Saturday, February 04, 2006

On Puzzlement

The feelings of puzzlement that some of you have expressed to me over the ideas presented in lecture is not a bug: it's a feature! Keep in mind that you are encountering an entirely different civilisation -- and that a millenium ago -- and thus it is a pedagogical necessity that you are puzzled at first engagement.

The intention is to allow you to encounter a foreign civilisation .... as a foreign civilisation. The (to me unsatisfactory) alternative is to intellectually colonise the other civilisation - to facilely experience that culture as if it were merely an exotic outpost of one's own. The following passage from
C.S. Lewis, concerning the reading of old books, applies nicely, mutatis mutandis, to these two alternatives:

There are, I know, those who prefer not to go beyond the impression, however accidental, which an old work makes on a mind that brings to it a purely modern sensibility and modern conceptions: just as there are travellers who carry their resolute Englishry with them all over the Continent, mix only with other English tourists, enjoy all they see for its 'quaintness', and have no wish to realise what those ways of life, those churches, those vineyards, mean to the natives. I have no quarrel with people who approach the past in that spirit. I hope they will pick none with me. But I was writing for the other sort.
Thus, puzzlement is the necessary early consequence of giving Japanese civilisation the dignity of unique identity. Fairly quickly, however, your experiential engagement with Japanese literature will (all too quickly) provide the natural and certain effect of familiarity.

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