Tokyo Drifter Scene Analysis

This is fun! For a film class, I analyzed mise-en-scène, editing, cinematography, and sound within a two minute sequence in Seijun Suzuki’s 1966 Tokyo Drifter. 

You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpFfRE1tAG0

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The film Tokyo Drifter (Seijun Suzuki, 1966) follows the story of an ex-Yakuza gangster, Tetsu, and his skirmishes with different gang members. The colorful film seems to mock typical American westerns, while still maintaining its own unique, action-heavy style.  The most significant sequence in the film occurs from 21:09- 23:19, where the main conflict of the plot surfaces and the hero becomes trapped with the antagonist. Analyzing aspects of mise-en-scène and cinematography, as well as sound, within these two minutes prove that this sequence is the most iconic and definitive for the film as a whole.

Right before the sequence takes place, we are introduced to a setting of the club office.  Here Otsuka, the antagonist rival gang leader, forces Yoshii to give up the contract to an estate that Otsuka is attempting to buy. The hard lighting in the scene paired with a medium long shot from a wide angle lens position Yoshii in a position of stress, where he is sweating in the foreground and Otsuka’s henchmen appear looming over him. This clever shot shows all three men at equal sizes, while in reality the henchmen are behind Yoshii, implying that they are more powerful and willing to step in at any moment if things go wrong. The shot shows the viewer that Yoshii is trapped.  After some dialogue, Otsuka instructs Tanaka, a henchman, to call Kurata, the man with whom Yoshii previously agreed to settle the deal. The camera pans from left to right, behind Otsuka, following Tanaka to the phone. The camera halts with Otsuka’s right shoulder in the frame, revealing his power over Tanaka, in a medium long shot of Tanaka on the phone. He picks it up and the iconic sequence then begins.

A phone is heard ringing with a still shot of the familiar office of Kurata. The implied sound bridge between Tanaka picking up the phone and the ringing show the audience where the call is being placed. The specific floral wallpaper makes the viewer recognize this space immediately, a part of mise-en-scene. From a long shot, Mutsuko, the receptionist, is reading and giggling. She takes her time getting up to walk over to the phone—it has already rung four times. From a low point, the camera follows Mutsuko get up and head to the phone. In the back, however, Tetsu crosses from left to right and answers the phone. Unconcerned, Mutsuko returns to her place in the chair, where the camera repeats the same motion that followed her. The club music that has been playing since Yoshii went to the office minutes ago is still heard through a muffled filter over the phone. When Mutsuko sits, the camera cuts to a close up of Tanaka on the phone. There’s a single lamp behind him, but frontal light accenting his blank expression. He leans left with a dark background and a bright red phone.  A direct cut to Tetsu in a mirrored position with similar light, but a lighter background holding a white phone and wearing blue suit implies an inversion of power. The black and red combination against blue and white underlie a subtle bad versus good narrative. These two distinct shots switch back and forth throughout Tanaka-dominated dialogue, until he hangs up.

Silently, Kurata walks in a medium long shot from right to left, as the camera pans to follow. As he crosses to Tetsu hanging up the phone, we see the opposite perspective of the office from the previous Mutsuko shot. We see her in the chair facing the opposite direction. The viewer realizes this is the same path Tetsu walked earlier to answer the phone. In this quick cross, the lighting comes from the main room, spilling onto Tetsu and Kurata in an ambient yet natural way. A quick close up on Kurata, central with full light and eye match with the camera, the viewer can see his authentic acting as worried and concerned. As the camera remains still, returning to the previous shot, we see Tetsu walk out of the phone room to the door besides Mutsuko. Once there, the camera follows quickly going behind Kurata and establishing a high angle shot from below of Tetsu. He turns around to look at Kurata and Mutsuko. The receptionist is in medium shot focus while Kurata is out of focus in the phone room behind her. Then, another long shot shows Tetsu leaning up against the door and lighting a cigarette while Mutsuko is on the right in her chair facing out of frame. The sequence of these five shots demonstrates the Kuleshov Effect, where the audience is familiarized with the setting without getting an establishing shot. Tetsu asks Mutsuko the name of the club, and there is a direct cut to people dancing.

A bright purple background in an extreme long shot shows about ten people at the club. The same music that was playing in the office and over the phone blares in the club as the oblivious partiers drink their cares away. The music becomes mute as the known shot of Yoshii surrounded by the henchmen begins dialogue. Otsuka forces Yoshii to break the contract with Kurata and seal the new contract. Yoshii is frightened, but seals the contract and pockets the eight million on the table.  As he gets up to leave, the same pan that followed Tanaka to the phone follows Yoshii to the door in the same manner. Stopping to keep Otsuka in the frame, the wide angle lens again shows Yoshii central, a doorman in the background, and Otsuka’s arm, now with a gun, in the front left of the shot. Otsuka fires, and immediately cuts to Tetsu running toward the camera outside. Shot with a telephoto lens, Tetsu runs and looks for the sign of the club among others, but fails to gain any distance toward the camera. This accentuates the journey, and pace that Tetsu has gone to find Yoshii. Once Tetsu identifies the bar, we see him open a door and enter on the left.

As Tetsu enters the bar, we see him run up the stairs in the familiar purple lit bar from right to left in a medium long shot. The camera pans to follow his journey, rising with him as he ascends the staircase. The color contrast between the purple lit bar and Tetsu’s blue suit give an interesting shot—Tetsu is highlighted so all focus is drawn to him. Tetsu arrives at a door, which appears to almost be floating as it is the only dark color on screen. When Tetsu opens the door at the top of the stairs, Yoshii’s body falls onto him. The doorman peaks his head out, and then cuts to his perspective, seeing the familiar office and the door leading to the purple bar below. From a long shot, we see Tetsu standing in the doorway. Seeing Otsuka who just fired, the camera follows Tetsu’s dive to duck on the stairs from more shots in the office. Another cut to Otsuka in a medium long shot shows Tanaka stand up behind Otsuka and begin to shoot at the camera. The shooting takes place almost five seconds after Tetsu ducks. This may come across as a continuity error in editing, but this delay in action prolongs the suspense of the scene. Similarly, placing the camera between the fight, gives a head on perspective as both the attacker and the victim, providing the viewer more face-to-face action while watching the fight.

