Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Vividness Overcomes Stereotypes: A Reaction to "Things Fall Apart"

Our world is rife with stereotypes, ranging from those of ethnicity and culture to those of gender, age, and occupation. Many people have too-simplified images of nerdy Asian men, lazy Latinos, unintelligent blonde women, overly-macho gym rats, and you name it. Some would say stereotypes are correct in particular cases, and they may help you judge people whom you have just met. This is true, but stereotypes also have serious side effects: false assumptions can easily drive people with hate or fear; a lack of information can mislead somebody and create conflicts between groups, and most importantly, people tend to disrespect individuals having different backgrounds. The television and film industry have long been promoting such stereotypes, and novels are guilty of the same. Consciously and unconsciously, fictional narratives have also encouraged inaccurate, prejudiced images of various groups.

Chinua Achebe, a former radio script writer in Nigeria, eloquently challenges such stereotypes in his novel Things Fall Apart (1958). The story takes place among small tribes, where the protagonist Okonkwo has a simple life with his wives and children. The setting is the village of Umuofia in the Nigeria of the past. British missionaries come into the village, build churches, and gradually gain converts. Triggered by a convert who has killed a prestigious masquerader during a ritual, the battle between villagers and Christians begins. When it ends, Okonkwo kills himself just after murdering one of the missionaries. Throughout the novel, Achebe realistically depicts the life of tribes, which counters wide-spread stereotypes of Africa as an uncivilized continent. His mixture of English and realistic African dialogues is definitely a powerful means of making Western readers aware of such stereotypes.

Why do people see Africans as uncivilized? One reason might stem from their original religion and customs. Unlike Christianity where only one God exists, the Ibo people believe in animism — the idea that objects, places, and all parts of Nature possess spiritual qualities — as well as personal gods, of which everyone has their own.

In Chapter 21, village member Akunna has a discussion with British missionary Mr. Brown. Akunna finds that both religions have one supreme God, but there is a discrepancy in how they perceive natural objects such as rocks and woods. He believes that things themselves are minor gods, which act as “messengers” sent by God, whereas Mr. Brown maintains that God is “the only God and all others are false.” (Achebe 179) Although they do not change their beliefs, the conversation is never intimidating or insulting. Achebe here shows logos and sensitive mind in the tribe; this contradicts the Western stereotype and also teaches us that understanding differences is the first step to respecting each other.

The Ibo culture includes somewhat abhorrent customs, especially from the Western perspective. Clan members must throw away their twin babies in the forest because twins are seen as an offense that infuriates the earth. They also sacrifice a boy from another clan in order to follow the oracle’s words. They believe in ogbanje — a child repeatedly dies and returns to its mother to be reborn. Parents beat their dead child hoping he/she will not go back to the mother’s womb. These customs enrage the British preachers. But Achebe also details the cultural context and reasons behind such customs.

In African tribes back then, death is much more frequent than in Europe. Quite a few children die in their youth. Here, the priestess Chielo talks to Okonkwo’s second wife about her daughter:
“How old is she now?”
“She is about ten years old.”
“I think she will stay. They usually stay if they do not die before the age of six.” (Achebe 48)
Because of this, men are allowed to have multiple wives, while women are supposed to bear and raise as many children as possible. The sustainability of the clan can outweigh one individual’s life. Masculinity and discipline are very much valued so that men can control their families and hunt for food, along with fighting hostile clans. In addition, the native people are extremely afraid of gods. They never question their traditional system until the white folks come and take over. Achebe depicts these backgrounds so vividly that readers likely sympathize with such cultural context to some degree.

Another stereotype that Westerners probably hold is that the African tribe members are inherently cruel, violent barbarians. Again, Achebe refutes this idea by utilizing the perspective inside the tribes. In Chapter 15, Okonkwo knows that the village of Abame has been “wiped out” by Westerners. (Achebe 138) One white man with his iron horse came to the village, but people were unable to communicate with him. Afraid of him summoning his friends, Abame’s men kill him. Several weeks later, another white man finds that horse, and, eventually, his armed group slaughters nearly all the Abame villagers. Okonkwo and his friend both conclude that “Never kill a man who says nothing. Those men of Abame were fools.” (Achebe 140) They know that irrational murder may lead to tragic consequences, as their proverb says, “if one finger brought oil it soiled the others.” (Achebe 125)

When Okonkwo and other clan members are being captured by the Christians in Chapter 23, the District Commissioner deceives them with a surprise attack: “There was only a brief scuffle, too brief even to allow the drawing of a sheathed machete. The six men were handcuffed and led into the guardroom.” (Achebe 194) The commissioner harshly tortures Okonkwo until the clan pays a substantial fine. Achebe ironically asks readers, “who is the cruelest?” They are just in a whirl of vengeance; no one is intrinsically brutal.

Achebe finishes the novel with the District Commissioner’s monolog. After finding Okonkwo dead, the Commissioner thinks about writing, such as: “The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading. … He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: ‘The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger’.” (Achebe 209) Perhaps we can infer Achebe’s intention from this last paragraph.

