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Technologies of Sin & Salvation

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In the earliest age of the gods, existence was born of non-existence.

The Rg Veda

Is the quiet eye of the storm not the very source of all creativity?

Daisetsu Suzuki

WITHIN THE PERPETUAL INNOVATION ECONOMY, the more advanced our technologies of reproduction become, the more capital's value is maintained through the production of new meaning through figurative transformation. Understanding this contemporary context is crucial because the critical work prefiguring and enabling such creative valorization lies in dissolving or "releasing" schematic barriers to this essential human labor, which is the primary function of contemporary information and communications technologies within all institutions seeking competitive advantage in today's political economy. These schematic barriers appear throughout an integral, multi-dimensional network of infrastructure, cognitive processes and data, as well as the increasingly crucial dimension of embodied human affect (Andrews 1994). Among these dimensions, the last has traditionally proven to be the most complex and inaccessible to Western epistemologies and methods of analysis, limited as they are to the ways of reason. This study argues, however, that the convention of separating reason from affect, mind from body, the world of "being" from the world of "becoming," is no longer tenable in the emergent "Affect Economy." But what is the alternative to this venerable dialectic? With Western thought torn as we saw in the previous chapter for over two thousand years between objectivism and subjectivism, empiricism and rationalism, where are we to find direction in deconstructing these polarities and in extruding our traditional plane of reason-bound theory and method?

____In addressing such questions, we return again to the core issue of the interdependency of humanity and technology. In his analysis of the technological aesthetics in the 20th century and into the future, Rutsky sees an ongoing transformation in this very symbiosis accompanying the current mutational processes of both the global political economy and what he describes as humankind's "techno-cultural unconscious:"

The position of human beings in relation to this techno-cultural unconscious cannot, therefore, be that of the analyst (or theorist) who, standing outside this space, presumes to know or control it. It must instead be a relation of connection to, of interactions with, that which has been seen as "other," including the unsettling processes of techno-culture itself. To accept this relation is to let go of part of what it has meant to be human … and to allow ourselves to change, to mutate, to become alien, cyborg, posthuman. It is … a matter of unsecuring the subject, of acknowledging the relations and mutational processes that constitute it. A posthuman subject would … acknowledge the otherness that is part of us. It would involve opening the boundaries of individual and collective identity, changing the relations that have distinguished between subject and object, self and other, us and them. (1999)

____And here, though he himself does not draw the parallel, Rutsky has put forward an uncanny description of a fundamental feature of much of Eastern thought, and Zen Buddhism in particular. Though Zen scholars and practitioners would not define such a form of human subjectivity as "alien, cyborg or posthuman" as Rutsky does, Mahayana Buddhism has in fact been evolving the eco-cognitive technologies for effecting such a transformation in consciousness and experience for many hundreds of years. And so it is to the epistemologies and ontologies of the East that we now turn to see that such a conception of humanity is in fact deeply rooted in these cultures' rigorous and subtle inquiry into what it means to be fully human. In seeking to better understand the West's progression toward a "posthuman," "cyborg," "alien" or other futuristic notion of humanity's relationship with technology, it would be foolish not to first carefully examine the extraordinary efforts made by other peoples in other times to address related ontological and teleological challenges. For we can learn much from the pre-scientific eco-cognitive technologies developed by the peoples of ancient India, China and Japan as the individuals of other ages and cultures sought to free themselves from perceptual error, hypostasized metaphorical constructs, which they identified as causing the cognitive barriers between their own particular ontological - or cosmological - dimensions.

. . .

Beyond the sensing body lies the knowing mind;
Beyond the knowing mind lies the intuitive mind;
Beyond the intuitive mind lies the Cosmic Mind;
Beyond the Cosmic Mind lies Unmanifest Reality;
Beyond Unmanifest Reality lies the Supreme Self.

