Comments on Arthur B's Jim Jarmusch Via Germany, Part 2

Continuing the journey through Jarmusch's back catalogue, featuring a Ghost Dog, a Crazy Horse, and a lot of caffeine and nicotine.

Comments (go to latest)
Raymond H at 11:40 on 2018-04-26
I still remember, back when the whole "Akira Yoshida" hullabaloo was going down, joking with my friends that if I ever got a job at Marvel Comics I would operate under the pseudonym "Jinyaro Bakahaku". Take a wild guess what that translates (poorly) to when you read it in the proper Japanese name order.

From your description of it, Ghost Dog sounds like a Seijun Suzuki film, only with less jokes. In all seriousness though, I really can't stand Hagakure. Maybe it's because I'm a child of the Deep South, but blind nostalgia has never really sat well with me, especially when it's the kind that sings the praises of old greats whilst simultaneously demonstrating that you obviously weren't paying attention when you read those greats (think Dan Simmons' Dying Earth story). From your description of Ghost Dog though, Hagakure actually sounds like a perfect fit. I have to ask, just to be sure, are there any mafia fellows who talk wistfully about the 20's and Al Capone? If so, then Hagakure was made for this movie.
Arthur B at 13:00 on 2018-04-26
I have to ask, just to be sure, are there any mafia fellows who talk wistfully about the 20's and Al Capone?

Not specifically, but again the fact that they are all aging and seem to spend a lot of time watching old cartoons suggests an air of nostalgia and faded glory about them.
Raymond H at 23:04 on 2018-04-26
Yeah, okay. That does fit with Hagakure and its whole "Argh, back in the days of war men were real men, women were real women, and the lower classes knew their place!" ideology then. Which of course ignores the fact that most of these famous texts like "The Unfettered Mind" and "The Life-Giving Sword" are about how war isn't a glorious and beautiful thing, but when it's unavoidable, you have to be able to deal with it, with a minimal amount of collateral possible. LGS even explicitly says in its introduction that it's trying to reconcile the philosophy of the Tao Te Ching with the fact that Japan (at that time) is completely consumed by warfare. Sorry if I'm over-explaining. I don't know how much you already know about this stuff.
Robinson L at 15:30 on 2018-06-18
Not much to add to this series: I'm only familiar with Jarmusch's filmography through Brows Held High, which covered both Dead Man and Ghost Dog. (Incidentally, the same guy also did both a vlog and a review of Anonymous. He didn't like it.) The impression I get is that Jarmusch's stuff is often good, but not my kind of thing. Still worth reading about and watching people talk about.

Raymond: Sorry if I'm over-explaining. I don't know how much you already know about this stuff.

Well, even if Arthur knows, other readers don't necessarily, so no worries.
Ichneumon at 04:03 on 2018-06-19
@Robinson L: Oh, neat, someone else who watches Kyle Kallgren's stuff! :3
Raymond H at 12:12 on 2018-06-19
Well, even if Arthur knows, other readers don't necessarily, so no worries.

UGGGH, I'm so embarrassed though, because, like, a day after I wrote that comment I said the Tao Te Ching was a pacifist text to my sihing, and he went "Um, no it isn't!". With, like, that "Excuse me?" sort of glare?
Robinson L at 20:30 on 2018-06-20
@Raymond:
Huh. I've only ever read it once, in the le Guin translation, and I was under the impression that she, also, regarded it as a pacifist text. That's about the extent of my knowledge, though.
Raymond H at 12:01 on 2018-06-25
And I'm back! Sorry, I spent the weekend conferring with my sihing to make sure I didn't say anything foolish like last time.

So, Robinson, to answer your question, let's take a look at perhaps the most famous aspect of Taoism, the Taijitu. You've seen it everywhere, the black and white yin and yang circling each other, neither one pure and unadulterated, and neither one greater or lesser than the other. Life and death, peace and war, good and evil. We tend to think of these things as simple, opposing forces, but they're not. No human being is completely, %100 good or evil, after all. We all have equal parts of them inside us, we have to choose, yadda yadda, you've heard this all before.