Imagine how this Commissioner would write about Okonkwo. He must portray Okonkwo as a violent, inhuman character because Okonkwo kills the Commissioner’s comrade. He would strongly believe that his messengers do good for the world, thus justifying themselves. This is contradictory to Okonkwo, who hangs himself in a painful way, surrounded by his bare-breasted wives. This material can be propaganda for Christianity. And this is what the whole literature industry has long been, in reality.

Achebe, on the other hand, details Okonkwo’s brave story. Okonkwo is a revered man with a title, wives, and children, but also he is racked by misfortune as a result of too much emphasis on manliness.

Literature always brings readers virtual experiences. Achebe’s meticulously-crafted English and vividly-illustrated African life suggest a new way of perceiving the world, although it might be unpleasant sometimes. This is quite meaningful for Westerners who might have been overwhelmed by Western ideologies and self-justifications. By knowing another perspective, we can respect other individuals instead of sticking to inaccurate stereotypes. Otherwise, we can never negotiate with others without violence, as the Umuofia villagers claim to the church, “he does not understand our customs, just as we do not understand his. We say he is foolish because he does not know our ways, and perhaps he says we are foolish because we do not know his.” (Achebe 191) Achebe has challenged not only stereotypes of the African but also the “standard view” of world literature by publishing this novel, “Things Fall Apart.”

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Place of Publication Not Identified: Paw Prints, Baker & Taylor, 2009. Print.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Interrogative Family Dynamics: A Juxtaposition of “Jane Eyre” and “Wide Sargasso Sea”

Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” (1847) is one of the most influential Gothic novels in the Victorian era. Framed as Jane’s autobiography, the story vividly depicts her dramatic life. While confronting various types of adversities, she always seeks for independence, freedom, and love for Mr. Rochester, whom she eventually marries. And this accomplished work has made Bronte a distinguishable writer. In 1966, Jean Rhys reacted to Bronte, publishing her best-selling “Wide Sargasso Sea,” in which characters from “Jane Eyre” are projected from a different perspective. Rhys spotlights Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester’s first wife from Jamaica, known as a madwoman in the attic. Rhys names her Antoinette Cosway and creates a story of her upbringing, interwoven with the Caribbean culture, which the author’s native land, Dominica, belongs to.

Both Jane and Antoinette are born to a tragic family. Jane, whose parents die from the typhus disease when she is young, is adopted by Mr. Reed, her mother’s brother. He promises to treat her as his real child, but after he dies, Mrs. Reed treats Jane very badly, thus breaking the promise. Antoinette, born in Jamaica, struggles with poverty and discrimination. She lives with her mother, brother, and a servant in a secluded place. Because her mother is a white native of Martinique, the local people —both black and white— discriminate against and torture her family. Her brother Pierre is killed by a fire at the Coulibri house, which places a dark shadow over Antoinette’s life. Jane and Antoinette have many traits in common. Comparing the family relationships of the two main characters, we can find several similarities as well as differences, which connect to the authors’ purposes and historical backgrounds of the period, and cast essential questions to readers.

One of the similarities between Jane and Antoinette is found in their parents. Both women are born to unequally married parents. Jane’s mother, Jane Reed, is a daughter of the wealthy Reed family, yet she falls in love with a poor clergyman. Not surprisingly, the Reeds do not allow her to marry a man of a different social class. Jane learns from a nursery’s conversation that her “grandfather Reed was so irritated at her disobedience, he cut her off without a shilling.” (Bronte 31) Jane’s parents live in poverty as a result.

In “Wide Sargasso Sea” Antoinette’s mother, Annette, is a foreigner from Martinique and first marries a debased ex-slave owner, Alexander Cosway. After he dies, she marries a colonizer and rich widower, Mr. Mason. The new spouse is fascinated by Annette’s beauty; she is well known as “a pretty woman” and an accomplished “dancer.” But people believe that this unbalanced marriage will not last long, saying “he will regret it”, “why should he marry a widow without a penny to her name and Coulibri a wreck of a place?” they add. (Rhys 26) Even though their skin color is the same, their background is completely different.

Both parental marriages include a split: the class split of Jane’s case and the cultural split of Antoinette’s folks. This difference highlights the difference in the authors’ main concerns. While Bronte questions the established social classes in England, Rhys focuses on consequences of colonization in the Caribbean islands.

Another similarity between Jane and Antoinette is their isolation from others. In Gateshead, Jane has a severe time being tortured by Mrs. Reed and her son, John Reed. They are the masters of the house, so no one can rebel and help ease Jane’s suffering. When she is ten, she is confined in the red room by Mrs. Reed as a punishment for arguing with John, which reminds her of hopelessness and greatly traumatizes her. Later Jane befriends several peers —including Helen Burns— in her adolescence, but emptiness and loneliness always follow her. After knowing that Mr. Rochester has already been married, she determines, “The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.” (Bronte 365)

Antoinette is also isolated from society. The house her family lives is located far from the town, and they are discriminated against by the local people; they see Antoinette as a “white nigger.” In addition, Antoinette’s stepfather, Mr. Mason, soon abandons the family. Such mental isolation never changes through entire her life. After she gets married to Mr. Rochester, who regards her as a “madwoman”, she is imprisoned in the attic at Thornfield, England until she lights a fire to set herself free.