After the shooting, Otsuka and Tanaka join another henchmen and enter an elevator. The camera remains still, and we see Tetsu enter on the right and run toward the elevator situated on the far left of the screen. Tetsu attempts to open it, and after some struggle bursts the open.  We see Otsuka surrounded by his men as Tetsu falls into a trap  right in front of them. The light from the pit where Tetsu has fallen gives low lighting on the bottom of the faces of the three bad guys. The thud of the fall stops the music and cuts the shot direct overhead Tetsu on the floor in his blue suit. On the right side of the shot, the three men stand over him, while the light pours in from the open door on the left. A trap door falls over half of Tetsu, cutting off his legs, and Otsuka crosses over him and exits through the door. The other men follow, the door closes cutting off most of the light, and the second half of the door covers the rest of Tetsu, leaving the screen black to fade into a new scene.

This sequence is loaded with cinematographic details and mise-en-scène attributes that fuel the movie’s central theme. The mise-en-scène aspects of vivid color, like the phones, the background of the bar and Kurata’s office, and Tetsu’s suit fuel the central narrative of good versus evil and familiarize the viewer with the setting. The cinematography with wide angle shots position rivals against each other and suggest power within the office scenes with Yoshii with Otsuka and Kurata with Tetsu. Camera shots also familiarize the viewers with spatial recognition, such as Kurata’s office and the location of the bar. Similarly, placing the camera between the action or framing Otsuka’s gun in the corner of the shot add the suspense of the film. The narrative that occurs in these two minutes sets up the story for the plot to follow, motivating Tetsu to drift away and avoid gang related things, such as helping Kurata or trying to avenge Yoshii. The fast-paced editing between the two main locations of the bar and Kurata’s office heighten the conflict between the two factions and add to the central driving force of the movie. Tokyo Drifter is a staple in film for its unique color and high concentration of action. This sequence shows exactly that.

 

 

 

Buddhism as a Religion

In this piece, I focus my research on defining a religion. Tackling such a momentous issue takes a lot of perspective, which I take from anthropologists like Durkheim, Tyler, and Geertz.

Term Paper for Anthropology of Religion at Loyola University of Chicago

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Many anthropologists dedicate their life to define the complex phenomenon of religion. Creating an obsolete set of characteristics, however, places some practices outside the specific defines of religion. Émile Durkheim even states “if one insists that the term religion means belief in a supreme being, a certain number of tribes will be excluded from the world of religion” (Durkheim 1995:27). Focusing in on the ‘tribe’ of Buddhism, the worldview remains outside the confines of many definitions of religion due to its lack of a deity or heavy ritual practice.  Melford Spiro explains that “Buddhist doctrine poses a serious challenge to most of our generalizations about religion, and ultimately to our very notions about human nature itself” (Spiro 1970: 3). Due to the numerous exceptions Buddhism introduces to the debate on defining religion, an in-depth analysis of the worldview must be completed. Discussing the definitions of religion and applying them to Buddhism Doctrine enlightens the idea of Buddhism broadening the defines of religion.  Through this paper’s discourse Buddhism is revealed to be a religion because it provides motivation for individuals to act, thus helping individuals to live.

The specific case of Buddhism as a religion presents a broad argument to the stage of theoretical cultural anthropology. Spiro claims that cultural and religion systems are not a solid mold, but simply initial classification systems for societal practices. Discovering Buddhism as a religion then serves as a catalyst for the discussion of the vitality and validity of classifying cultural phenomenon different from those of an observer. Outside the world of anthropologists, an inherent ethnocentric bias of one’s culture persists. Therefore, witnessing Buddhism as a religion remains imperative—it reveals the many flaws in attempting to define ‘foreign’ culture. A religion exists as “the relationship between the real and ideal, the actual and doctrinal, the existential and normative,” providing complex dimensions of belief systems for the believer (Spiro 1970:5). Discourse on religion then proves appropriate in attempting to eliminate ethnocentric bias. Spiro enforces this quest, claiming that “to hold that religion consists in a set of textual doctrines is to hold a strange notion of ‘religion’ in contrast to theology or philosophy…. It would result in denying that millions of Burmese, Cambodians, Laotians, Sinhalese, and Thai are Buddhists, despite the fact that this religious system is practiced” (Spiro 1970:5). To prevent defining legitimate practices as irreligious, analyzing incomplete but accepted definitions of religion becomes necessary.

As previously stated, numerous anthropologists discuss the purpose and theory behind religion. Because of this, many definitions of religion exist. Discovering the massive spectrum between Tylor’s ethnocentric definition and Geertz’s very specific one demonstrate the polarities in which religion can function.  Analyzation of different definitions of religion must therefore persist to then accurately discover a functioning definition.

Edward Tylor defined religion as essentially belief in spirits. He discusses Animism, or the ‘theory of souls’ being “shown as the principle out of which arose the various systems of spirits and deities in barbaric and ancient religions” (Tylor 1904:290). Today’s religions thus arose from animism. Tylor continues, claiming that barbaric religions existed as early systems of natural philosophy, which evolved into what is central to religion today. The notion of spirits “serves to account for whatever happens” (Tylor 1904:278). For Tylor, the belief in spirits served as an explanation to natural happening while providing a moral mold for individuals to strive. To exemplify this, he states “among the savages…the worship of the dead naturally encourages good morals; for the ancestor who, when leaving, took care that his family should do right by one another, does not cease this kindly rule when he becomes a divine ghost” (Tylor 1904:289). Here, Tylor explains how a spirit serves as a redemptive judge of morality. A religion then is a belief in spirits, serving to weigh morality. Despite the historical insight, however, Tylor lacks a culturally appropriative contribution to the definition of a religion.

