[Notes on *The Spirit of Japan*(1916) by Tagore](/blog/syph/tagoreJapan)
I just read The Spirit of Japan, a lecture by Rabindranath Tagore given in Tokyo, 1916 on the rise of Japan as a world power as a result of the Meiji period and the Westernization that accompanied it. In it, Tagore compares Japan to the other great countries that he had visited and muses on what a modern Japan should look like and separates the modern of the time from the Western of the time.
The nuances of this difference animates Syphilisation and is something that I’m trying to fully work into the game. This is, possibly unsurprisingly, an extremely tricky task and access to the thoughts of people like Tolstoy or Tagore really helps a lot with it. The great thinkers of the time had a lot to say about what was one of the major themes of the time and one could do much worse than to read them.
If you’re interested, you can check out the whole thing on Gutenberg here, but I’m going to put down the snippets from it that I’m particularly eager to work into my game below.
- “In other great countries, signs of man’s power loomed large and I saw vast organisations which showed efficiency in all their features.”
- “There, you do not feel man as supreme; you are hurled against the stupendousness of things that alienates.”
- “[Japan] in its social institutions, in its manners, that are carefully perfect”
- “and in its dealings with things that are not only deft, but graceful in every movement.”
- “you have realised nature’s secrets, not by methods of analytical knowledge, but by sympathy.”
- “A mere knowledge of things can be had in a short enough time, but their spirit can only be acquired by centuries of training and self-control. Dominating nature from outside is a much simpler thing than making her your own in love’s delight, which is a work of true genius.”
- “The genius of Europe has given her people the power of organisation, which has specially made itself manifest in politics and commerce and in coordinating scientific knowledge. The genius of Japan has given you the vision of beauty in nature and the power of realising it in your life. And, because of this fact, the power of organisation has come so easily to your help when you needed it. For the rhythm of beauty is the inner spirit, whose outer body is organisation.”
- “Your national unity has not been evolved from the comradeship of arms for defensive and offensive purposes, or from partnership in raiding adventures, dividing among each member the danger and spoils of robbery. It is not an outcome of the necessity of organisation for some ulterior purpose, but it is an extension of the family and the obligations of the heart in a wide field of space and time.”
- “While I agree with them so far as to say, that the spirit of the race should harmonise with the spirit of the time, I must warn them that modernising is a mere affectation of modernism, just as affectation of poesy is poetising.”
- “These are not modern, but merely European. True modernism is freedom of mind, not slavery of taste.”
- “She [Japan] must know that the real power is not in the weapons themselves, but in the man who wields those weapons; and when he, in his eagerness for power, multiplies his weapons at the cost of his own soul, then it is he who is in even greater danger than his enemies.”
- “What is still more dangerous for Japan is, not this imitation of the outer features of the West, but the acceptance of the motive force of the Western civilisation as her own.”
- “I can see her motto, taken from science, “Survival of the Fittest,” writ large at the entrance of her present-day history—the motto whose meaning is, “Help yourself, and never heed what it costs to others””
- “And nations, who sedulously cultivate moral blindness as the cult of patriotism, will end their existence in a sudden and violent death.”
- “Europe is not ready to give up her political inhumanity, with all the baser passions of man attendant upon it; she believes only in modification of systems, and not in change of heart.”
- “We are willing to buy their machine-made systems, not with our hearts, but with our brains. We shall try them and build sheds for them, but not enshrine them in our homes, or temples. “
- “But if undiluted utility be modern, beauty is of all ages; if mean selfishness be modern, the human ideals are no new inventions. And we must know for certain, that however modern may be the proficiency, which clips and cripples man for the sake of methods and machines, it will never live to be old.”
- “But while trying to free our minds from the arrogant claims of Europe and to help ourselves out of the quicksands of our infatuation, we may go to the other extreme and blind ourselves with a wholesale suspicion of the West. The reaction of disillusionment is just as unreal as the first shock of illusion. We must try to come to that normal state of mind, by which we can clearly discern our own danger and avoid it, without being unjust towards the source of that danger. There is always the natural temptation in us of wishing to pay back Europe in her own coin, and return contempt for contempt and evil for evil. But that again would be to imitate Europe in one of her worst features which comes out in her behaviour to people whom she describes as yellow or red, brown or black. And this is a point on which we in the East have to acknowledge our guilt and own that our sin has been as great, if not greater, when we insulted humanity by treating with utter disdain and cruelty men who belonged to a particular creed, colour or caste.”
- “When we truly know the Europe which is great and good, we can effectively save ourselves from the Europe which is mean and grasping.”