Editor Stevie Davies notes that the immured woman is the key in Bronte’s literature. “Eliza the anchorite; Bertha the prisoner; Jane in the red-room all reprise this theme of the silenced woman,” he maintains. The mind of Bronte herself is in a “narrow cell; / Dark - imageless - a living tomb,” as she expresses in her poem “Frances.” (Bronte 572)

Thirdly, both Jane and Antoinette follow the path of their deceased mothers. Jane believes in her love as her mother does. Mr. Rochester is in the higher class and much older than Jane, but she never cares, in spite of the advice by Mrs. Fairfax: “Equality of position and fortune is often advisable in such cases” and “Gentlemen in his station are not accustomed to marry their governesses.” (Bronte 305-306) Antoinette, as well, marries a colonizer whose greatest interest is making money, just as when her mother had married Mr. Mason. And like her mother, she is seen as an insane woman. Jane and Antoinette both marry Mr. Rochester; however, the consequences are totally opposite. Jane and Mr. Rochester love each other, while he never loves Antoinette. Jane’s marriage is long-lasting, and eventually, the couple has a child as a result of their true love. Antoinette, in turn, tries to kill Mr. Rochester as her mother had attempted to kill Mr. Mason. She finally puts an end to her married life by killing herself.

Despite those resemblances, the family relationships surrounding the protagonists end very differently. In “Jane Eyre,” all the issues with Jane’s family settle down. Mrs. Reed and John Reed, who have harshly tormented Jane in their Gateshead house, die miserably as if the deaths are a punishment of Heaven. As for John Reed’s sisters, Eliza and Georgiana, they get mentally exhausted and come to reconcile themselves to Jane in some degree in Chapter 21, but Jane is determined to put a break with them, saying “You are not without sense, cousin Eliza; but what you have, I suppose, in another year will be walled up alive in a French convent. However, it is not my business, and so it suits you - I don’t much care.” (Bronte 279) [No mention of the sisters is seen after Chapter 22.] Jane’s uncle John Eyre remains a benevolent character throughout the story. Even though he passes away before seeing Jane in person, he had a will that included her, and Jane inherits a surprising amount of property from him. Although there still remain hardships, Jane’s family relationship is finally relieved.

In Antoinette’s life in “Wide Sargasso Sea,” on the other hand, we cannot see any resolution. Mr. Mason and his brother, Richard Mason, still keep a distance with her. Although Richard visits England to see her, he is not able to save her from madness and confinement in the attic.

Why is there such a huge gulf between two characters? We can view this as the discrepancy between the Victorians and the Moderns. The two authors have different intentions. Bronte in the Victorians mainly concerned with the social classes in England and asks readers to question the roles of women. Bronte creates Jane as a character who encourages female readers to pursue their freedom and independence. For such a character, family problems are obstacles to overcome; perhaps indicating that Establishment should be broken down. Rhys, in contrast, questions readers in a more obscure manner. By depicting the ruthless reality in Jamaica in the post-colonial era and the eerie, hopeless path of Antoinette’s life, not only does Rhys suggest reasoning to Antoinette’s madness, but she also tries to make readers reexamine colonialism at that time.

In “The Norton Anthology of World Literature,” the author introduces a notion that modernism was “interrogative,” stating “it inquires how we know what we know, rather than merely rejecting previous models of thought.” He adds, “much of what we think we know reflects the questions we ask and the methods we use to obtain answers.” (Puchner 1621) Witnessing World War I and consequent global turmoil, people knew “something was wrong.” And “the survivors resolved to reexamine the bases of certainty, the structures of knowledge, the systems of belief, and the repositories of authority in a society that had allowed such a war to occur.” (Puchner 1622) This is the key concept in the Moderns and engages with orientalism, or cultural imperialism, the process by which “the Orient” was constructed as an “exotic other” by the West. Rhys suggests that “something was wrong” in the environment surrounding Antoinette. But who is wrong? Unlike “Jane Eyre,” where characters have discernible good or bad human qualities —say, malicious Mrs. Reed and angelic Helen Burns, the answer is not simple. Many characters are not only victimizers but also victims. And this complexity itself is also one of the characteristics of the Moderns.

In general, novel writers tend to create a protagonist in a distressing family relationship so that they can craft antagonists and a less boring story. “Jane Eyre” and “Wide Sargasso Sea” are instances of such literature technique; however, their intentions and conclusions differ significantly. This discretion stems from the difference in each novel’s audience and purpose. Bronte challenges the establishment to shift the roles of women in the 19th century, whereas Rhys deepens the same story with the Caribbean perspective, trying to refute Orientalism. Nonetheless, both authors are the same in that they ask their readers very essential questions via the complex family relationships they have created.

Works Cited

Bronte, Charlotte. “Jane Eyre.” Ed. Stevie Davies. London: Penguin, 2006. Print.

Rhys, Jean. “Wide Sargasso Sea.” New York: W. W. Norton &, Independent since 1923, 2016. Print.

