On Bearing New Images

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This essay on Hayao Miyazaki’s evaluation of Japanese culture is fascinating. Fascinating, that is, provided you know Miyazaki – if not, drop what you’re doing and go find out!

It’s interesting to me seeing confirmation that Miyazaki is a believing animist. This only deepens my appreciation of the extensive continuities between Christianity and the higher paganisms. While the overlap with other “world religions” like Islam or Buddhism comes in formal thought – ethics, philosophy, even theology – the overlap with something like animism comes in the narrative. Consider Princess Mononoke: The world is under a curse; the great spirit is killed by men, yet also can’t be killed, because he is always all around us.

Miyazaki says his goal is to draw people’s attention away from fantasy to what is real. This is a deeply ironic statement when you think about the fantastic content of his films, yet the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. The real point of My Neighbor Totoro is not forest spirits and magic trees, but two little girls whose mother has cancer. The real point of Kiki’s Delivery Service is not the broomsticks and black cats, but a thirteen-year-old girl who needs to find her purpose in life. The real point of Princess Mononoke is not the gods and demons, but the tragic fact that human beings can neither transform nature nor refrain from transforming it without killing a part of their own humanity. It is very much the real world Miyazaki wants us to live in.

Trying to get us to see the real world is, I suspect, the goal of all religious people who are engaged with culture. The very considerable cultural edification produced by Miyazaki’s films might very well be classified in the “first they must convert to serious paganism” file. Shame on us that there’s no Christian Miyazaki.

Even more interesting, though, is his analysis of what ails Japan. He describes what he sees as a vast distortion of desire; the opportunity to use technology to shape desire has been used to alienate children from what is real:

The desires of many—if not most or even all—Japanese children, Miyazaki believes, have been hollowed, stretched, inflated for the false, and, thus, deflated for the true. The beauty of woman for man and man for woman, especially, has been supplanted by the cartoonish, pornographic, robotic, and monstrous. This is what he meant when he called animated films “the source of the downfall of a people.”

But although Miyazaki has never fully extracted himself from his Marxist past, he does not (as so many tiresome people do) equate this distortion of desire with capitalism and place his hope in central planning. Quite the contrary, his hope is exactly where it should be – in entrepreneurs who take the opportunities that only capitalism provides and use them to produce a better culture:

His animism may explain the content of his films, but not necessarily his approach to film craft. His criticisms of Japanese culture and the manga industry offer a better starting point. The largest problem facing the manga industry is that the people running it are anime fanatics, known as otaku in Japan. These “sickly otaku types,” as Miyazaki called them, were reared on manga and Japanimation, and developed an inordinate desire for them—their shape, scale, motion, symbols, and narrative tropes. Such children, “locked in [manga’s] own enclosed world,” became illustrators themselves, reinforcing the enclosure. With their arrival in the industry, characters became boxier, eyes ballooned, and, to be frank, breasts grew larger. The expressiveness of the manga industry was further attenuated, a cycle that cheapens and thins the general taste of Japanese society. These otaku, “raised amidst the clamor,” Miyazaki said, “probably can’t be the flag bearers for new images.”

To bear “new images,” to make films that liberate, the filmmaker must himself be liberated, free of the customs of the genre. That’s why Miyazaki frequently stresses that he does not “watch film at all” and describes his own career as an ongoing effort to escape the yoke of his great forebear, Osamu Tezuka, the father of manga, creator of Astro Boy, and Miyazaki’s greatest influence. That’s also why he strongly urges that, if an illustrator is to spur audiences to seek and love the world, he must himself be filled with its riches. That is, he must gain an intelligent understanding of it by cultivating “a constant interest in customs, history, architecture, and all sorts of things.” Otherwise, he “can’t direct.” And if he doesn’t have time to study, he must “look carefully at what is right in front of [him].” If he fails to do so, no matter what he makes, “it turns out to be a film we’ve seen somewhere, or something we’ve seen in manga.”

Verily, freedom and economic development create opportunities for people to distort their desire. But to contract freedom and development would only deliver us into the hands of an elite formed by that cultural decay, locking in the distortion of desire, freezing in place the present decadence. The solution instead lies with those who not only make responsible use of their opportunities, but inspire others to follow them in doing so (“to spur audiences to seek and love the world”).

Death by Incoherence

I agree wholeheartedly with Williamson, here. His punchline is a great summary of why becoming increasingly conservative (over against my strong libertarian baseline) has made me less, not more, Republican:

If the so-called party of free enterprise cannot figure out a way to run against this kind of pillaging, then they do not deserve to win.

(source: Uncle Stupid’s Sugar Buzz | National Review Online)

It’s really too bad there’s only one party in American politics that doesn’t cheer mass murder and use mob tactics to ensure that it can be performed without even minimal health standards.

On Measurable Outcomes

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Beware of evil Data!

Wow. Os Guinness really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really does not like measurement of outcomes.

Not some specific, inappropriate measurement of outcomes, mind you. Separating the good from the bad, keeping the baby while throwing out the bathwater, would require him to exercise some self-restraint and careful logical analysis. Why do that when you can simply wallow in the pleasure of demonizing things that annoy you?

I guess he won’t be asking his publisher how many copies his new book has sold.

Or for a royalty check.

Point of Comparison (or, Why I Am Not A Turnip)

The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has to-day all the exhilaration of a vice.  GKC

Note the essential similarity between the logic of Sartre (as discussed in a previous post) and the logic of Chesterton in the following two passages.

Sartre:

when we say that man is responsible for himself, we do not mean that he is responsible only for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men. [... I]n choosing for himself he chooses for all men. For in effect, of all the actions a man may take in order to create himself as he wills to be, there is not one which is not creative, at the same time, of an image of man such as he believes he ought to be.

(source: Existentialism is a Humanism, Jean-Paul Sarte 1946)

Chesterton:

Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

If then, I repeat, there is to be mental advance, it must be mental advance in the construction of a definite philosophy of life. And that philosophy of life must be right and the other philosophies wrong. Now of all, or nearly all, the able modern writers whom I have briefly studied in this book, this is especially and pleasingly true, that they do each of them have a constructive and affirmative view, and that they do take it seriously and ask us to take it seriously. There is nothing merely sceptically progressive about Mr. Rudyard Kipling. There is nothing in the least broad minded about Mr. Bernard Shaw. The paganism of Mr. Lowes Dickinson is more grave than any Christianity. Even the opportunism of Mr. H.G. Wells is more dogmatic than the idealism of anybody else. Somebody complained, I think, to Matthew Arnold that he was getting as dogmatic as Carlyle. He replied, “That may be true; but you overlook an obvious difference. I am dogmatic and right, and Carlyle is dogmatic and wrong.” The strong humour of the remark ought not to disguise from us its everlasting seriousness and common sense; no man ought to write at all, or even to speak at all, unless he thinks that he is in truth and the other man in error. In similar style, I hold that I am dogmatic and right, while Mr. Shaw is dogmatic and wrong. But my main point, at present, is to notice that the chief among these writers I have discussed do most sanely and courageously offer themselves as dogmatists, as founders of a system. It may be true that the thing in Mr. Shaw most interesting to me, is the fact that Mr. Shaw is wrong. But it is equally true that the thing in Mr. Shaw most interesting to himself, is the fact that Mr. Shaw is right. Mr. Shaw may have none with him but himself; but it is not for himself he cares. It is for the vast and universal church, of which he is the only member.

(source: Heretics – Christian Classics Ethereal Library)

I suggest that it is worth meditating on how such a similarity comes to be.