The reason my sihing says the Tao Te Ching is not a pacifist text is that it's not so much about finding peace as it is about finding balance. Again, think back to the cycle. People always use that term when referring to war and violence, because despite our best efforts, war continues to appear in the world. Violence is inevitable, it's a part of human nature, it's a part of the cycle of human history. The key then is not to avoid or destroy violence, but to find balance within it. The path, the force that binds the universe and makes it run, at some point its current will run red with blood, and violence will sweep the world of man and drown whatever poor fools lie within its path. To ignore the violence leads to death of the body, to allow the violence to consume you leads to death of the spirit. One must then find balance. One must be able to pass through the path's current, and emerge with their sense of self intact and their heart still beating. Not by adding to the cycle's energy (where you become just another drop in the river), not by trying to block the energy's path (where you break just as any dam does inevitably), but by letting the energy flow (like a ball riding a stream).

Pacifism indicates the choosing of a side, of saying that one thing is inherently better and nobler than the other. And while you certainly can interpret the Tao Te Ching that way, remember what violence can do. If a loved one is held at gunpoint, and the only way to save them is by harming the gunner, what do you do? Probably the first thing that pops into your head is to knock the gunner out, or to harm them non-lethally, and that's the key. You would still be committing violence, but just enough violence to halt any further violence. No more, and no less. It isn't always as simple as that, of course. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes our emotions get the better of us, and sometimes our actions have unintended consequences. But pure and unadulterated peace, despite seeming like a good thing on the surface, can lead to its own problems and pitfalls.

Think about a sword. By itself, it can do nothing. By itself, it is harmless. It is only through human action, human intent, that it can be used to bring death or give life. The sword is an extension of the swordsman. They alone decide when to draw the blade and when to keep it sheathed. And they alone must find their own balance, as they walk along the path of the world.

Sorry, I know that sounded yoda-esque. Heheh. Just, tldr; The key isn't peace, but balance.
Robinson L at 15:30 on 2018-06-28
Since I know so little about the Tao te Ching, I'll take you're sihing's word for it. However, since some of these arguments sound like your own, reasoning, rather just reports of what the Tao says, I have some feedback on those.

In order to have a coherent discussion of pacifism, you first need to establish a definition of the word, and of related words, like "violence." So when you say, "Violence is inevitable, it's a part of human nature, it's a part of the cycle of human history," a pacifist might entirely agree with you, depending on what definition of "violence" you're operating under.

A large part of pacifism is a rejection of organized warfare - lots of people have argued that warfare is inevitable, part of human nature, and of the cycle of human history, but plenty of scholars have shown compelling evidence that this may, in fact, not be true. And heaven knows, all manner of societies have upheld some odious practice of their own culture or another as inevitable and eternal, and cited plenty of historical evidence - but it turns out to be contingent and context-specific.

Pacifists also generally reject interpersonal violence that has a high likelihood of resulting in death or serious injury (sometimes psychological, emotional, and spiritual as well as physical). They wouldn't necessarily rule out causing someone minor temporary hurt to prevent greater violence, as in the case you cite of someone holding a loved one at gunpoint.

On which point, I really, really dislike thought experiments of that sort, because as you say, it isn't always as simple as that. I would amend "always" to "never." And really, that example - as most of its type - is already begging the question. I presupposes a really bad situation where a) a resolution that doesn't employ violence is impossible and b) a resolution that does employ violence is possible.

At first blush, it may seem obvious to us that such situations do in fact exist, often, even - but I suspect most of the actual examples we can cite are from movies and TV. Maybe someone has a personal anecdote or two, but people's analyses of their own experiences tend to be highly subjective. I'm not aware of any empirical studies which have seriously looked at this topic, and such studies would be difficult anyway, given the problem of proving or disproving counter-factuals.