A more modern attempt reflects that of Edward Conze, who defines religion as “an organization of spiritual aspirations, which reject the sensory world and negate the impulses which bind us to it” (Conze 1951:12).  Religion is then just another world where spirits exist. Murray Leaf expands this idea, stating that religions “provide the ideas and organizations they use for public discussion of many matters of great practical importance and…often provide a sense of community on a personal and manageable scale” (Leaf 1957:168).  This perspective, with Tylor’s, defines religion as a different realm paralleled to ours, where spirits serves as a moral guide. These definitions provide some basis, ready for expansion and elaboration by Clifford Geertz.

Famously, Geertz created a five-part definition of religion. Basically stated, “the importance of religion lies in its capacity to serve, as a source of general, yet distinctive conception of the world” (Geertz 1993:215). Religion then is simply an explanation of the world. Similar to animistic ‘account for whatever happens,’ Geertz provides a function for religion in cultural discourse. Despite the definition, however, Geertz explains that religion is not obsolete. He says that “culture patterns have an intrinsic double aspect: they give meaning to social and psychological reality both by shaping themselves to it and by shaping it to themselves” (Geertz 1993:207). Religion then must exist as a cooperative justification tool, influencing the society equally as the society influences it. The problem then arises that religions are constantly changing because its practicing individuals possess the power to practice and define the religion how they choose.  Geertz’s definition thus lacks a clear, definitive answer. The lack of uniformity from Geertz slows down the quest, but Émile Durkheim persists to provide the clearest definition of religion, able to fit Buddhism within its boundary.

Durkheim’s interpretation seems to present the most functional definition of religion. His interpretation eliminates any possible ethnocentrism while clarifying the incomplete definitions. First, Durkheim acknowledges that all religions do not have a god, saying “not all religious virtues emanate from divine personalities, and there are cult ties other than those that unite man with a deity. Thus, religion is broader than the idea of gods or spirits and so cannot be defined exclusively in those terms (Durkheim 1995: 33). This clarification is vital to understanding religion authentically while not subjecting nontheistic religions to a different definition. Durkheim’s definition serves religions like Buddhism well, because religion does not necessitate specifics. He reminds a reader that “there are great religions in which invocations, propitiations, sacrifices, and prayers are far from dominant, and therefore do not exhibit the distinguishing murky by which religious phenomena are to be recognized” (Durkheim 1995:31). With this, is it apparent that Durkheim presents the most encompassing definition to religion. Unlike Tylor’s classification of animism as savage, Geertz’s ever changing term, or Conze’s and Leaf’s incomplete definition, Durkheim incorporates all aspects of belief into a singular function. He reminds the reader that “the true function of religion is not to make us think, enrich our knowledge, or add representations of a different sort and source to those we owe to science. Its true function is to make us act and to help us live” (Durkheim 1995:45).  Motivation to act and aid to persist in life remains the authentic function of a religion—any cultural practice defined as such has the ability to satisfy the two-fold definition. This simple classification of a worldview thus presents Buddhism as a religion.

Buddhism was founded in 545BCE in India by a noble named Siddhartha Gautama.  The practice spread rapidly through the Buddha’s personality, the spirit of renunciation, self-discipline, and numerous sacrifices by Buddhist disciples (Rajavaramuni 1984:28). Initially, Buddhism drew a large part of its followers from Indians upset with the caste system, because the religion placed worth on human deed over spiritual or ascribed status. Popular in India, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Japan, Malaysia, and many other parts of the world, Buddhists constitute 8% of the world’s population, about 535 million people (ibid).

Due to the lack of a creator-god, Buddhism is unique and thus atheistic, creating conflict in defining the practice as religious. While some spirits exist in small Nat cults in Myanmar, they do not fall into Tylor’s terms of animism because they do not aid in personal salvation. As an essentially ethical religion, Buddhism is often viewed as secular humanism (Morris 2006:52). Morris also states that “Buddhism is an extreme form of individualism, for there is no recourse to a deity or savior, no prayer or sacrament, no religious grace, and not even an enduring soul” (ibid). This reminds a reader that for a Buddhist, all life is suffering. Central to Buddhist doctrine, this nature of suffering means many of the common aspects of a major world religion are not found in Buddhist practice. As Morris states, “Buddhism is both nihilistic and pessimistic, for it repudiates everything that constitutes or attracts the empirical self and regards all sensory experience, all life, as something to be totally rejected” (ibid). The religion, therefore, seems almost incompatible with any definition of religion that encapsulates the major world religions like polytheistic Hinduism or monotheistic Islam or Christianity.

The essential doctrine of Buddhism is embedded in the dharma, or the Four Holy Truths, which exist in their own right, without dependence on any prior reality (ibid). The Four Holy Truths remain defined as:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
  3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
  4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path (BDEA 2016).

Similar to Christianity’s 10 Commandments or Islam’s 5 Pillars, the Four Holy, or Noble, Truths constitute the foundation of the religion’s worldview. The thesis of the religion states that human life is suffering, and that only through elimination of desire can suffering halt. Rajavaramuni confirms this, saying that “human life implied suffering…most people cannot live happily without adopting some kind of ostrich attitude to this existential fact” (Rajavaramuni 1984:39). Eliminating suffering thus serves as salvation for a Buddhist.

Salvation remains to be one of the more interesting aspects of Buddhism. For most religions, salvation comes from an all-power deity, typically saving an individual from the despair of this world into the beauty of the next. A Buddhist, however, finds salvation through one’s own effort. Nothing but one’s own action will bring salvation. As Morris states:

“Buddhism is a way of salvation: it is not concerned with god or the world, but with human life and with the elimination of suffering. The attainment of salvation depends neither on ritual sacraments, no faith, nor on divine grace, but only on a deep understanding of the way ‘things really are’” (Morris 2006:44).

Salvation is thus an escape from the constant cycle of rebirth. Just as Islam and Christianity provide an escape through salvation, so too does Buddhism offer its followers a path to redemption.