Puchner, Martin. "The Norton Anthology of World Literature." New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Orientalism seen in BBC Journalism: A Reaction to Stacey Dooley’s Report on Japan

I am fond of overseas journalism. It enables me to have another perspective, which helps identify the root cause of various issues within my country, Japan. However, in some of that journalism, stereotypes and inaccuracy can often distort the argument. The farther the topic from you, the more skeptically you had better watch the program.

In the BBC Three documentary “Young Sex for Sale in Japan” aired in February 2017, English journalist and human rights activist Stacey Dooley investigates the question of child abuse in Japan. In this sensationally-titled film, she first visits a cafe in Tokyo where teenage girls in school uniform work as waiters. Seeing that most customers are aged men, Dooley concludes that those girls were probably unwillingly manipulated. There are 300 schoolgirl cafes in Japan, and some offer “walking dates” to their clients. Such business “could be a gateway to prostitution,” Dooley maintains. (Dooley, 2017)

Dooley next scrutinizes the “borderline” DVD industry. She interviews a producer of an “erotically clothed” film. Because there is no nude scenes in the video, it is legitimate to picture underaged models, but Dooley finds it too sexy. When Dooley asks the producer why people buy his videos, he comments, “buyers want fantasy.” Later, Dooley walks into a DVD shop and gets surprised when finding a porn model who looks as if she were under ten. Dooley believes such videos are targeted to pedophiles. Dooley’s narration emphasizes that owning child pornography was not prohibited until 2014 in Japan.

In the final section of the documentary, Dooley explores the comic industry. Comics are ubiquitous in Japan; domestic sales of comics topped over £2 billion in Japan in 2015, and visitors can find cartoon characters displayed everywhere in the cities. Some x-rated comics include sexually-explicit images of children, which, in Dooley’s opinion, must be banned, as is the case in the UK. She meets comic translator Dan Kanemitsu, who argues against the ban. Dooley claims that those images of sexualized kids help the pedophile normalize themselves, and that such desire eventually leads to a sexual crime. Kanemitsu disagrees, stating that a fiction is a mere fiction, and it can even function as a venting mechanism for those who have pedophiliac urges. Dooley ends the film by pleading with the Japanese government to take action.

I, as a Japanese man, understand her concerns. We must not abuse docile children or teenagers for the sex business, and we definitely need to eradicate any types of sexual assaults, no matter what age and gender. But, at the same time, I am afraid that this document exhibits a biased image of Japan as well as inscribing negative, stereotypical images to the Japanese pop culture.

First of all, the document cleverly shows an image of Tokyo rife with indecent schoolgirl cafes, but such is not true. There are 90,000 cafes in the country, and that type of cafe amounts to only a fraction. In addition, the impression Dooley gives that those teenagers are in poverty and are exploited by malicious adults, is a delusion on her part. They work according to freedom of choice in employment; they like charming school uniforms, and they enjoy chit-chatting with clients. And the Japanese population —for the most part— does not view the girls in a sexual way. As for the connection to prostitution, again, there is no evidence. For example, in Akihabara, the town where the most, five, schoolgirl cafes are located, no prostitution has been reported. (Yan, 2016)

Another misleading aspect of the report lies in the explanation of the prohibition of child pornography in Japan. The BBC program tells that “[o]wning child pornography became illegal in Japan in June 2014.” (Varley, 2017) This is true, but in 1999 the production and distribution of child pornography had already been banned; child porn had not been visible for almost two decades. Even before 1999, a girl’s nudity was seen as artistic rather than erotic. Models and photographers were proud, not ashamed, of their work. The notion of child pornography was imported from the West. If the possession of such materials had been made illegal immediately, quite a few people might have been falsely accused. That gap period of time was necessary to avoid confusion in the society. Dooley provides none of this context.

Dooley’s documentary contains very shocking visual images of pornography captured in Tokyo, as if all Japanese men are sexually interested in teenage girls. But, of course, those videos are sold in a niche market. Isn’t it unfair that BBC purposely chooses the most sensational images to support their argument and conveys, to the UK audience, the image of pedophiliac Japanese men? I can imagine Dooley’s disgust when she witnessed a child-like model filmed in a porn video. However, we should not judge people by how old they may appear.

Lastly, Dooley concludes that cartoon characters represent the Japanese mindset of sexualizing children. This is a big misconception. Yes, Japan has an enormous comic and anime (cartoon) market. Not surprisingly, the most successful movie in Japan last year (2016) was an anime movie, “Your Name.” It drew 15 million watchers, double as many as the audience of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Most comics are enjoyed by men and women of all ages without any improper eroticism. X-rated comics are properly zoned at the stores, and those with sexual and/or erotic images of children are not as common as what the BBC document implies, simply because they do not match most buyers’ interest.

Dooley harshly claims that such fictional images must be eradicated from the society, saying, “I worry that the cartoons will never be enough and you will have those urges and you will want to move on to the real thing, perhaps. That's what scares me.” (Dooley, 2017) Here we find the hidden assumption that pedophiliac men are all potential criminals. She labels their demand itself as abhorrent; they are insane! She demands that all comic writers who create pedophiliac materials be arrested, as well as those who read such comics. This is an erroneous leap of logic.

