Japanese historian Amino Yoshihiko defines a border as an opening, because
the border is a zone of mediation, an interface to another culture.
By applying the notion of border as a zone of intermediacy to Medieval
Japan, Amino deconstructs Japan as a geographically and historically
isolated political unit. His notion of border becomes an interesting
tool of analysis if applied to the humanities in general. This notion
challenges conventionally defined borders as insufficient to support
notion of authenticity is tied to the historical myth of origin, which
may be called historical essentialism, according to which the more events
and facts are tracked to an historically ancient past, the closer they
are to the origin and therefore to the true nature of things. My first
aim is to question this essentialism. To have history is a luxury for
many cultures in the world. Many ancient civilizations did not have
writing, and not all civilizations which had writing wrote their own
history. Past narratives which endow countries with a founding mythology
(for usually the founding myth is related to the origins of actually
existing countries regardless of the many discrepancies between ancient
and modern boders) authenticate cultural values. If the comparative
study of two historically unrelated zones is difficult, that is because
our critical language is trapped in this historical essentialism which
a critical language itself has created.
such the difficulty we encounter is one of method, and not any lack
of connection either direct or usually indirect in the case of East
and West. To have separate histories does not mean that two zones have
had mutually unrelated lives. To posit two zones, for example Europe
and Japan, as historically separate is a problem of history. Because
history makes them separate, they become notionally separate, whereas
the two zones were connected by a succession of intermediary bodies
and a sustained material flow of objects.
demonstrate that unrelatedness is a myth, I will present an example
of Impressionist painting and the flat surface taken from Japanese woodblocks.
Japanese artists encountered Western style paintings in the sixteenth
century, and adapted perspective and shading, both Western pictorial
techniques, in the eighteenth century for works addressed to the mass
market. The most influential woodblock artists, namely Katsushika Hokusai
and Utagawa Hiroshige, were also the most adept at Western perspective,
and their adoption of Western techniques made their works especially
significant. The Impressionists saw in their pictorial technique an
otherness unrelated to the method of Western arts, and in this way Japanese
artists authenticated Western visual presentation of space by adapting
it as their own pictorial language. Authenticity, independent from historical
essentialism, resides in this personal investment and committment to
cultural forms regardless of their national origins.
is it a negative thing to be unrelated and authentic? On the contrary,
they are the prerequisites to create cultural dynamics.