From the Rig Veda

Four to five thousand years ago, the ancient people of the Ganges Valley began to evolve a vision of reality and human experience, the essence of which is recorded in the Rig Vedic text above. These cosmological dimensions effectively framed this people's core existential question: how to correctly perceive and reintegrate these ontological categories for a more complete identification with this reality and a more fully realized human experience? To vastly simplify a process spanning several millennia, and a discipline which has undergone countless iterations in its many manifestations, one might say that Yoga (Sanskrit for union) was evolved within the early Hindu culture as a pre-scientific, integrative eco-cognitive technology. Its central purpose was (and remains) to progressively dissolve whatever barriers may exist to the individual's perception of these nested dimensions of reality and to open this newly integral space to enhanced experience and meaning (Podgorski 1984).

____In Hatha Yoga, abhimana (ego-pride) is seen as the greatest barrier to the perception of unity between all dimensions of experience. In this tradition, abhimana has long been seen not only as an impediment to proper Self-consciousness, but also as a form of primordial cognition which wills itself into the form of what I describe as alienating technologies, for which I give a postmodern case study below, and with which one must then struggle again to overcome in order to achieve unobstructed, optimal experience (Podgorski, 174-180).

____Mihalyi Csikszentmihalya, who has conducted research and written for several decades on the psychology of optimal experience, which he describes as "flow," suggests, "It is not unreasonable to regard yoga as one of the oldest and most systematic methods of producing the flow experience." He describes as "superficial" the common perception that the yogic aim of ego-transcendence runs counter to the modern Western ideal of self-actualization (1991, 106-107). In fact, in the practice of yoga, embodied individualization is viewed as a natural process whereby the union of matter and consciousness may first come to be recognized. Here, embodied existence is seen to create the instruments and tools through which the drama of salvation is then played out. Yet there is also an explicit recognition of the danger that these same tools, meant to be instruments of liberation in life, might rather become obstacles impeding the practitioner's search for identification with the supreme reality. These are the khyativada, or "perceptual errors," which have been the intense focus of Indian thought for several thousand years through to the present day (Rao 1998).

____In his text, Perceptual Error, Srinivasa Rao has done a great service to students of Eastern thought in distilling several thousand years of epistemological development and inquiry into the problem of human cognitive error, documenting nine distinct branches of thought regarding this phenomenon. Though Rao's analysis is at times constrained by its emphasis on historical documentation and lack of theoretical perspective, it does clearly reveal the remarkably persistent and subtle attention to human experience-and the core cognitive constructions of the human self and its world-given to these issues in the millennial evolution of Indian philosophy. Particularly relevant here is the Atmakhyati theory of perceptual error, attributed to the Vijnanavada school of Buddhism. This theory holds fundamental perceptual error to be found in "The erroneous [perception] by an internal cognition of itself as an external object" (Rao 1998, 144). That is, an internal cognitive schema itself is perceived as if it were an external reality. Rao traces this account of perceptual error back to the 2nd century writings of the Buddhist sage Nagarjuna, where all entities are characterized by momentariness and dependent co-origination. As Nagarjuna states unequivocally, "There is no existence of any kind, anywhere at any time which is non-dependently originated; therefore there is nothing nowhere at no time that is eternal."

. . .

The Buddhist sage Nagarjuna is credited by most scholars of Buddhism as the first patriarch of the Mahayana Madhyamika tradition, a school of thought characterized by its adherence to the notion of sunyata, or emptiness, and its fierce refutation of dualistic oppositions. This concept, which would become essential over time to the evolution of Zen thought and method, was in fact an elegant fortuitous blend of previous Buddhist thought with the notion of "zero." After Nagarjuna, the Buddhists would frame the sphere of inquiry in a unique manner which, over the centuries, enabled them to evolve a distinct form of their own eco-cognitive technology.

