Wednesday 12 June 2002

Identity in 11th century Japan

AKMA wrote about identity:

some (“many”? “most”?) of us know people online whom we have grown to trust and (I dare say) love—without ever having encountered them in physical space. That trust and that affection may be ill-founded, but it’s real. This surely implies something about the “reality” of physical space relative to online interaction.

A scene from Chapter Four (Utsusemi) of the Tale of GenjiIn Heian Japan it was possible to conduct a relationship in physical space which was almost as insubstantial as many online interactions, since social relations—even between equals—were not always conducted face-to-face but rather via intermediaries. Screens, curtains, and blinds were also used to establish an appropriate distance as well as to shield the ladies of the house from prying eyes. As Royall Tyler explains in the introduction to his translation of The Tale of Genji:

This is particularly striking in scenes of courtship. In many the man complains about having to talk to the woman through one of her gentlewomen. Of course, he cannot see her, and he may have no idea what she looks like. He will not normally see her even if she speaks to him in her own voice, since she will still be in another room, behind a blind and a curtain, and the curtain will remain even if she allows him into the room where she is. If he then takes it upon himself to brush her curtain aside and go straight to her, he will by that gesture alone have claimed something close to the final intimacy.

Obviously these ethereal relationships were not always brought to resolution. In the Fireflies chapter of Genji, Prince Hotaru sits outside the girl Tamakazura’s screen, making an impassioned declaration of love, “only to be informed by a lady-in-waiting that Tamakazura has long since retired to the inner room and that he has been talking into thin air.” (Ivan Morris, The World of the Shining Prince)

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Wonderful piece! I hope to open a wing of our Bordello in which our clients could talk to their putative consorts on the other side of a screen. We could get by with far fewer employees, and significantly less in payroll. Also our employment standards could be more egalitarian. "Get them talking and go home to bed."

Posted by The Happy Tutor on 13 June 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Tutor, you've made me realize the unlimited possibilities of the "talking sex cure." It may even be possible to offer a cut-rate service to bankrupted clients whereby they communicate with an Eliza-style software consort whose responses have been programmed to mimic those of the mid-range bordello employees. Given its amost certain addictive qualities, the profit margin on this service will be astronomical.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 13 June 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour