The Other Face of the Moon
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Gathering for the first time all of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s writings on Japanese civilization, The Other Face of the Moon forms a sustained meditation into the French anthropologist’s dictum that to understand one’s own culture, one must regard it from the point of view of another.
Exposure to Japanese art was influential in Lévi-Strauss’s early intellectual growth, and between 1977 and 1988 he visited the country five times. The essays, lectures, and interviews of this volume, written between 1979 and 2001, are the product of these journeys. They investigate an astonishing range of subjects—among them Japan’s founding myths, Noh and Kabuki theater, the distinctiveness of the Japanese musical scale, the artisanship of Jomon pottery, and the relationship between Japanese graphic arts and cuisine. For Lévi-Strauss, Japan occupied a unique place among world cultures. Molded in the ancient past by Chinese influences, it had more recently incorporated much from Europe and the United States. But the substance of these borrowings was so carefully assimilated that Japanese culture never lost its specificity. As though viewed from the hidden side of the moon, Asia, Europe, and America all find, in Japan, images of themselves profoundly transformed.
As in Lévi-Strauss’s classic ethnography Tristes Tropiques, this new English translation presents the voice of one of France’s most public intellectuals at its most personal.
mean the print, an art that was a revelation to me when I was six or so, and about which I have never since stopped being passionate. How many times have I been told that I was interested in vulgar things that were not true Japanese art, true Japanese painting, but were on the same level as the cartoons I could cut out from Le Figaro or L’Express! That irritation eased somewhat at times, especially in Kyoto, where, in a rather seedy Shimonsen shop, I found a triptych— oh, not very old, from the
where each thing belongs simultaneously to several registers. And I wonder whether that resonance, that evocative capacity of things, is not one of the aspects connoted by the enigmatic expression mono no aware. The spareness goes along with the richness: things mean more. I have learned from reports that a Japanese neurologist, Dr. Tsunoda Tadanobu, has demonstrated in a recent work that his compatriots, unlike all other peoples, even those in Asia, process the calls of insects in the left
pilgrimage destination, rites were formerly celebrated facing the sea, in the direction of the Iheya and Izena Islands, from which ancestral navigators may have arrived. In any event, Iheya-jima is the birthplace of the first and second ShÇ Dy nasties, which unified three earlier kingdoms and ruled the Ryukyu Islands from the fifteenth century until their annexation by Japan in 1879 (the Amami Islands to the north had been conquered by the lord of Satsuma in 1609). On the other side of the
is an intermediate solution—obtained through haggling, ruse, or deceit. That explains, in terms of a purely logical necessity, why the ferryman motif can appear next to that of the offended sun in two texts so remote in other respects. The Egyptian Seth and Susanoo These primitive characteristics, virtually present everywhere, are not always actualized. The Kojiki organizes the mythic subject matter available to it with such perfection that, when the first translations appeared in Europe, a
impressions, I found the brutality with which Japan treats nature painful. But at the same time, you have to give Japan credit; you said it yourself, two-thirds of Japan is uninhabited nature. There are not many countries that were able to accomplish that feat of creating a phenomenal urban civilization that is at the same time respectful of a large part of its territory. But the Western illusion comes, I believe, from the fact that the Japanese showed the West that it was possible to use