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  • Symposium:Devalued Currency, Part2
  • Devalued CurrencyElegiac Symposium on Paradigm Shifts, Part 2
  • Jeffrey M. Perl, Frank Ankersmit, Peter Burke, Wayne Andersen, William M. Chace, Uta Gosmann, and Jean Bethke Elshtain

Introduction: Regarding Change at Ise Jingū

There is something —two or three things, actually —provincial about the idea of paradigm shifts. In its heyday, the notion of incommensurable paradigms was useful in defense of local cultures against encroachments from the outside. Anthropologists and historians in particular took to the notion as support for the happy thought that outlandish systems of belief could not be judged with reference to any universal standard. The leading candidate for universal standard (Science) was understood as itself a province —a remote island continent, with its uniquely intimidating language, hermetic concepts, and incomparably fastidious manners. In the sense most relevant to this symposium, the idea of paradigm shifts is provincial in that it relates to a quintessentially modern and Western experience of continuity as monotony. Kuhn argued that changes so basic can ensue during a shift in paradigm that "what were ducks . . . before the revolution are rabbits afterwards."1 He is not talking about a change in mere nomenclature [End Page 208]

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Figure 1.

The Lost Samurai (1895), woodblock-print triptych by Toshikata Mizuno (1866 – 1908). Courtesy of Japan Print Gallery, London.

(the shift is from duck to rabbit). Notice also the tense and mood: "were ducks," not "seem to have been ducks." Expelled from scientific memory, ducks migrate from the textbooks of science to those of metadisciplines —history of science, philosophy of science —on the opposite side of campus. In its way of seeing the world and its way of doing business, one science or another has been transformed. It is hard to imagine a theory better suited to a culture so impatient with continuity.

Other cultures, I hope and believe, regard and manage change differently. As a student of modernist drama and art, which are deeply indebted to those of Japan, I have learned something about Japanese attitudes toward and ways of dealing with major change and have found them difficult to parse in Western terms. Take the shift, apparently revolutionary, from the way things were organized under the Tokugawa shogunate to the way things got reorganized after the accession of Emperor Meiji in 1867. My subject here is art rather than politics, so let Exhibit A be a triptych of the Meiji era (fig. 1). "The Lost Samurai," a set of three woodblock prints designed by Toshikata Mizuno and published in 1895, is said in an online gallery description to picture a warrior who, "hoping to obtain directions, spots a person in a small hut deep in the mountains." But the lost samurai does not look especially hopeful; nor does he appear the kind of samurai who, even if lost, would ask for directions at a pastoral hut. With his hands in mail mittens —one gripping a sword; the other, a stick fully his height —the samurai glowers with what looks to be impotent menace. Certainly, the contrast that Toshikata has drawn between samurai and hermit could not be more stark. The former is wearing regalia and colorful armor (in blue, brown, red, orange, and yellow layers, plus a headdress in black, fixed to his brow with a fussy white bow) —all detailed in the style of kabuki prints, including gesture and facial expression. The hut with its thatched little roof, the little bridge over the little stream, and the iconographically correct misty landscape are done cursorily [End Page 209] in black ink and wash, as required by classic sumi-e style. The latter originated in seventh-century China (Tang dynasty) and migrated, under Zen auspices, to Japan in the mid-fourteenth century. Sumi-e is thus referred to by some as "Zen style," but its cont ext is not necessarily Buddhist.

Two characteristically Japanese styles of pictorial art —one understated, one hyperbolic —are posed here as in conflict, and the conflict is represented as if self-evidently clear. The warrior is portrayed as if indignant at the countryfolk. Had their backward, colorless, tradition-bound modesty given comfort to the emperor in his determination to...