With this basic understanding of Buddhism, categorizing its elements in Durkheim’s definition of religion become possible. Prior to seeing how Buddhism makes one act and helps them to live, discussion on the Buddhist negation of God is required.  Buddhism fully rejects the existence of a god, which is why so much conflict to defining Buddhism as a religion exists. Some claim that since Buddhism knows no god, it could not be a religion.  These discussions, however, assume that god is an unambiguous term. Durkheim states that “in none of [4 noble truths] is there any question of divinity. The Buddhist is not preoccupied with knowing where this world of becoming in which he lives and suffers came from he accepts it as fact” (Durkheim 1995:28). Durkheim thus contents that a Buddhist only focuses on the reality of life as suffering. A Buddhist would thus adopt an agnostic attitude to that of a personal creator.

While Buddhism remains agnostic, Conze provides an interpretation where Nirvana serves a similar role to a traditionally western deity. A Christian godhead serves as an impersonal, even supra-personal power figure. Within the tenants of Nirvana, a similar role is discovered. Conze says that “Nirvana is permanent, stable, imperishable, immovable, ageless, deathless, unborn, and unbecome, that it is power, bliss and happiness…” (Conze 1951: 39). Clearly, these descriptive terms of Nirvana’s purpose parallel that of a Christian deity. He continues, stating “that it is the real truth and the supreme reality that it is the good, the supreme goal and the one and only consummation of our life” (Conze 1951:40).  Similarly, Buddhism provides a clear moral code. As Tambiah states, “it needs also to be emphasized that merit making is directed to hastening rebirth and securing a better rebirth than the existing one” (Tambiah 1968:50). The motivation of living a good life thus comes from the hope of a better salvation. Both Tambiah and Conze compare the role of a Christian deity and Nirvana, concluding that Nirvana serves a Buddhist in a similar way as a deity serves a Christian. While Buddhism lacks a tradition deity, Nirvana satisfies all the qualifications that a Christian deity provides. Through this, the religion helps on to live by providing hope of redemption at the end of a suffering life. Buddhism also provides motivation to act.

The Buddha’s teaching is exclusively concerned with showing the way to salvation. As Lévy states, “Buddhism is a universal religion with salvation as its objects…an ascetic moved by the noble’s intentions” (Lévy 1957: 2). Hence, Buddhism encourages an individual to act in ways that will bring about salvation. Phra Rajavaramuni, a Thai monk, uses specific examples from Thai society to demonstrate how Buddhism satisfies Durkheim’s definition of religion making one act. Rajavaramuni discusses the common form of merit-making acts in modern Thailand. Surrounding Buddhism festivals and ceremonies, Thai culture implements an inescapable moral structure. “By attending religious rites, ceremonies and temple festivals, or by benefiting from some activities and spiritual influence of religious institutions,” Buddhism links the society to its moral structure (Rajavaramuni 1984:13). He continues, saying Thais “are linked with the religion by ties of custom; Buddhism is their national heritage, the glory of their country which they feel bound to preserve” (ibid). The Buddhist entrenchment in Thai society provides an ordinary Thai with solid inclusion to Buddhist practice and culture. Similarly, in Burma, Buddhism serves to unite different people. Rajavaramuni states that “the people of Burma belong to many races and speak many languages, but 85% of the people were Buddhists, thus the government found in Buddhism this unifying element…” (Rajavaramuni 1984:73). Buddhism unites different races of people. The religion therefore enforces inclusion into its moral structure.

Buddhism also provides aid to help followers live. As Rajavaramuni states, “the village monastery serves as the center of social life and activities of the village, for village social life follows the Buddhist holy days, temple fairs, and merit-making ceremonies” (Rajavaramuni 1984:15). Similarly, “the wat is the focus of village devotional and recreational activities, which both merge in certain collective rites distributed over the year” (Tambiah 1968:48). These insights help to demonstrate Buddhism’s prevalence in the social community. The implementation of Buddhist temples and holy days remind individuals about the tenants of Buddhism, thus helping the individual to live. Ritual action among monks serves the laity “to achieve certain effects in these relationships between explained and unexplained” (Tambiah 1968:44). The daily practice of monks paired with the ever-present symbols of Buddhism help followers achieve a moral life. This aid, balanced with showing the way, satisfy Buddhism’s agency in Durkheim’s definition to ‘make us act and to help us live.’

From extensive discourse on anthropological definition of religion, the phenomenon encompasses a practice that motivates individuals to act and aids them with their life. Due to the lack of a central deity and normative ritual such as prayer and idol worship, Buddhism is too often defined outside the realm of religion. This is inappropriate, as Spiro states that “to hold that normative religious doctrine is irrelevant for an understanding of beliefs of religious actors is to evade one of the most important problems in the anthropological study of religion” (Spiro 1970:5).  Using case studies to then assess the authentic agency the practice provides for its followers, it is evident that Buddhism persists as a religion.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Conze, Edward. 1951. “Buddhism: Its Essence and Development.” Oxford: Harper & Row.

BDEA—Buddha Dharma Education Association. 2016. “Essentials of Buddhism.” The Four Noble Truths. Tullera, Australia: BuddhaNet.net.

Durkheim, Émile. 1995. “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life.” New York: The Free Press.

Geertz, Clifford. 1993. “Religion as a Cultural System.” The Interpretation of Cultures. London: Fontana Press.

Leaf, Murray. 2014. “The Anthropology of Eastern Religions.” Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.

Lévy, Paul. 1957. “Buddhism: a ‘Mystery Religion’?” New York: Schocken Books.

Morris, Brian. 2006. “Religion and Anthropology: a critical introduction.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Buddhism and Spirit Cults. 44-76.

Rajavaramuni, Phra. 1984. “Thai Buddhism in the Buddhist World.” Bangkok: Amarin Printing Group.

Spiro, Melford. 1970. “Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes.” New York: Harper & Row.

Tambiah, S.J. 1968. “Cambridge Papers in Social Anthropology.” The Ideology of Merit and the Social Correlates of Buddhism in a Thai Village. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 41-121.

Tylor, Edward B. 1904. “Anthropology: An Introduction to the Study of Man and Civilization.” New York: J.A. Hill and Company.

 

Une comparaison entre « Le Chêne et le Roseau » par Jean de La Fontaine et « Bojack Horseman » par Netflix

Je l’écrivais l’année dernière pour s’amuser. 