____In 326 BC, Aristotle's most famous pupil, Alexander the Great, had extended his westward march to what was then known as Punjab in the northwestern corner of the Indian subcontinent in his pursuit to enlarge his empire. He brought with him a technology which had originated with the Babylonians and which the Greeks had found to be useful in levying taxes and calculating trade transactions. This technology was, of course, the numeral "zero." As previously noted, Seife has documented the likely circulation of this seemingly benign technology from ancient Babylonia and into what was then the Greek empire, where it met with tremendous and even violent resistance from the epistemological powers that be of the day. As Seife explains it, it quickly became clear that zero threw Greek geometry into such dangerous disarray that the concept was proclaimed taboo by Platonic and Aristotelian scholars. As we have seen, so intertwined were Greek philosophy and mathematics that to throw the divine geometry into disarray would be to cast doubt on the very principles underpinning the veracity of the Platonic and Aristotelian theories of meaning. Zero, in revealing the limitations of thinking in terms of geometric forms, revealed the limitations of what had been established by Plato as the ideal a priori forms, to which all dialectical knowledge aspired. Beyond this, Aristotle's entire cosmology was altogether contingent on his refutation of the existence of infinity and the void. If zero and the absence of the a priori prime mover were accepted as possibilities, the grand metaphorical foundation for dialectical reason could not stand for long. Because zero was so fundamentally incompatible with Greek order, the idea was considered anathema and never incorporated into the dualistic epistemologies which would come to form the foundation of Western thought.

____The situation was altogether different in the Asian subcontinent which Alexander and his army entered in 326 BC. In the Ganges Valley of the 3rd century BC, the concept of zero-sunya-found fertile soil. Though the peoples of the Punjab had developed their own mathematical systems, Pythagorean geometry was not among them. Neither were their epistemologies based on such mathematical metaphors. As Charles Seife notes,

Unlike the Greeks, Indians did not see squares in square numbers or the areas of rectangles … Instead they saw the interplay of numerals-numbers stripped of their geometric significance. This was the birth of what we now know as algebra. Though this mind-set prevented the Indians from contributing much to geometry, it had another, unexpected effect. If freed the Indians from the shortcomings of the Greek system of thought-and their rejection of zero (2000, 70).

____And so, at the time Alexander's mathematicians passed their techniques on to the peoples of Punjab, the concept of zero appears to have been accepted, readily implemented, and would likely have eventually traveled throughout the region and permeated into other aspects of the peoples' social interactions. According to the Buddhist tradition itself as well as to scholarship, the concept of sunya, the Indian word for zero, and the teaching of sunyata, or emptiness, began to appear in the Prajnaparamita and other texts approximately 500 years after the Buddha's death.

Buddhist tradition and scholarship also agree that, by the first half of the 2nd century AD, when the Indian sage Nagarjuna composed the poetic stanzas which come to comprise the basis of the Madhyamika (Middle School) Buddhist school of thought, "zero" would have been in broad circulation on the subcontinent for over five centuries. And it was Nagarjuna who first placed sunyata, the notion of emptiness, at the core of Mahayana Buddhism (the form which spread to China, Korea and Japan). This was a theory of meaning which persistently argued against the notion of a priori subjects or objects of any kind, proposing instead a middle way between existence and nonexistence, permanence and impermanence, identity and difference. It was, in this very important sense, a mode of thought which refused to place itself on a fixed metaphorical basis beyond what is alternately rendered as groundlessness or contingency. For again, as Coyne has argued, metaphor itself implies this dualism of identity and difference. Thus Nagarjuna and those who followed his approach were assiduous in deconstructing not only the notion of an independently existing self or subject, but also the independent existence of the object. This was a meticulously articulated epistemology of what Varela et al have termed "codependent arising." It was a notion which had never been explicitly developed in Buddhist thought up until this point in time. Nagarjuna's proposal that at the heart of Buddha-mind lay sunyata signaled a revolutionary transformation in both Buddhist thought. This epistemological revolution would lead to the development of pre-scientific technologies developed by subsequent generations of Mahayana Buddhist scholars, students and the peoples of the regions touched by this powerful and highly sophisticated articulation of a universe absent a prioris. And these remarkable, enduring technologies would be committed to dissolving the perceptual and cognitive barriers to the human freedoms Nagarjuna's stunning epistemological figuration implied. Perhaps most remarkable of all is that there would be nothing like this in the pantheon of Western thought until the 20th century.

