentality," the deep connectedness between the physical, mental and spiritual self. No, Mr. Descartes, we are not separated beings; our bodies are not just meat suitcases for carrying our souls around. A human being is an infused soul, you are your body, your body is you.

Of course, the video above is also talking about cultural influences. In this culture we ascribe certain character traits to combat soldiers, doctors and painters, and we do it so instinctively that we can be dressed up in a single garment and start unconsciously acting the part. These cultural archetypes are pan-national. They can be found in every "western" country, built into our cultural genes. It would seem that an Englishman, a Frenchman and a German would more or less come out with the same traits when dressed in either fatigues or a lab coat.

It's just more evidence that you really can't mix the cultures, not when they are radically separate. When a set of cultural paradigms are artificially imposed on top of another, equally developed set of archetypes, the message comes out pretty weird and garbled, which is what I think has been happening in Japan.

We like to joke around here that I and my Traddie buddies are racists, because we don't buy the political ideological fad for "multiculturalism," but in truth, I am a thoroughgoing culturist. I don't think that one race (whatever that is) is superior to another, but I am pretty comfortable saying that there are some cultures that are objectively and observably better than others. And I'm not talking necessarily about the superiority of my own Western European, Catholic, Christian culture to, say, pygmy tribesmen. I've never met a pygmy tribesman, so I wouldn't know.

I have met plenty of modern, deracinated, "liberal," post-Christian, Western secularists, however and I've got no hesitation about which culture is superior there.

I relate a funny little story with regard to that thing of dressing up and automatically assuming a role. When I was five, my mother and I travelled the old fashioned way to England, on a boat. We embarked in Seattle and the boat took us down the coast, through the Panama Canal and across the Atlantic on the other side. It was quite memorable, though I was still only five.

During that trip, we met a new friend, a dancer and mime who was headed over to Europe to do a tour of a one-man show. He took quite a shine to me and my mother and we had lot of fun. When the ship's children's entertainment department announced that there would be a fancy dress party for the chidren under ten, he insisted on dressing me up. Out of the odds and ends and make-up he had with him, he cobbled together quite a passable geisha costume for me, complete with wig, flowered kimono and white-face make up. I absolutely loved it, and my mother was delighted when I took first prize.

What she always told me, though, was how surprised she and Adam were at how naturally and spontaneously I assumed the role of a polite, demure little miniature geisha. My mother had been interested in Japanese culture all my life and there were always books around with pictures of Japanese ladies in their traditional clothes and records of koto music. Japanese customs and culture were a frequent topic of our conversations. I think by that time, I had already been taken to see Bunraku because I remember being obsessed with the costumes and puppets. She had also studied Japanese and I think by that time was already teaching me a little to paint the characters. Later we went to see Japanese films (which I thought were painfully dull) at the university cinema and I remember being introduced to her instructors. I had always been fascinated and deeply attracted by the extreme, artful formality of it all.

I wouldn't have thought, though, that this would have been enough to create this automatic role-producing effect, but Adam, who was by then already a well-seasoned artist and popular in Japan, said I was spot on. He particularly noticed how I took tiny little steps (3:00) in that peculiar way that Japanese ladies do when wearing the full gear.

It's one of the great errors of modernity to think we are angels trapped and mired in the physical, like a butterfly caught in honey. It's one of the things making us so sad.


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