March 17, 2005

If Could Speak English I would...

Interesting post from Neomarxisme about a Japanese ad for an english school that plays into Japanese conceptions about the culture that surrounds English.

Some examples...

I would lecture the loud foreigners on the train.
I would raise my children in America: one artist, one computer programmer.
I would look for a job in California that would end in the evening and I could go to in shorts.
I would make all my subordinates Americans and start a hamburger joint with great atmosphere.
I would live in a house where I could wake up and dive right into the pool.
I would become a real B-boy.

The whole thing started a serious discussion in the comments section in response to some of Marxy's points...

"...The Postmodernists love to claim that Japan is ideal because there is no concept of "authenticity" (an elitist form of subtle discrimination!), but if this is a real quote, perhaps we can extrapolate that the Japanese are aware of the demands for authenticity, but choose to ignore them because they have no other choice...."

Some other interesting remarks from the comments section were...

...But don't you find it odd that "speaking English" is something akin to walking on the ceiling - a fantasy-type situation? If you asked a French person what he would do if could speak Japanese, would he/she say, "I would finally be able to raise artistic kids"

"...the lower down you go (to a point) on the ladder of language hierarchy, the highter the amount of info/data you can see "above" you. if you are a "native" of a lower rung, a phychological pressure also forms to be "responsible" for knowing the upper rungs, and even a few rungs below you, just so that you can have something to view as "quaint".

"...However, despite the illusions offered by these hegemonic dreams, it's by no means a clear advantage to be a native English-speaker, or a clear disadvantage not to be. English speakers have no incentive to learn about other cultures and learn other languages. They tend to assume that their ways of doing things are "the real way" or "the right way", that they're "ahead" of everyone else, that others will "catch up". This makes them stolid and stupid, with poor understanding of cultural issues and cultural relativism. It can also, when their politics swing right, make them into bullies and imperialists.

The likes of Alex Kerr keep telling us that, on the one hand, Japan should keep its traditional culture (for internal and external tourism), but that on the other hand, Japan should open up to English as well as to foreign labour and capital. My counter-argument is that Japan's advanced postmodernism (the very thing Kerr demonises) and its relativism and plasticity (in other words, its freedom from a stupefying sense that it is central, or real, or right) put it in a unique position to pioneer, for the whole world, the thing that comes after postmodernism. Japan is ahead, not behind. It is hegemonic powers like the US which are now behind, completely lacking in cultural understanding, nibleness, and flexibility...."

Via boingboing


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