I can be pretty confident, though, that if you stuck someone like me in this hypothetical scenario, and I tried to disarm the gunner by force, I'd be more likely to get my loved one shot by accident, and it would take a truly miraculous occurrence for me to succeed. Hell, if I had a gun and the attacker was unarmed, the highest probability by a factor of several hundred is that they take the gun away and use it on me or my loved one, rather than me being able to disable or kill them. Whereas if I try talking them down, or distracting them, or literally anything other than brute force, my chances are probably still lousy, but still better than if I tried to disable them physically.

(It's also true that I've encountered a significant number of pacifists - most of them highly privileged - who seem either willfully oblivious to questions of self-defense, or to have a Pollyannaish faith in the power of nonviolence to sort out potential such situations without giving serious thought to what real defense actually means in practice. These are not thinkers I cite in my argument.)

As for swords, yeah, a sword is just a tool - but a tool designed for a specific purpose. It doesn't have much functionality other than maiming or killing something. So I think it would be a stretch to claim a sword as an entirely neutral object, if that was your argument.
Raymond H at 12:06 on 2018-06-30
By violence I mean conflict, which can come in a variety of shapes and on a variety of scales, ranging from a full-blown war to simply a shitty boss or co-worker giving you grief. Either way, the important thing is to find balance, to understand the flow of energy and to ride it without adding or attempting to block it. I have never been in a war, and I would presume you to have never been in one either, but at the time of the Tao Te Ching's writing, and the writing of other famous, similar works, such as Meditations or The Life-Giving Sword, war, total, all-consuming war, literally was a daily part of many people's lives. So you have to take into account that difference in time period as well. I don't think anyone working an office job these days has to worry about their house being plundered by bandits or their crops destroyed by soldiers, but we do have co-workers that irritate us, or rude and mean service workers, or countless other sources of stress and worry in our lives. All of this is comprised of energy, the energy of the Tao. And to find a balance requires us to pick and choose our "battles" and how we fight them. Ultimately, these things are beyond our control. However, we should not attempt to fully surrender (complete pacifism) or fully fight (complete violence) them.

Your mention of Pollyanaish figures is what I mean by pure pacifism. Again, going back in time, this difference was much more pronounced. Even as we sit behind our computer screens in our comfy apartments or houses, we have a constant news feed letting us know that war and violence is out there, even if we are not in the thick of it. Back in the day, as it were, if a rich, sheltered noble wished to ignore the troubles of the world, they could do it much more easily, even if it might end like the Masque of Red Death for them. And indeed, as the story goes, it was his frustration with these people and this willfully ignorant mindset that drove Laozi to write the TTC.

Let me put it to you this way. Remember that episode of Star Trek, when Kirk got split in two? At first it seemed like one was good Kirk and the other was bad Kirk, but actually it was more complicated than that. One was peaceful, passive Kirk, while the other was violent, aggressive Kirk. Both showcase the flaws and the strengths of passiveness and aggression, and both are ultimately needed to make a whole Kirk, a whole person.

I must apologize for bringing up the cliche thought experiment. My intent was not, as it usually is with these things, to demonstrate how you're weak and I'm, like, so cool because I know how to make the tough decisions maaan, but rather to show that your seemingly idealistic answer is actually the right mindset. And you're right, most people wouldn't know how to be the "good guy with a gun" in that situation. But that is precisely why we study martial arts, so that we may possess complete awareness and control of our bodies and minds, and be able to retain that control and calmness during instances of violence. As I already mentioned, I myself have never known war. But I have known fear over my body, and of accidentally hurting someone, due to my always being much larger and stronger than my peers. And the ranks of most of these monks and philosophers were comprised of former soldiers. Ancient China didn't exactly have a Bureau for Veteran Affairs, so the only way you could really deal with your PTSD in those days was to become a monk, and spend your time in meditation and counseling with other, similarly-scarred people. Through these practices though, we may obtain control, and let go of our fear and the ghosts that haunt our minds.