____By around 1100 AD, the Indian and Chinese Buddhists had begun to develop well-articulated means of reconstituting human cognition in order to overcome the barriers to perceiving reality in its unity, beyond what the Madhyamika School held to be the false dualisms and perceptual biases human cognition. Question and answer sessions between Buddhist masters and their students, initially termed mondo (literally, question and answer), were later formalized by Japanese Zen Buddhists into a pre-scientific integrative technology called the koan (literally, public document). Though much has been written about the use of the koan through the past one thousand years to the present, it may be said that the practice was effectively evolved as a widely-used aesthetic techne for the specific purpose of overcoming ego-consciousness and its illusory projection of a dualistic reality, and to enable the Zen practitioner to again experience reality in its truest and most deeply satisfying nature (Fromm, Suzuki, Martino 1960).

____Even in the more formalized Japanese tradition, Suzuki describes that Zen monks were given by their teachers explicit koans appropriate to specific cognitive obstacles they were facing in their psycho-spiritual development. The work of the practitioner was then to begin the strenuous task of absorbing the text within their being so that it no longer existed as an external object upon which to focus cognitive attention, but as a fully internalized instrument doing its work on the extreme reaches of the unconscious. The koans varied in content and complexity, ranging from the nonsensical "Mu!" to the infamous, "Let me hear the sound of one hand clapping," to far more involved cognitive puzzles.

____In the Zen discipline, the intellect is viewed as useful primarily in identifying, however vaguely, where the obstacles to integrative human experience lay. Yet the lived experience of reality may only be entered into when the intellect quits its claim on it. For this to become possible the intellect must first be understood for what it is; one ontological category nested within the infinitely more expansive world beyond mere knowing. As Suzuki notes, "May we not call this unknown the Cosmic Unconscious, or the source of infinite creativity whereby not only artists of every description nourish their inspiration, but even we ordinary human beings are enabled, each according to his natural endowments, to turn his life into something of genuine art?" (1960, 17).

The discipline of haiku presents a concentrated lesson in Zen reconstructive art. The poem becomes an opportunity to reimagine experience in this new terrain outlying the familiar dualisms and dialectics of common cognition. Alexander, who has written extensively on Dewey's analysis of the role of art and aesthetics in propelling creative innovation and generating "consummatory experience," notes that, "The haiku strives to reveal, through its concrete but suggestively minimalist technique, the immediate vitality of the moment" He cites the following haiku by Tantan (1674-1761) as a case in point:

On the rock
Waves can't reach,
Fresh snow.

____This micro-narrative, the very antithesis of theory and macro-narrative, articulates the lived experience which Zen seeks to reveal first through the discipline of the koan, and finally through the immediacy and transience of its reconstructive art forms, such as haiku, calligraphy and painting. In Zen, the goal is always that experience and expression are one. Zen language expresses the most concrete experience. Suzuki notes that the purpose of the koan or the haiku is not concerned to elucidate verbal "riddles" but to reach the mind beyond language, which "exudes or secretes" creative expression "as naturally, as inevitably, as the clouds rise from the mountain peaks" (1959, 7). In rejecting abstract syllogisms and conceptualizations, the Zen practitioner seeks to avoid "dead words" which no longer connect directly and concretely and intimately with the experience itself. For, as Suzuki observes, dead words are understood to be "conceptualized, they are cut off from the living roots. They have ceased, then, to stir up my being from within, from itself" (8). Zen language, like all of its art forms, seeks its realization in imminent, living experience. In this way, the Zen aesthetic directly reflects the merging of subject and object in one absolute emptiness, sunyata. This point is crucial to the Zen approach to unbinding the creative powers of the human individual and of finding the beauty which lies beyond reason. As Suzuki puts it,

The oppositions and limitations which confront every movement of ours, physical and psychological, put a stop also to the free flow of our aesthetic feeling toward its objects. Beauty is felt when there is freedom in motion and freedom in expression. Beauty is not in form but in the meaning it expresses, and this meaning is felt when the observing subject throws his whole being into the bearer of the meaning and moves along with it … Aestheticism now merges into religion (1959, 355).