Prenez plaisir! 🙂

 

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Dans Bojack Horseman, une émission au Netflix, il y a un cheval s’appelle Bojack qui était une vedette de cinéma. Son agente, Princess Caroline, une chatte, et Bojack ont une relation uniquement. Vingt ans après l’émission de Bojack (Horsin’ Around) a fini, Bojack n’a pas encore faire quelque chose. Il boit, fume, et se drogue beaucoup parce que il est très déprimé. En conséquence de sa manière radine et méchante, Bojack traite Princess Caroline très mauvaise. Bojack est très riche, donc il a beaucoup d’argent que faire tout lui voudra. Alors, quand Bojack s’attire des ennuis, il demande que Princess Caroline arrange tous les problèmes qu’il a commencé.  Il y a beaucoup de temps où Bojack fait une erreur, comme il a volé le lettre « D » de l’affiche de Hollywood pour une femme, ou quand il a essayé d’embrasser à la fille (elle avait seize ans et Bojack avait cinquante-trois ans) de son bonne amie. Mais, pendant tous les erreurs de Bojack, Princess Caroline était là. En dépit du fait que Princess Caroline soit la meilleure amie pour Bojack, il lui traite comme une animale. (C’est l’art de l’émission—personnifie les caractères comme la bête en nous tous). Mais, à la fin de l’émission, Bojack se suicide et Princess Caroline, avec le prestige et expérience d’être l’agente de Bojack, deviens la meilleure agente en Hollywoo. Cette émission triste et sagace compare bien avec le poème par Jean de La Fontaine Le Chêne et le Roseau. 

                  Dans le poème, un chêne et un roseau parlent. Le chêne est très pompeux et a dit pourquoi il est meilleur que le roseau. Le chêne dit « Le moindre vent, qui d’aventure fait rider la face de l’eau, vous oblige à baisser la tête. » Donc, le chêne est simplement méchant.  Après le chêne s’a vanté, le roseau répond poliment : « je plie, et ne romps pas. » À la fin du poème, un orage est venu et a déraciné le chêne. Alors, ce poème donne un aperçu des morals de gens différents. On peut comparer le poème avec Bojack Horseman.

                  Pour ce comparaison, Bojack est le chêne et Princess Caroline est le roseau. Pendant Bojack Horseman, Bojack était arrogant et égoïste à Princess Caroline. On peut voir les mêmes traits quand le chêne a dit les mots durs au roseau.  Beaucoup de fois, Bojack a dit Princess Caroline qu’elle ait de la chance pour lui connaître. C’est similaire du chêne quand il a dit « la nature envers vous me semble bien injuste. » Le chêne suppose que le roseau pense toujours au chêne. Donc, Bojack aussi suppose que Princess Caroline pense toujours à lui. Très similaire, le chêne veut d’être d’aide pour le roseau. On peut le voir quand le chêne a dit « encore si vous naissiez à l’abri du feuillage dont je couvre le voisinage, vous n’auriez pas tant à souffrir : je vous défendrais de l’orage. » Ici, peut-être, le chêne voudrai justifier sa manière au roseau avec la protection. Encore aussi, Bojack est le chêne parce qu’il croit qu’il donne le prestige à Princess Caroline. Les deux supposent qu’ils sont gentils et généreux. Finalement, comme le roseau a prédit, le chêne déracine et, alors, est mort. Comme le chêne, Bojack est mort après il a décuvé sa manière mal.  La Fontaine finit merveilleusement bien son poème avec « celui de qui la tête au Ciel était voisine et dont les pieds touchaient à l’Empire des Morts. » Tristement, Bojack mort la même façon. Il a dit « ne pas comprendre que vous êtes une personne horrible ne vous fait pas moins d’une personne horrible. »

C’est facile à réprimander le chêne, Bojack, ou les gens méchants. La Fontaine nous veut à penser que le sens du poème soit d’être gentil plutôt que méchant, généreux plutôt qu’égoïste. C’est vrai, mais avec Bojack, le nouveau sens est d’être compréhensif et toujours humain. Il n’y a rien un chemin à connaître quoi quelqu’un pense ou sente. Il y a beaucoup de similarités entre Bojack Horseman et Le Chêne et le Roseau, mais la plus importante chose se souvenir est d’être gentil à tout.

 

 

Can War Be Eliminated

This is an opinion piece I wrote for a Political Theory class at Loyola University Chicago.

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The link between human life and war is unbreakable; as long as there have been humans, war has continually existed. Merriam Webster defines war as “an organized effort by a government or other large organization to stop or defeat something that is viewed as dangerous or bad.” [1] War’s definition is not obsolete, however. Relating basic human behavior to state action in the proper context of the nature of war reveals the inescapable reality of battle. This then exposes the often hidden characteristics of war, changing its encompassing definition. “To begin a philosophical discussion of war draws one into a long and complex intellectual path of study and continual analysis,” [2] where one must first understand basic human nature and the context of war within the state. The nature of war then reveals the unfortunate reality of its permanence.

Many philosophers debate the true natural state of man. Immanuel Kant argues that “nature guarantees perpetual peace by the actual mechanism of human inclination.” [3] He believes that a solidarity human possesses an authentic peace. He continues, however, stating that men living together endure in a state of war, meaning “the state of peace must be formally instituted, for a suspension of hostilities is not in itself a guarantee of peace.” [4] Kant thus argues that, while men individually remain peaceful, cohabitation welcomes a natural tendency to hostilities.  Hobbes would agree with Kant, stating that “without an external power to impose laws, the state of nature would be one of immanent warfare.”[5]  While the individual interpretations of man’s nature differ between the two philosophers, both agree that the collective coexistence of man naturally promotes war. Peace cannot exist without some form of institution that mediates between the differing desires of men within a collective society.  This unified body of men, the state, then interestingly harbors a tendency for war.

