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On the East and the West

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On the East and the West

Postby Eoghan Maoldomhnaigh » Sat 03.15.2014 6:53 am

First off, my apologies if this isn't quite the right forum. It has to do with culture, but the topic I intend to discuss also has a strong historical element (because after all, you can hardly divorce the culture of a country from its history, since you need the history to tell you where the culture came from).

Let me start by saying that I am an Irishman. I grew up on stories of chivalry and gallantry, and because of that I have come to hold something of a love for medieval European culture. You might wonder why, then, I am here, instead of on some medievalist board. Well, the answer to that is that in my teens I became involved in a lot of anime. While I can hardly even remember most of these, they still introduced me to a world I hadn't been aware of, where people had different assumptions, different norms, and generally just a different culture. That feeling of seeing something simultaneously strange and beautiful hooked me, because it is the discovery of the unknown. That feeling led us to sail the seas, and now that there are no more kingdoms of men to find the feeling makes us dream up encounters with alien races to indulge it.

Of course, I wanted to learn more about this fantastic culture, so I did. I found many things in it that I thought good and beautiful (love of family and of honour, those things that have been spat on by the modern West), as well as things I thought alien (for instance, the idea that ritual suicide was not only acceptable but honorable under certain circumstances, which was totally at odds with the Christian virtues of Chivalry). After a while of this, I came to think: "What would happen if a scholar from, say, the time and place of Charlemagne, had conversed with a contemporary from the Far East? What would they argue about? What would they agree on? On what would they disagree, and how violently? Is there any way they could have been reconciled?"

So, while I realise that this is a nebulous question, I ask you this: What, at least in your opinion, typifies Japanese culture - obviously some things, such as fashions, pass away, but some things don't, like recurring motifs. IMO, the "motifs" of the Medieval West would be such things as a thorough and analytical approach to inquiry (inherited from the Socratic method), the conviction that reality is fundamentally intelligible and can therefore be explained, and the investiture of temporal and spiritual power in distinct and seperate, though not isolated, persons (i.e., the king is not a priest and the priest is not a king). The West's past is also shaped by the need to control the violent warrior class that binds together and protects society (from this come such things as the codes of chivalry).

I understand that it's a broad topic, but please answer as best you can, or as best you think it can be answered. I'm really quite interested in this.
In this small respect (the Japanese) affect me like cats. I mean that I love them, their easy civilisation, their unique unreplaceable art, the testimony they bear to the bustling, irrepressible activities of
nature and man.

-G.K. Chesterton, 1935
Eoghan Maoldomhnaigh
 
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