____Zen contends that, as long as the individual is captive to the cognitive errors arising from the separation of subject and object and holds these dualistic constructs to represent some sort of teleological finality, the true "transparency" and fluidity of the self is destroyed, and experience contaminated with illusion and sophistry. Zen does not necessarily stand against the use of language or other technologies of meaning, but does seek to develop in the practitioner the awareness that these technologies are always tending to detach themselves from imminent realities and become dead conceptions. And it is this technological alienation which Zen works against, seeking to discover the "intrinsic meaning" in the moment of creative coorigination, rather than to allow life and creation to stagnate and deaden in a virtual space of cognitive abstractions.

____In The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, the authors find in Mahayana Buddhist epistemology and practice an alternative to the dichotomous extremes left to us by Western thought. The authors devote the first half of their text to explaining how seemingly conclusive findings in cognitive science argue for the "selfless mind." That is, that the human subject as contingent, dynamic and open process as opposed to a static ego entity. In other words, a notion of the self remarkably in line with the human subject which Rutsky describes as most fully congruent with the emerging "aesthetic" relationship of humanity and technology.
The range of responses available to such a qualitative human transformation available to traditional Western theories of meaning would seem to be either fundamentalism on one hand or nihilism on the other. The fundamentalist argument would be that the self, if unobservable to science, must exist as a transcendent truth, a virtual soul. The Western nihilist is alternatively left with an epistemology and ontology devoid of human will and agency. Even Minsky and Jackendoff seem paralyzed, torn between these poles. Though these scholars are fully aware that the findings of contemporary cognitive science argue for the need to re-envision the human subject beyond the notion of possessing "an Ego, Self, or Final Center of Control," they seem incapable of themselves moving beyond to a new formulation. In Society of Mind, for example, Minsky closes his important treatise as follows:

No matter that the physical world provides no room for freedom of the will: the concept is essential to our model for the mental realm. Too much of our psychology is based on it for us to ever give it up. We're virtually forced to maintain that belief, even though we know it's false-except, of course when we're inspired to find the flaws in all our beliefs, whatever may be the consequences to cheerfulness and mental peace. (Varela, Thompson & Rosch 2000, 128)

____Varela, Thompson and Rosch, however, propose the Buddhist middle path and "codependent arising" as the more appropriate and viable alternative. They note that the very heart of the Buddhist tradition is to examine such issues in human experience: "Virtually the entire Buddhist path has to do with going beyond emotional grasping to ego." They correctly note that meditative techniques, traditions of study and contemplation, social action, and the organization of entire communities have been harnessed toward this end. "The result," they add, "in this world view, is that real freedom comes not from the decisions of an ego-self's 'will' but from action without any Self whatsoever." This, of course, also goes to the heart of Suzuki's analyses outlined earlier.

____Lakoff and Johnson, in elucidating the "primary metaphors" upon which modern cognitive science suggests human consciousness is constructed, provides further compelling support for these views. In his introduction to Philosophy in the Flesh, Lakoff puts forward three majors findings of cognitive science: "The mind is inherently embodied. Thought is mostly unconscious. Abstract concepts are largely metaphorical." He asserts that, "Because of these discoveries, [Western] philosophy can never be the same again" (1999, 3). Lakoff contends that the primary metaphors, which underpin human cognition and experience, are learned in earliest infancy through our embodied interaction with our environment. At this point, it should be immediately apparent how these 'discoveries' map on to the issues outlined thus far.
To take just one example, the primary metaphor, "Physical force equals cause," has been shown to serve as one cornerstone of the human cognitive edifice. Based on our understanding of aesthetic techne we might say that the work of the koan, "Let me hear the sound of one hand clapping," is to problematize this foundational "truth" and force the cycle of inquiry into motion at this most profound level. Similarly in Yoga, as body and mind realign themselves to the cycle of inhalation and exhalation, cause and effect in the classic body-mind relationship soften and eventually melt away. No longer able to rest and rely upon the primary metaphors, those foundational elements of once sturdy construction, body, cognition and unconscious are freed to flow in this newly fluid and vital state of being.

