In our previous article, we introduced Nihonjinron, a pseudo-scientific and political discourse concerned with corroborating the homogeneity and uniqueness of Japanese culture. This time, we shift our interest from this particular political discourse to explain some more theory about discourse, the Other, and culture.
Culture as a splintered field of discourses
The first signifier that needs some explaining is the “discourse of the Other”. This signifier denotes all the signifieds coupled with signifiers in a given language, which gives reality meaning and systematically structures or constructs subjects and their world. The discourse of the Other is what the body of language contains, i.e. ideas, commands, beliefs, values, attitudes, commands and prohibitions … etc. Culture, in other words, consists of nothing other than the discourse of the Other.
The funny thing is that the discourse of the Other cannot ever attain a unity, as it is “a complicated network of contradictory stories, commands, and prohibitions, in which we must seek a way to carry on our existence in a meaningful manner” (Van Haute, 2002, p.73). As such, culture cannot ever attain a unity. As the discourse of the Other is fragmented and inconsistent, so is culture. And even though a certain culture has a certain general frame (i.e. the Other) that everyone of that culture shares, a deeper look reveals that that culture only exists as a multiplicity of cultural discourses (i.e. The Other as barred frames its own fragmentation). Within a culture, there are small deviations, but also radical breaks in relation to certain cultural tendencies.
What is even funnier, is that even though a certain cultural constellation, which is thus already fragmented, exists a priori to the birth of a subject, the birth of that subject causes a subjective re-invention of that discourse of the Other – see also the previous article. In our speech, we incessantly reveal our re-invention of the discourse of the Other, or own craftwork of the culture we were born in. The birth of the subject, the creation of his subjective patchwork, implies that every subject has a mono- experience of the discourse of the Other and of culture. No one experiences culture in the same way because the fabrication of the cultural reality is radically subjective. even though cultural patchworks of subjects share a common cultural ground – they are formed in the same fragmented cultural sphere, no patchwork can ever be identical.
The very notion of subjectivity structurally negates homogeneity at the level of culture. The Japanese does not exist. The Japanese culture doesn’t exist. There is only a broad cultural frame, i.e. the Other, that a subject is born into. The act of being born into such frame has two interrelated effects. First of all, it enables the subject to assume subjectively a common cultural ground (i.e. the Other as a frame) so he/she is able to move in that cultural space. Secondly, the subject receives the tools (i.e. language) by which he/she crafts his/her own presence in his/her own crafted cultural symbolic-imaginary reality. In other words, Language is our tool to craft our unique existence within a given cultural Other.
In our next article, we will apply this theory to the cultural discourse of Ramen and show how easy it is to undermine any idea of homogeneity in the cultural sphere. We will also underline that even when we only consider one discourse, the subjective way of being born into that discourse only creates a cultural richness.
Van Haute, P. (2012). Against adaptation. Lacan’s subversion of the subject. Other Press: New york.