Do comics encourage crimes? In 2002, US Supreme Judicial Court refuted this idea, concluding that virtual child pornography —novels, comics and cartoons— is irrelevant to real crimes. Numbers speak more eloquently. The rape rate in Japan is relatively low, at 1.5 per 100,000 population in 2006, while that in the United Kingdom in the same year was 25.6 per 100,000. Child victimization, especially, has been increasing in the UK; 47,008 under-16-year-olds were sexually harmed in 2014. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) brings attention to the fact that 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused. Recent headlines in the UK shook us with sensational scandals. The Rotherham child sexual exploitation  case revealed 1,400 innocent victims in 2014. BBC commentator Jimmy Savile was accused of 214 acts of sexual abuse, involving an 8-year-old boy and many teenage girls, over a period of 50 years. (Evans, 2012) Unlike Japanese comics, which negatively affect very few, the UK has much more severe, distressing issues.

A well-known comic writer, Takeshi Nogami, reveals that he was also interviewed by Dooley. He recollects that her tone was intimidating. She argued about the comic ban, “Why don’t you Japanese follow the UK, or the world standard, rules?” Nogami countered, “The UK should learn from Japan, a more cultivated country having a lower crime rate.” Then he noted the difference between how they perceive human nature. He maintains that everyone has various types of desire, from pure to dirty, and sometimes we need to release it via a fantasy. Dooley takes another view, saying, “Humans are born innocent and inherently have no evil thoughts. But once they read an immoral book such as a comic with abusive images of children, they soon get degraded.” Nogami spent three hours discussing this with Dooley, but the interview was never used in her film. (Nogami, 2017)

I see a relationship between Dooley’s view and Christianity, where a malicious thought itself is a sin. In her mind, where pedophilia is seen as perverted and abusive, such thought, even though not a crime, should be punished. That child abuse is more pervasive in the Western countries than in Japan might have contributed to her strong abhorrence. I understand such sins are emotionally unacceptable for the majority of Westerners, but if religious beliefs and cultural preferences were to determine the only-one, absolutely-correct standard in the world, the consequence would be the denial of any other national standards and minorities. In fact, quite a few groups, such as Muslims and/or LGBTQ, are unfairly judged by the majority.

In contrast, the Japanese, most of whom do not believe in God, think that no one can violate freedom of thought. Freedom of speech and unfettered imagination must also be protected. The Japanese people have been permissive towards fictional sexuality throughout history. Specifically, shunga —erotic art— flourished in the 17th-19th century as part of our cultural heritage. It includes sexual images of all ages from virginal teenagers to old married couples, to even octopi, but nobody condemns them. This is not that we may behave as freely as we desire. We have a clear distinction between fiction and reality. People are rather restrictive in the society; each citizen is expected to have a high level of morality, conscience, and self-regulation.

Interestingly, this BBC’s documentary reminds me of the literary term “orientalism.” Orientalism, or cultural imperialism in post-colonial theory, is defined as the process by which “the Orient” was constructed as an “exotic other” by European academic studies and cultures. Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” (1847) is an arena of orientalism, where she depicts Bertha Mason, a beautiful woman from Jamaica, as an insane character, nearly impossible to communicate with. Even today, Eurocentric universalism remains alive. Westerners, both consciously and unconsciously, see the non-European as inferior to the West, immoral, cruel, sensual, decadent, lazy, yet somewhat exotically fascinating. By doing so, the Western societies justify themselves and maintain their pride. (Barry, 2009)
Dooley’s documentary is not an exception. The filmmakers evidently determined to find eccentricity in Japan. And, without doubt, they obviously believed that “educating” such a “deviant” society is their mission and duty, which makes the reality a little bit more complex.

While investigating schoolgirl cafes on the street, the BBC crew were stopped by the police for two hours because they had filmed without permission. Dooley then yelled, “I am saving teenagers from child abuse. I’m a strong woman.” (Dooley, 2017) Yet her “justice” disturbs our nation’s peace and order. I believe that different standpoints make journalism more meaningful. Should we ban William Shakespeare, who suggests teenage intercourse in “Romeo and Juliet?”

Works Cited

Dooley, Stacey. "BBC Three - Stacey Dooley Investigates, Young Sex for Sale in Japan." BBC News. BBC, 28 Feb. 2017. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Yan. “Akihabara being targeted.” Docs.com, 13 Mar. 2016. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Varley, Ciaran. “Is Japan turning a blind eye to paedophilia? - BBC Three.” BBC News. BBC, 28 Feb. 2017. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Evans, Martin. "Sir Jimmy Savile: Fourth British TV Personality Accused in Sex Allegations." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

Nogami, Takeshi. “Interviewed by BBC.” Togetter, 7 Mar. 2017. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Barry, Peter. "Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory." Manchester: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Quantum Computing: A Computing Revolution in the 21st Century

It was 1946 when the first digital computer appeared on the earth. A decade later, John Backus at IBM coined the first programming language, FORTRAN, and since then, our reality, in nearly all industries, has been overwritten by digital bits — zeros and ones. Computers, from a cell phone to a supercomputer, have become our lifeline. There are 2 billion personal computers worldwide, which is more than a quarter of the world population. This digital revolution will be likely superseded by the quantum computing innovation, one of the most promising technologies in the 21st century.