____And so cognitive science would clearly concur that our most resilient cognitive schema consist of metaphorical constructs. These schema range from the 'divine' geometry of the ancient Greeks, to the transcendent status given modern capital value, to our most fundamental notions of the human self. As Rutsky has observed, these paradigmatic shifts in humanity's built sociotechnical environment provide a unique juncture in history to re-imagine how the human subject might actually reconstitute itself by drawing upon rather than denying the dimension of embodied affect, by embracing rather than excluding the potentialities which lie beyond the limited realm of human cognition. For, as Rutsky, notes,

The unconscious may itself be seen as technological, if not in the instrumental sense, then in the sense that it is an ongoing process of unsecuring … that breaks images and other elements free of their previous context and recombines them to generate new figures, charged with both monstrosity and promise (1999, 21)

But, before we grow too enchanted with this vision, we had better also acknowledge those countless, familiar cognitive-alienating technologies with which we contend each day of our postmodern lives. Following is one condensed case study (with which I am particularly familiar), which I suggest may be seen as representing the converse of the traditional Buddhist eco-cognitive technique.

. . .

A woman with stunning, East European features stands at the edge of a dark, rolling sea. The sky is a stark white, the mood portentous. A lone cello provides a sonorous undercurrent of sound. The woman wears a diaphanous white fabric beneath which the outline of her body is discernible. A dark-haired man with chiseled, brooding features approaches, riding bareback on a large white horse. The man and woman acknowledge one another with a steady gaze, though their faces remain expressionless. He extends his hand. The scene shifts to the woman now mounted on the horse, the man riding behind her. The horse gains speed, now galloping vigorously along the shore. The camera cuts in, and we see only the undulating motion of the man and woman, the woman's head thrown back, eyes closed, the man holding her from behind. Cut to a close-up of the woman's mouth and tongue taking in a spoonful of white ice cream. Fade to white, and the text "Shall We Haagen-Dazs?" appears on screen with male narrative voice-over.

____The theme and slogan of the advertising campaign of which the commercial described above was a part, were created one afternoon ten years ago when a Japanese colleague unexpectedly stepped into my office at the advertising agency at which we both worked. He suggested we brainstorm themes for an upcoming pitch to Haagen-Dazs. Without a moment's thought, I said, "Shall we Haagen-Dazs?" He stood for a moment in silence. "Yes, that's it," he eventually responded, thanked me and left. The entire exchange lasted no more than a minute. But in the years following, the words took on a resilient and resonant life of their own, the campaign winning several awards, securing a dominant market share for the brand, and making "Shall We Haagen-Dazs?" a household phrase in Japan for the past decade. I believe it may aid in clarifying the nature of both aesthetic and alienating technologies to look at the details of this particular "advertising koan" within the current postmodern cosmology of the nation of Zen.

____Though a bowl of ice cream can be nice, its transcendental, healing powers may not immediately spring to mind at a time when a nation is yearning for respite from massive socioeconomic change and the collective shock of suddenly finding itself cast in a leading role on the global stage. Yet, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, as Japan sought the where-with-all to respond to its emergent role as a dominant economic power, and as the West increasingly turned to Japan as a model of political, social and economic success, the phrase "Shall We Haagen-Dazs?" provided an unexpected palliative to this moment of social crisis. On the one hand was gaiatsu, the pressure from external forces to open the nation more fully to international discourse and trade, in addition to the genuine if conflicted desire among Japanese themselves to connect with the larger, outside world. On the other hand was the fear of stepping from the comforting shadows of Japan's ancient, circumscribed cultural context and into a global drama of cacophonous, confusing dynamics, daunting new complexities, confrontation and exposure.

____Yet it would be less than accurate to portray Japan as timidly waiting in the wings, struggling to sum up the courage to step into the fray of international exchange. At that time, with the U.S. economy still mired in recession, American cultural icons such as the Rockefeller Center, Columbia Pictures, and Pebble Beach were newly vulnerable to the lure of the yen and Japan's appetite for acquisition. Indeed, the Japanese appetite for any and all foreign prestige commodities had become quite infamous by the early 1980s. Within Japan, too, the hunger for international intercourse led to the highly selective importing of desirable language, sex, and other workers from designated regions of the world. For both Japanese individuals and corporations, consumption had clearly become a primary method through which one partook in the global public sphere.