The relationships between different collective bodies of man present many challenges. Michael Walzer even says “that international society as it exists today is a radically imperfect structure.” [6] Volatility and uncertainty arise from the constantly changing few of those who make up a state. War arises simply when one state’s views differ from another or are in conflict so states determine they must act in their best interest. States represent the will of their constituents, desiring to secure their most favorable outcome. This is a point of interest and issue. Rousseau argues that “states must be active (aggressive) otherwise they decline” and because of this, “war is inevitable and any attempts at peaceful federations are futile.” [7] In attempt to refute Rousseau’s view, Kant assumes states are solely motivated by their economic interests. He says that “states find themselves compelled to promote the noble cause of peace…in the spirit of commerce and financial power.” [8] To theorize and assume a state’s genuine motivations, however, would be difficult due to the variation that naturally exists within humanity. Kenneth Waltz argues: “While human nature no doubt plays a role in bringing about war, it cannot by itself explain both war and peace, except by the simple statement that sometimes he fights and sometimes he does not.” [9] Because of this, the solution to eliminating war (if even possible) does not lie in its actors, but in the nature of itself.

War is chaotic, to say the least. While patterns exist, presenting strategies to study and patterns to analyze, every war varies to some degree. Howard Zinn states that “war, by its nature, is unfocused [and] indiscriminate.” [10] No war’s reality can be compared wholly to another. The historical contexts, agency of aggression (weapons, fighting style), motivations for attacks, and conflicting actors prove the complexities of theorizing war. The Peloponnesian war differs immensely from the War of 1812, which exists as a binary to the Afghan War of recent years. Anthony Rapport says that “the main problem is that of recognizing that the war establishments no longer perform the function they may have once performed – that of protecting populations against aggression.”[11] He continues: “the war establishments of the superpowers have been fused into a single war machine; they do not compete, they cooperate in promoting each other’s growth.” [12] Rapport highlights the obvious changing nature of war, but enlightens the reality that now states rely on war for their mere progression. War motivates allies to be stronger, enemies to develop faster, and economies to be more marketable. To break this down, a state must compete through its economy and infrastructure for security on the international stage. The symbiotic relationship between allies dictates that both states have the agency to defend and support the other in times of strife or present danger. The need to remain stronger and more powerful than the enemy welcomes a continuous campaign of increasing arms. Economic dominance, too, demands states to harbor the most mercantile aspirations in order to benefit its citizens. Simply stated, “war resides in the institutions spawned by war, which, in turn, spawn wars.” [13]

Kant understood this reciprocal relationship, saying that “a state of affairs is essentially a state of war.” [14] Therefore, to simply hold sovereignty on the international stage requires a state to exist in constant preparation for, even fear of, war. The nature in which a state exists is war, so can there be a solution to war? As Brian Lehrer states, “there are no preconditions to abolishing war.” [15] This essentially defines the problem with war; the international system cannot exists without it. Lehrer does, however, present an advantageous solution to halt war. He states: “most people who even flirt with the idea conclude that certain things need to happen first: almost all nations need to become democracies, the gap between rich and poor nations must greatly diminish, women must have half the political power in the world.” [16] These requirements might seem achievable to someone overly optimistic, but the actuality of completing these requirements is impossible in the current state of modern state existence.

Due to the reliance of war fueling state adaption and growth, war cannot be eliminated. The constant requirement to defend a state’s citizens and their constantly changing views against another state’s citizens and their changing views welcomes the reality of war.  While the nature of man remains debatable based on context, the nature of the state endures. The sovereign personality does not just welcome war, it needs it. Conflict is natural, and war is conflict in its extreme form, therefore it cannot be eliminated.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] “War.” Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed November 14, 2016. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/war.

[2] Moseley, Alexander. The Philosophy of War. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161-0002, http://www.iep.utm.edu/.  13 November 2016.

[3] Rosen, Michael, and Jonathan Wolff. 1999. Political Thought.  p. 157-263. Oxford: Oxford University Press p258.

[4] ibid p257

[5] Moseley

[6] Rosen p260

[7] Moseley

[8] Rosen p257

[9] Moseley

[10] Zinn, Howard. 2001.  A Just Cause, Not a Just War. The Progressive. http://ontology.buffalo.edu/smith/courses01/rrtw/Zinn.html. 12 November 2016.

[11] Rapport, Anthony. 2009. Can Humanity Eliminate War?. Anatol Report: Systems, rationality, and peace. http://www.anatolrapoport.net/node/6. 10 November 2016.

[12] ibid

[13] ibid

[14] Rosen p258

[15] Lehrer, Brian. 25 June 2012. Could we End war, All war? The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jun/25/end-war-brian-lehrer. 10 November 2016

[16] ibid

Witchcraft in Africa

This piece delves into the often objectified world of Witchcraft in Africa. Using different case studies, I argue that western media’s negative representation of witchcraft has turned modern Africans away from the authentic culture of many groups of individuals.   With modern pieces like Henry West’s Ethnographic Sorcery to the classic E.E. Evans-Pritchard’s study of the Azande, my essay combines theory and ethnography to support my conclusion.

 