The concept of quantum computing was proposed in the 1980s. By capturing the uncertainty of molecules at absolute zero (-273℃), scientists succeeded to create a computing apparatus that brings us to the next level. In 2017, such studies are about to bear fruit. D-Wave, the first company that aims for the commercial use of this technology, exhibited satisfying benchmark results that their quantum computer solved certain problems one million times faster than a conventional computer. In March, IBM declared the plan that they will bring a quantum computer, “IBM Q” system, to market in a few years. They note, “quantum computers will deliver solutions to important problems where patterns cannot be seen because the data doesn’t exist and the possibilities that you need to explore to get to the answer are too enormous to ever be processed by classical computers.” (IBM, 2017)

Conventional, or “classic” computers are based on transistors, in which each “bit,” the smallest unit of memory, has a binary state, a “0” or a “1.” Although computers have become significantly more powerful, smaller, and cheaper for the last several decades, they cannot flee from the fetters of the binary system. Quantum computers, in contrast, store information into a “qubit,” which can be represented by an atom in ambiguous states, say, a “0” or “1” or “0 and 1.” And, most importantly, those computers are able to calculate such different universes simultaneously, thus greatly compressing the computation time.

I enjoy Japanese chess —shogi— in my free time. It has more complex rules than Western chess does: in shogi, on a little larger nine-by-nine board, we can promote and strengthen a piece, capture an opponent’s piece, and use it under your control. Specifically, shogi has 10 to the 71st of possible states, whereas Western chess has 10 to the 47th. But what do these numbers mean in terms of computation?

I assume you have once played tic-tac-toe, which has 765 possibly different positions. If you have a computer that calculates the best move for each position respectively in one millisecond (a thousandth of a second), you can obtain the perfect answer immediately because 765 millisecond is shorter than a second. Chess and shogi, however, require an astronomical amount of time. In fact, it is more than astronomical. 1047 milliseconds is equivalent to 1036 (1000000000000000000000000000000000000) years. The earth is barely 4.5 billion years old. The whole universe is said to have the history of fewer than 1011 years. Our planets are babies compared to the time necessary to be omnipotent in the board game.

Like chess and shogi, a certain type of problem is theoretically able to be solved, but practically unsolvable because of time. Were you to purchase thousands of cutting-edge supercomputers, you would likely be able to remove some zeros in the number of “years for computing” but would never see the result while you are alive. Therefore, computer scientists have devoted their time to inventing algorithmic devices and estimating the result by employing statistical approaches. But what if a new technology shifts paradigms and changes the laws of the universe?

Quantum computing is, of course, not exclusive to board games. It will unravel the mystery of our DNA, helping invent more effective medicine. The technology will augment artificial intelligence, which would read our subtle nuances rather than “yes” or “no.” Quantum computers will also enable us to decipher any transactions on the Internet in a moment’s notice. All of the online encryption technology is underpinned by “practically” irreversible keys, so-named because of classic computing limitations. Once this assumption overturns, our privacy and a country’s cyber-security will be vulnerable. I am quite sure that this will become a fierce, controversial issue among politicians around the world.

Some take another view on this technology. In the Guardian’s article “Has the age of quantum computing arrived?” MIT professor Scott Aaronson, who has dubbed himself Chief D-Wave Sceptic,” says, “there was no reason to believe they played a casual role or that they were faster than a classical computer.” (Anthony, 2016) Quantum computing is still in the early stage of developing, and the company D-Wave has long been “accused of hype and exaggeration.” (Anthony, 2016)

Also, like the decryption issue, ethics matters. Quantum computing is so powerful that we should handle it properly, ethically, and openly. With no exception, technology is a double-edged sword. Is quantum computing a savior or a devil? Or something ambiguous between them like us, human beings? The answer is not a “0” or “1.”

Works Cited

IBM. "IBM Unveils Roadmap for Commercial." IBM News Room - 2017-03-06 IBM Building First Universal Quantum Computers for Business and Science - United States. IBM, 06 Mar. 2017. Web. 07 Mar. 2017.

Anthony, Andrew. "Has the Age of Quantum Computing Arrived?" The Observer. Guardian News and Media, 22 May 2016. Web. 07 Mar. 2017.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How The Monster Shaped His “Ego”: An Analysis of “Frankenstein”

Mary Shelley published her masterpiece “Frankenstein” in 1818. In her intricate story-telling, protagonist Victor Frankenstein succeeds to create a life from an assemblage of corpses, but he promptly turns it away, seized with a tremendous fear. The abandoned life, which Frankenstein calls “the monster,”  learns to live, interacts with people, and at last turns to a terrifying murderer with accumulated hatred of his creator, Frankenstein. Not only does the monster allude to the danger of science, but Shelley also depicts him as a sympathetic, fascinating character. In fact, she devoted whole six chapters to delivering the monster’s monologue (Chapter 11 to 16). By detailing the monster’s intellectual development meticulously, Shelley demonstrates how one’s self is shaped, and her depiction exhibits astonishing coherence with the ideas of modern psychologists, including Sigmund Freud.