____It was within this context that the Haagen-Dazs ad campaign first appeared, and was, I believe, interpreted as reinforcing and legitimizing this ideology of contact through consumption, becoming a momentary, artificial means of ameliorating the social tensions of that specific place and period.

____Though details of the presentation varied, the underlying content and structure of the advertising campaign media and presentation remained remarkably consistent for nearly a decade. One variation on the television and cinema commercial described above, for instance, presented two lovers converging beneath the white, silken sheets of an expansive bed. The folds and undulations of the sheets were visually blended with the flowing waves of white liquid cream. This was followed by the close-up of a mouth and tongue taking in the frozen cream. And, as always, the only words spoken were "Shall We Haagen-Dazs?" as narrative voice-over at the end of the piece. The campaign's most successful print ad borrowed this image of the two bodies beneath the exquisite white sheets, with the phrase and logo the only signifiers presented. Often, the phrase appeared completely by itself, always against a field of white, in print media such as menus and promotional materials.

____As with many advertising slogans, the phrase itself contained an intensely disorienting, koan-like set of internal contradictions. The heightened language (the use of "Shall we" rather than "Let's") would have been immediately recognizable to any audience member who had been through the mandatory primary and secondary school English instruction. The brand name itself must have connoted for some members of the audience a certain mythology of Germanic grandeur and ascendancy from the not-so-distant-past. Additionally, the consistent use of pure white light, pristine white fabrics, white liquids (and white models), combined with the virtual absence of language clearly conveyed a heightened sensibility, sophistication and purity of expression which lifted the intensely sensual images to an otherworldly realm of transcendent, elemental purity beyond or before law or language. The refined, film-quality cinematography, the classical score, the selection of the then reigning European super model Tatania as the female lead, down to the typefaces and extravagant use of white space, all conveyed a quality and style viewers had perhaps seen only in the cinema. And they were being invited to step into this world, forget their inhibitions, and "Haagen-Dazs" with the West.

____Yet the focused spoken and typographic signification, the absence of facial expressions in the models (in one appearance they are completely covered by sheets), and the elemental human actions depicted in the advertising, effectively functioned to minimize the possibility of diverse interpretations, and reinforced in the audience a specific illusion of cultural transcendence through innate human sensuality and unfettered immediacy. As Edward Hall has argued, Japan's high-context culture provides for extraordinarily accurate and consistent constructions of shared meaning (1977). The socio-linguistic fabric of the society being so finely woven over time that gaps and inconsistencies in meaning are said to occur less often and to a lesser degree than between members of low-context cultures (such as the United States), whose more loosely constructed cultural grid might be more closely akin to a net than, say, silk.

____At the same time, the absence of any Japanese language or Japanese characters created in the advertising the internal tension necessary to produce the transcendent quality of the audience experience. The phrase is not Japanese, it is clearly spoken by a gaijin (outsider), and yet there is no mistaking the compelling intimacy of the moment. As with Barthes' vision of the Parisian striptease, the raw sensuality of these beautiful foreigners and the open invitation to join in has the effect of signifying "nakedness as a natural vesture of [man and] woman, which amounts in the end to a perfectly chaste state of the flesh" (1983, 87-88). Thus the audience, too, was able to momentarily shed the "incongruous and artificial" constrictions of inculcated shame, to divest themselves of the isolating effects of their Japaneseness for a brief romp.