As for swords, of course you can use them for other things. Chopping wood, cleaving meat, with the little blades you can also cut hair, pick teeth, carve wood, etc. Also, even if its main purpose is to kill, what can it do if it sits idly on a table? It's not going to kill you then, unless
a) You happen to fall on it by accident
or
b) Someone picks it up to kill you
So yes, I stand by my assertion of swords being ultimately neutral.
https://arilou-skiff.livejournal.com/ at 13:54 on 2018-07-04
Should be noted that the tradition closer to pacifism in chinese thinking is probably Mohism rather than taoism. (though the Mohists weren't exactly absolute pacifists either, and somewhat ironically they were famed as siege engineers)
Raymond H at 06:52 on 2018-07-08
Ooh, thank you. I hadn't heard of Mohism before, but I've looked it up and it seems quite interesting. Thank you for pointing it out to me. :)
Robinson L at 22:36 on 2018-07-10
Raymond: By violence I mean conflict, which can come in a variety of shapes and on a variety of scales, ranging from a full-blown war to simply a shitty boss or co-worker giving you grief.

Ah, okay, I can go along with that. I was confused by the usage in the context of pacifism, specifically, because I know of many pacifists who have a different relationship to conflict than they do to violence. Indeed, I know of some who are explicitly pro-conflict as part of their pacifist philosophy, not in contradiction to it.

I have never been in a war, and I would presume you to have never been in one either

You presume correctly.

I must apologize for bringing up the cliche thought experiment. My intent was not, as it usually is with these things, to demonstrate how you're weak and I'm, like, so cool because I know how to make the tough decisions maaan, but rather to show that your seemingly idealistic answer is actually the right mindset.

Oh. Perhaps we're coming at it from slightly different contexts, then. The people I most often encounter deploying that thought experiment are doing so sincerely. Sure, they tend to have a bit more machismo than I do (not hard), but they come at the issue from a place of genuine solidarity, believing pretty much anyone could be capable of fighting off our hypothetical attacker, and should have the resources to do so.

As for swords, of course you can use them for other things. Chopping wood, cleaving meat, with the little blades you can also cut hair, pick teeth, carve wood, etc. Also, even if its main purpose is to kill, what can it do if it sits idly on a table?

In answer to your last question, "Not much," in which case, it's junk, and not worth having in the house to begin with, except maybe for decoration.

As for the rest: Yes, swords can be put to other uses, but unless I'm mistaken, they almost always do an inferior job to tools which are specifically made for the purpose in question. If you want to cut wood, get an axe; cut meat, a cleaver. I suppose you could shape scissors/tweezers, tooth-pickers, wood carvers, and similar tools like swords, but then I'm guessing they wouldn't have utility as swords.

Axes, spears, knives, even spears have numerous applications outside of combat and warfare where they're still excellent tools for the job. Apart from recreational combat or decoration, I can't think of any other use for a sword other than physically hurting another person that a different tool wouldn't accomplish a lot better. That's where I'm coming from when I say I'm not convinced that a sword is a neutral tool. Again, no one says you have to use it for physical violence ... but if you're not going to, then what's the point of having it at all?
Raymond H at 06:46 on 2018-07-15
Yes, but just because something was made to do one thing, you shouldn't automatically assign an idea of its ultimate purpose. Why did your parents make you? Were you made to be a doctor? Ultimately your fate is determined by your own human action, not by what has been made for you or what others intended for you. That's what I mean by swords being neutral. They have no will of their own, but simply channel the will of human beings, who ultimately decide what they will be used for. And while no-one would fault you for assigning finite purposes to inanimate objects, you should be careful not to extrapolate that mindset further to living beings.
Robinson L at 22:36 on 2018-08-02
Okay, been a little while, but I'm finally ready to follow up on some comments, starting with this one.

And while no-one would fault you for assigning finite purposes to inanimate objects, you should be careful not to extrapolate that mindset further to living beings.

Oh, sure. I wasn't disputing your larger point. More along the lines of taking issue with your choice of metaphor, because, again, my understanding is that apart from its primary purpose, a sword is way less useful for any other task than tools made for that task. I probably could have gotten behind a metaphor revolving around a battleaxe or a bow and arrow a lot more easily.
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