In “The Ego and the Id” published in 1923, Freud defines the term “ego” as the sensible mental process driven by both conscious and unconscious in each individual. Such unconscious forces are what he calls “id.” The ego represents reason and common sense, while the id contains passions. (Freud 27) These mental interactions are specifically seen in the monster’s early days. Once the monster materializes, he seeks for food and drinks at first. He simply follows his primitive desire, saying “I felt light, and hunger, and thirst, and darkness.” (Shelley 42) Even though he has to survive the harsh winter with no protector, his reasoning skills enable him to manage the adversities; he conveys, “I examined the materials of the fire, and to my joy found it to be composed of wood.” (Shelley 42) The monster’s experiences are not always tasteful. When he enters a village for the first time, he unexpectedly faces the violence of human beings, recollecting “The whole village was roused; some fled, some attacked me, until, grievously bruised by stones and many other kinds of missile weapons, I escaped to the open country, and fearfully took refuge in a low hovel, …” (Shelley 43) He perceives the villagers’ hostility toward him and learns the necessity for his safety to stay away from humans.

In addition to the id and ego, Freud introduces the concept of “super-ego.” This controls the idea of goodness: what you ought to be and what you may not be. The super-ego ranges from religion to morality to a social sense. (Freud 49) As for the monster, the observation of the De Lacey family greatly helps him develop his super-ego. He figures out that the family, whose members reside in a secluded cottage, was in poverty. He studies language as well as abstract concepts, “such as ‘good,’ ‘dearest,’ ‘unhappy.’” (Shelley 47) Freud, too, emphasizes the importance of word presentation which helps elevate a notion from being unconscious to being conscious. The monster also finds that doing good can fulfill himself. He covertly contributed to the cottagers, especially for his admirable Felix, by collecting wood for the fire and clearing their path from the snow. This proves the maturity of the monster’s super-ego. Meanwhile, the monster first sees his figure mirrored by a pool. He reveals his shock as “how was I terrified when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am …” (Shelley 47) Here the monster literally recognizes his look. Through this perception, part of his unconscious became conscious, which stimulates development in his self-awareness. Shelley shows that we construct our self by degrees.

Lastly, Freud concludes that there are two types of instincts: the life instinct and death instinct. The life instinct, or Eros, includes drives for survival, pleasure, and reproduction, whereas the death instinct is a craving for death and destruction. (Freud 55) Perhaps stimulated by Safie, cottager Felix’s love, and a biblical tale in “Paradise Lost” by John Milton, the monster begins to desire love and intimacy. He intimidates Frankenstein into creating another “monster,” or Eve for Adam; however, Frankenstein rejects that idea. This deep depression urges the monster to curse Frankenstein. (Shelley 59) Freud argues that both Eros and the death instinct exist at the same time. He writes, “after Eros has been eliminated through the process of satisfaction, the death instinct has a free hand for accomplishing its purposes.” (Freud 67) Now that the monster has lost any means of satisfying his Eros, the death instinct might be dominating his mind. As a result, he pursues the destruction of Frankenstein.

Freud sees the ego as a victim of the id, super-ego, the external world. (Freud 69) The self, or the internal perception, is always influenced by the outside. The De Laceys’ benevolence has grown the monster’s humanity. The desperate injustice and Frankenstein’s selfishness have mirrored the monster’s brutality as well. After Frankenstein’s death, the monster confesses: “Evil thenceforth became my good.” and “the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil.” (Shelley 98) At last, the monster was completely swallowed by the death instinct, saying “I shall die. I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me.” (Shelley 99)

The Romantic authors embraced individualism, the idea that everyone is inherently unique and possesses good human nature. The imaginary, gigantic monster Shelley embodies is more human in terms of psychological development. He is born innocent. He gradually brews his ego and super-ego while distressed by both the life and death instincts. Like the monster’s figure reflected in a pool in the forest, we can only see ourselves by interacting with the external world. Shelley teaches us how the self is being developed.

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. “The Ego and the Id.” The Hogarth Press Ltd. London, 1949. Print.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. “Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus.” Public Domain, 2008. PDF file.

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Priceless Gift From Dad

I was fifteen when my father Nobukazu died of complications from diabetes at the age 52. Our family’s laments lasted long, and this loss was also a pivotal point for me from which I began to think of what I was meant to be.

Nobukazu was born into the family hotel business in Honbetsu, Hokkaido—the north-most and coldest area in Japan. In his teens, his mother passed away, which forced him to help his family by laboring. After graduating from college in Tokyo, he got a job as a salesperson at a construction firm, where he met my mother. It required seven years of patience for this couple to have their first and only child. It was December 31st of 1982 when I first saw the sun.

My father long suffered from serious health problems. His diabetes eroded his kidney, and, as a result, he was required to take a hemodialysis treatment three times a week after his grueling full-time work. Despite his obvious fatigue, I often complained that he hardly played with me or took us on a family trip. His only peace of mind was music; he collected vinyl records and cassette tapes of American folk singers, including his favorite Simon & Garfunkel.

I remember a humid, sweltering day in the summer of 1998, the year I started high school. I told my dad that I did not intend to go to college. I said, “I’m sick of rote learning. The school’s curriculum is nonsense!” I had studied music by my own and dreamed of being a composer.