____In these ways, the "Shall We Haagen-Dazs?" invitation distilled a pervasive yearning among Japanese to shed age-old cultural isolation, language barriers, and anxiety about direct contact with outsiders for the opportunity to momentarily enter Utopia. Better yet, the gaiatsu (external pressure) Japanese sensed from the West to become more fully engaged in the new international cosmology became, however briefly, a bewitching sexual overture. This was an offer the audience was disinclined to refuse. The Haagen-Dazs experience offered the promise of shedding the Japanese self and its meticulously defined behavioral grid by getting intimate. Beyond this, the advertising koan itself may well have come to invoke and momentarily legitimize the specious ideology of contact through consumption when presented as an external invitation to set aside social conscience. In it's message to the collective unconscious, the phrase may have been taken as license to strip away all conventions and shame, climb beneath the sheets with the foreign other, and become lost in the intense imminence and intimacy of the commoditized sensuality.

____Here, as previously noted, the producers themselves may have stumbled upon the seed of the campaign in what Jung might have termed a receptive burst of "unconscious Zeitgeist." And the audience at that particular time, in that particular social context, was fully prepared to allow this deception, embrace the illusion, and accept this utopian solution to the tension of that moment.

____As "Shall We Haagen-Dazs?" became synonymous through the interpretive act with this transcendent bridge into the pristine, natural bliss of supra-cultural union, the producer was thus able to momentarily co-opt the desire for this unmediated experience of guiltless pleasure and blissful unity with the gaijin world, the foreign object. For the producer would, of course, provide the audience with ready opportunity to relive that initial moment of release and illusory transcendence. Since the premium price of Haagen-Dazs ice cream would require that the buyer overcome her cultural compulsion to scrimp and save, to open wide the purse strings, plunge breathlessly into Western bourgeois consumerism, indulge in a moment of extravagant, alien sensuality, and shamelessly embrace contact through consumption, all within the protected isolation of her very own home. The cognitive-alienating technology's work is done when the obstacle becomes the final object of desire.

. . .

Today's borderless political economy reveals the conventional geography of "East" and "West" as one more duality no longer appropriate to our time. The commodity object and the economic subject, virtual capital value and imminent human worth, are global realities and virtualities which are rapidly evolving well beyond our capacities to encompass with conventional Western theories of meaning. If we are to effectively grasp the emerging realities and virtualities of our day, we will need every resource available to us. We will need to put into practice what Heidegger described in The Question of Being as "planetary thinking."

We are obliged not to give up the effort to practice planetary thinking along a stretch of the road, be it ever so short. Here too no prophetic talents and demeanor are needed to realize that there are in store for planetary building encounters for which the participants are by no means equal today. This is equally true of the European and of the East Asiatic languages and, above all, for the areas of a possible conversation between them. Neither one of the two is able by itself to open up this area and to establish it (in Varela 2000, 241).

____The Japanese scholar Nishitani Keiji, a student of Heidegger and raised in the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, argued that such planetary thinking could only be achieved by moving beyond the "field of consciousness" which projected such dualisms as subject and object, and East and West, in the first place. Failing to do so, we are doomed to oscillating forever between the polar extremes of absolutism and nihilism. Nishitani saw much of postmodern Western thought, in its successful critique of objectivism, trapped in nihilism. He saw the challenge of contemporary thought as laying down a path of theory and practice which would allow us to release our grip on foundations without spiraling downward into nihilistic despair on one hand, or of grasping instinctively for new foundations on the other. Nishitani argued that Western thought had been incapable of moving beyond the limits of cognitive reason, the "field of consciousness," precisely because of its static definitions of transcendent meanings in objectivism and subjectivism. These classical Western theories of meaning had precluded the development of any tradition of opening the human individual to the possibilities for fulfillment in the ongoing enaction of humanity through full, affective-embodied engagement with its world - such as occurred in the millennial evolution and art of Zen.

____But these Western epistemological and ontological traditions would finally be challenged and ultimately transformed in the wake of the first Industrial Revolution.


In trying to better understand the West's progression toward a "posthuman," "cyborg," or other futuristic notion of humanity's relationship with technology, we should first examine the extraordinary efforts made by other peoples in other times to address these challenges.



_ | Summary
0 | Introduction
1 | The Affect Economy
2 | Meaning Within Reason
3 | Meaning Beyond Reason
4 | A Return to Beauty
5 | Designing Value & Meaning
6 | Real World Case Studies
7 | Virtuality in the Flesh