Published in the Binghamton Undergraduate Journal of Anthropology

~~~~~~~

 

Witchcraft, or sorcery, is a prominent aspect of many African cultures. To Westerners, perceptions of devil worshipers flying on brooms prohibits reasonable interpretations about the nature of witchcraft. A UNICEF-sponsored anthropologist in South Sudan, Aleksandra Cimpric defines witchcraft as the all-encompassing practice, which includes the popular custom of sorcery. She states that “witchcraft covers multiple terms in local languages referring to various phenomena whose interpretation relies heavily on their context” (Cimpric 2010: 11). In this paper, both sorcery and witchcraft are treated in the same practice. Cimpric’s definition allows one to comprehend witchcraft’s role in African societies. Iona M. Lewis, of the Encyclopedia Britannica, defines one of the central claims in this paper, declaring that “witchcraft explains the problem posed when one seeks to understand why misfortune befalls oneself rather than someone else” (Lewis 2016). Based upon this premise, one can use specific case studies of witchcraft’s role as a moral guide to gauge their societal standing. The Azande in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Muedans in northern Mozambique, and the vast majority of South Africans utilize witchcraft to elucidate unexplained phenomena. While western language invites words like ‘coincidence’, ‘luck’, ‘or fate,’ to define unexplainable events, these words do not exist in most African cultures (Butler 2016). Therefore, is is vital to follow E.E. Evans-Pritchard’s advice about African witchcraft. One of the first anthropologist to review witchcraft in Africa, Evans-Pritchard uses his example of Azande culture to clarify that “the Zande notion of witchcraft is incompatible with our ways of thought (Evans-Pritchard 1976: 81). With Evans-Pritchard’s claim, it is evident that western investigation of witchcraft depicts inaccurate perceptions of African culture. However, being culturally relative in one’s analysis of witchcraft’s influence in different African cultures and societies allows one to authenticate witchcraft’s role as a sophisticated moral framework.

In order to accurately evaluate ethnographic case studies about witchcraft, it is vital to first understand the origin of witchcraft’s inaccurate portrayal in western academia and media. Westerners’ first encounter with African witchcraft was Jean Rouch’s, Les maîtres fous, an enthofictional documentary about spiritual possession in northern Niger. Documenting the Hauka ceremony provided Europeans with images of Africans foaming at the mouth, eating a dog, and contorting their bodies in grotesque configurations (Les maîtres fous 1955). The film, first showed in France in 1955, entrenched a view of savage behavior around all African religion. Despite these false predictions, the film aimed to demonstrate how the ceremony exemplified an inversion of power in colonial Africa. Dr. Paul Stoller states that “…the Hauka way of mastering domination, of redirecting European power to African networks…” was a coping mechanism for Africans (Stoller 1995: 123). The possessed participants became their believed entities, seeking reconciliation for their false-doings. Stoller continues: “In anthropology, it is especially important to consider these smells, tastes, textures and sensations, particularly in those societies in which the Eurocentric notion of text are not important” (Stoller 1995: 22). Les maîtres fous and Stoller’s arguments show how the absence of a Eurocentric analysis of witchcraft created a savage view of the practice. However, in African reality witchcraft is as common as western religious practice. Evans- Pritchard solidifies this claim, stating “unless the reader appreciates that witchcraft is quite a normal factor in the life of the Azande [Africans practicing forms of witchcraft], …he will entirely misunderstand their behavior to it. To us witchcraft is something which haunted and disgusted our credulous forefathers. But the Zande expect to come across witchcraft at any time of the day or night” (Evans-Pritchard 1976: 64). By being culturally relative, or viewing the foreign paradigm completely from the point of view of only those who participate in witchcraft, one can then properly assess the cultural and social importance of witchcraft in case studies from vastly different regions of Africa.

Practicing witchcraft is a vague process with numerous forms of participation. Therefore, comprehending three distantly unique examples of witchcraft is vital to understand its importance within African society. Continuing with E.E. Evans-Pritchard’s research, Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande serves as a tool to demonstrate one specific way witchcraft is utilized in African society. In central DRC, the Azande rely on witchcraft for the causation of uncommon events. Evans-Pritchard claims that “we must not be deceived by [Azande] way of expressing causation … [t]hey are foreshortening the chain of events, and in a particular social situation are selecting the cause that is socially relevant” (Evans-Pritchard 1976: 73). For the Azande, witchcraft dictates the attitude its followers should possess in times of infortunes. The Azande use of witchcraft “provides them with a natural philosophy by which the relations between men and unfortunate events are explained and a ready and stereotyped means of reacting to such events” (Evans-Pritchard 1976: 63). This view of witchcraft provides answers to complex life situations. The Azande practicality of witchcraft contrasts from the far away Muedan perception in northern Mozambique.

Henry West, PhD in Anthropology from University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides a different definition of witchcraft from his research on the Muedan plateau in Mozambique. For Muedans, acts of sorcery were equivalent to practices in witchcraft. The biggest act of sorcery is the perception of lions as a reflection of current moral standing. If a Muedan encountered a lion, the nature of the lion would change based on personal reflection of perceived proper social interaction. West says that “sorcery lions… were made, not by sorcerers in an invisible realm, but instead by ordinary, self-deceived Muedans” (West 2007:55). For Muedans, “…sorcery provided an idiom for the expression of social tensions between Muedans of various categories and their respective sociological others” (West 2007:17). The analysis of sorcery as a tool of witchcraft provides another diverse example of witchcraft’s prominence within African cultures. A final, completely different example of witchcraft is evident in South Africa, demonstrating how witchcraft explains the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

South Africa remains one of the most ethnically diverse landscapes in the enormous continent. Despite possessing numerous ethnicities, a majority of traditional groups rely on witchcraft as their outlet for poor conditions. Dr. Adam Ashforth states that “witchcraft in the South African context typically means the manipulation by malicious individuals of powers inherent in persons, spiritual entities, and substances to cause harm to others” (Ashforth 2001: 9). He continues: “Discourses of ‘witchcraft’ can thus be represented as modes of posing and answering questions about evil: about the beings, powers, forces and modes of action responsible for causing suffering in the world; about the nature and meaning of their effects” (Ashforth 2001: 10). For South Africans, witchcraft serves as a tool to establish causation of negative events. While similar to how the Azande utilize witchcraft, it is important to note the difference. South Africans reserve witchcraft to “[inform] understandings about other peoples’ motives and capacities…” (Ashforth 2001: 21). Using the contemporary example of perception of the HIV/AIDS disease, South Africans relying on witchcraft as an explanatory tool to interpret the disease as evil individuals seeking to harm the innocent. With three geographically, culturally, and socially diverse example of witchcraft’s implementation, one truly witnesses witchcraft’s importance in the African realm.

