dijous, de febrer 24, 2005

The Mirror Paradox

Imagine, just for a moment, that you create a setting for a film. You get some costumes and dress the actors with them. Then you invite some friends into the setting to show them what a fabulous culture you have just discovered. It should not require a tremendous effort of imagination, as it is the situation Edward Said proposed (more or less) in his well known work Orientalism, and elaborated later on in several articles. The problem is, (if one looks, as Said used to, for practical applicability), that it is not always easy to detach ourselves from the constructs of our cultural background. Some critical view is advised. When it comes to reformulating oneself ideas, the complete deletion of existing ones and input of new ones in blank files is not recommended. The perspective could be lost and one risks nihilism or even worse. Amalgamating new currents of thought or new points of view about life with the ones you already possess (and of course making due readjustments) will probably bring a better knowledge about the environment (be it close or far). In that sense, if you imagine the world as a complex matrix of labels, a huge amount of metal panels hanging in the void, you would have depicted a static and unchanging world. The amalgamating solution allows you to devise a matrix of labels, but instead of metal panels, post it note labels should be used. The difference? With post it notes one can just change or readjust what has been written on it. "Voilà".
But, what happens if "the Other" chooses to respond to the intrusion (that artificial creation of a notion of the Other) with unusual methods? That is to say, instead of confronting that artificial notion and try and convince the conceptualizer of that image that it is wrong, that it should be corrected (or readjusted), that cunning Other puts a mirror in front of the conceptualizer, convincing him that the image his preconceptions have created, is real.
Can we transfer this into a down to earth situation? Yes, of course. Nowadays, an incredible amount of far-east concepts about life are coming to western culture and tend to be systematically swallowed by western individuals. The western individual has been convinced by the Other that the exotic image western people had from eastern people was completely right. The same way there are "Toreros" and "Folclóricas" in Spain but not all Spanish people are such, not all eastern people are shaping their houses according to Feng shui or getting up early to do some Tai-chi. In the case of the Japanese, ‘it is "a truth universally acknowledged" (I’m quoting. Thanks Jane) that they all are hyper-polite people who follow a strict honor code’. Sure, have you known any? Just because their actions fit into some of our labels does not mean action-intention and label are well matched. Human beings, just human beings.
Needless to say that this is not exclusive of oriental people. Most cultures have their own stereotypes to offer to the market, while others are too busy with survival.