“No, Yosuke! You definitely need to obtain a bachelor’s degree, at least! This will surely benefit you. Follow my words,” my father said, infuriated with my statement.

I rebelled, shouting “I am to be an artist. I’m not interested in being a boring, ordinary employee, someone like you!”

We never compromised. The conversation between us disappeared after that argument, which still adheres to my memory like sweat that never gets wiped off. I did not know that Father’s illness had worsened so acutely. Complications involved glaucoma and red rashes pervading his skin constantly irritated him.

In the November of the same year, Nobukazu was placed in a hospital due to persistent fevers. I saw him every other day after class. We exchanged some words. When he showed anguish, I held his hand. He smiled at me. His arms were connected to millions of ducts for the interminable intravenous lines. Over the window I saw a maidenhair tree, all of whose leaves had fallen, preparing for winter. On December 15th, I was jolted by a call from my mother. I rushed to the hospital, but a few minute after I arrived, my father’s heartbeat gently faded out.

I was in confusion for a while, but his Buddhist funeral taught me that this was an indubitable reality. A couple of days after Father’s death, I, attired in a new, uncomfortable black suit with a tie and prayer beads, headed to the hall with my mother. There were a lot of chores for preparation. “We are too busy to mourn for him,” grinned my mother. Her cell phone was relentlessly ringing while we had a meeting with the ceremony staff. After the meeting, they brought in the casket in which Nobukazu rested. My relatives gathered around it. I opened the casket, uncovered the cloth on his face, and let them see his placid countenance. “Beautiful… What a beautiful face!” my maternal aunt sobbed. He looked as if he was just sleeping, but his skin was as cold as windows in winter. Above his casket were a myriad of white chrysanthemums and lilies cuddling up to his smiling picture. A Buddhist priest burned incense, the dense smoke of which blurred Nobukazu’s postmortem name, Nikka—given by the priest for use in “the afterworld”— inscribed on the spirit tablet.

Father’s ceremony drew over six hundred visitors, including my teacher Mr. Sakai and my newly acquainted classmates. One of my classmates was too young to perform the ritual of burning incense properly. Everyone was unprepared for his premature death. On the following day, a golden hearse took my parents and me to the crematory. After his body was burned at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, we collected his remnants into a cinerary urn with chopsticks. His bones and ashes were buried in his grave as the first resident.

This event made me want to be independent. I started working at a video game company while I was in high school. I did not go to college. Instead, I continued my career as a software engineer in several industries. A few years later, my mother revealed two things about my father. “The day before his death,” she said, “he just said ‘Yosuke would be alright.’” He believed in my success whichever route I would choose. She also told me how he decided upon my name.
I am thankful for my father, who has been a guide for me even after his demise. If I could speak to him now, here are the words I wish to say:

Dear revered Dad,

How many winters have passed since you commenced a long, long journey? Since you were gone, I’ve discovered many things about you. I didn’t know you were liked and respected by hundreds of your colleagues. I didn’t know you were good at cooking and playing the guitar. I didn’t know you were always caring about me as a first priority. I was living in a bubble. Now I, as an adult, have come to understand how hard it is to put bread on the table, how exhausting a hemodialysis treatment you took was, how agonizing your endless pain was, and how much you dedicated yourself to others throughout your life. You and Mom are the best parents in the world! I’m so proud of being your son. I really want to be someone like you.

And I heard where my name, Yosuke, had come from. In the early morning on the day after my birth, you were walking along the Edo River full of jubilation. There you saw the first sunrise of the new year. Stunned by the sanctity of that scene, you spontaneously named me Yo—the sun in Japanese. I feel my name is a special gift bestowed by you.

I am now a student in the United States after having worked in Japan for years. Here, every day brings a new adventure. Sometimes I miss Mom, but we are alright. Wherever in the world we are, the sun rises every morning.

Monday, January 16, 2017

What Matters to Me

Art matters to me. This is not that I am good at painting; actually I am not. For me, art is the pursuit of beauty by means of self-expression. Writing novels is art, and great lyrics fit in here — Bob Dylan has just won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Composing music is art. Computer programming is also art. Mathematics is very definitely art. These share some characteristics in common. They all require solid imagination, solid skills to implement, and the perseverance and ebullience to push for perfection. Too, as a bonus, the resulting creations may deeply move us, as well as all subsequent progeny.

When I ran my business at a software startup in the online advertising industry, I always asked myself — “Is it artistic enough?” This might sound ludicrous and words such as unique, ethical, or honest could replace “artistic,” but I prefer that word because art is basically innate and not forced on us from the outside. In daily practice, I showed respect to all of our employees since they were the artisans producing our “beautiful” software products. I created internal workshops and hackathons, which elevated the employees’ morale and creativity. We tried to “move” both advertisers and Internet users rather than exploiting them so that our business could be sustainable. We also kept our source code well organized for future maintainers who might see it one year later.

Simplicity and purity are key factors, as I see it, for art to be art. I abhor exaggeration, plagiarism, and unproductive criticisms. I believe that God is indeed in the details. My work must be done thoroughly, carefully, and with love. Every aspect of my creations matter because I am an artist.