Witchcraft serves as a societal hierarchy and moral framework for Africans. The three case studies all demonstrate similar practicality of witchcraft. In DRC and South Africa, “the witchcraft paradigm… constitutes a way of understanding one’s place in the world” (Ashforth 2001: 10). Likewise, in Mozambique, “…[witchcraft] constitutes a discursive space in which Muedans could speak about the world and act within it in ways they could not through other discursive formations” (West 2007: 69). From these conclusions about witchcraft, it is clear that the unique practice is vital to these societies. In Cimpric’s report on witchcraft, she determines that “the issue of whether witchcraft actually exists has long since been abandoned. Witchcraft exists as a social and cultural reality” (Cimpric 2010: 10). Now, with the appropriate understanding of witchcraft and its importance to African societies, it is clear why western perception of witchcraft is inaccurate and therefore incompatible for a western dissection of cultural importance.

The introduction of western religions to Africa through colonialism created a biased and judgmental view of witchcraft. Christianity specifically defines witches as heathens and immoral pagans who require spiritual redemption. Obviously the western model is ethnocentric and therefore inaccurate, but the origin of the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ paradigm created immense scrutiny of those Africans still practicing witchcraft. The Norwegian scholar of Theology Rune Blix Hagen states that “the African concept of magic has lost what was originally neutral and morally unbiased in character. A veil of Christian and Western diabolism… descended upon the traditional beliefs of African witchcraft and made these beliefs much more dangerous than earlier” (Hagen 2004). The racist presumptions of the diverse nature of witchcraft made new generations shy away from, and even ridicule, the traditional system of societal standing. Dr. Lewis argues that “like their ancient and early modern European counterparts, modern Africans who believe firmly in the reality of witchcraft do not lack the power of rational reasoning” (Lewis 2016). While only the culturally relative acknowledge this truth, many westerners and Africans shy away from witchcraft discourse. The western judgmental attitude gradually merged into a derogatory analysis of the practice of witchcraft. Cimpric states that “behaviors commonly associated with accusations of witchcraft include violence, mistreatment, abuse, infanticide and the abandonment of children” (Cimpric 2010: 5). Lewis then applies Cimpric’s claim to witchcraft overall, elaborating that “like those in Western society suspected of child abuse and Satanism, African witches in the popular imagination are believed to practice incest and other perversions” (Lewis 2016). Evidently, the introduction of western religions and strict moral code caused the negative and completely incorrect assumptions of witchcraft in Africa. Hagen concludes his article saying “while witches, magic and sorcery are reduced to prime products of entertainment in the Western world, the same phenomena prove to be harsh and brutal reality in other parts of the world” (Hagen 2004). Westerners do not realize the long-term effects of their exploitation of credible, different African culture.

From the harsh definitions of witchcraft in western media, some Africans latch on to the thought that anything involving witchcraft is inherently evil. A few African news articles highlight the peculiar attempt to define witchcraft negatively. The British news agency Reuters published two articles in 2008 trying to blame specific coincidences on witchcraft. Joe Bavier claims that witches attempted to steal men’s penises. Reuters published: “Reports of so-called penis snatching are not uncommon in West Africa, where belief in traditional religions and witchcraft remains widespread, and where ritual killings to obtain blood or body parts still occur” (Bavier 2008). Similar to this absurd statement, Wangui Kanina wrote about the mass murder of witches in Kenya, saying “a mob has burned to death at least 11 people accused of witchcraft in an area of west Kenya where traditional beliefs run deep” (Kanina 2008). A year later, UNICEF writer Rebecca Bannor-Addae blamed witchcraft for creating oppressive conditions for children. She published that “studies in neighboring countries suggest that witchcraft accusations against children, women and the elderly may be an expression of the inability of families to solve a crisis or cope with death and illness. Witchcraft also often serves to explain the incomprehensible” (Bannor-Addae 2009). From the three media articles, it is apparent that witchcraft has a negative connotation in modern African society. Unfortunately, this poor assumption of traditional beliefs is a direct result from Europeans inflecting their views upon unique and diverse people.

Appreciating the differences of witchcraft discourse in Azande, Muedan, and South African societies allows one to see the diversity that the practice possesses. In all varieties of witchcraft, the custom creates a moral evaluation and a social hierarchy for its active members. West explains that “Not only did they [individuals who practice witchcraft] …experience [witchcraft’s] reality through its verbal constructs, but they conceived of [witchcraft] and the words that spoke its reality as one and the same” (West 2007: 56). For a western observer, the complexities and applications of witchcraft will always remain impossible to comprehend fully. Unfortunately, the obvious bias against witchcraft continues to discourage any individual looking to appreciate the unique culture. For Africans, witchcraft remains one of few cultural and societal practices authentic to many on the continent. It prevails to be the most malleable and practical moral guideline and social standard for Africans.

 

References:

Ashforth, Adam. “AIDS, Witchcraft, and the Problem of Power in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Unpublished, May 2001, 1-35.

Bannor-Addae, Rebecca. “Central African Republic: Children, not witches.” Bangui. UNICEF Media Centre, Apr. 2009. UNICEF.

Bavier, Joe. “Penis Theft Panic Hits City…” Kinshasa. Reuters, 23 Apr. 2008.

Butler, Noah, Dr. 2016. “Ethnographic Interlude.” Discussion on Les Maîtres Fous. Loyola University Chicago, Chicago. 16-18 Feb. 2016. Lecture.

Cimpric, Aleksandra. “Children Accused of Witchcraft: An Anthropological Study of Contemporary Practices in Africa.” UNICEF WCARO, Dakar, April 2010. 1-55. UNICEF.

Evans-Pritchard, E.E. “Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande.” Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 24 Jun. 1976, 63-83.

Hagen, Rune Blix. “The Witch-hunts on African Sorcerers.” Translated by Mark Ledingham. University of Tromsø: The Arctic University of Norway, July 24, 2004. Aftenposten.

Kanina, Wangui. “Mob burns to death 11 Kenyan “witches”. Nairobi. Reuters, 21 May. 2008.

Les Maîtres Fous. Directed by Jean Rouch. Paris: VISA Ministeriel No. 30557, 1955. Ethnofiction.

Lewis, Ioan M. “Witchcraft.” Encyclopedia Britannica, January 2016.

Stoller, Paul. “Embodying Colonial Memories; Spirit Possession, Power and the Hauka in West Africa.” Routledge, 29 Sept. 1995, 16-26, 115-124.

Walters, Noah. 18 Feb. 2016. 2×2 Week 6 (February 13 & 15): Ethnographic Interlude. Loyola University of Chicago, Chicago. Paper.

West, Henry G. 2007. Ethnographic Sorcery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.