Flowers That Kill
Communicative Opacity in Political Spaces
Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney

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Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: Opacity, Misrecognition, and Other Complexities of Symbolic Communication
chapter abstract

As the animal considered closest to humans, the monkey is an important symbol in Japanese culture. Its symbolism consists of three major themes: mediator, scapegoat, and clown, each acquiring a dominant meaning in a particular historical period, but all three always constituting a palimpsest. As expressed in the monkey performance, its symbolism involves a subversive element—against the stratification in medieval times, against militarism at the height of Japan's imperial aggression, defiance against a social superior, and questioning the throne on which humans sit, ruling over all other animals. Yet, it never ignited a revolution or a social protest, even when the monkey was symbolically associated with the discriminated social group within which the monkey trainers were recruited, precisely because the simultaneous presence of the multiplicity of its meaning prevents any communicative clarity.

1 Japanese Cherry Blossoms: From the Beauty of Life to the Sublimity of Sacrificial Death
chapter abstract

The universe represented by Japanese cherry blossoms is full of paradoxes that become a generative power operating at both individual and collective level—simultaneously subverting and upholding the cultural and societal structure. Cherry blossom viewing is an arena for developing the collective identity of various social groups, and ultimately, the Japanese as a whole. All, including the self, are beautiful. When the Japanese military state foregrounded the symbolism of cherry blossoms to represent the sacrifice for Japan, hardly anyone, including the soldiers, recognized the change. The Japanese cherry blossoms offer an excellent example of how multiple meanings of a symbol and their aesthetic contribute to the ambiguity and opacity of communication through symbols.

2 European Roses: From "Bread and Roses" to the Aesthetization of Murderers
chapter abstract

Like Japanese cherry blossoms, roses in Western European cultures are assigned a large number of meanings: Christ and the Virgin, birth, death and rebirth, love, beauty, life, joy and sorrow. As an important symbol of the common people against the establishment, the rose occupied a central place in the May Day festivals in medieval Europe, later leading to its role in the festival of the French Revolution. At the end of the nineteenth century, it became the symbol of the Socialist International. The rose as an important symbol of love and comradeship among workers was then used and abused to portray the dictator—Stalin and Hitler in particular—as the benevolent "Father" who loves the people. This flower is another example of how aesthetic and multiple meanings lead to the opacity of the message, preventing people to see the thorns behind the beauty.

3 The Subversive Monkey in Japanese Culture: From Scapegoat to Clown
chapter abstract

As the animal considered closest to humans, the monkey is an important symbol in Japanese culture. Its symbolism consists of three major themes: mediator, scapegoat, and clown, each acquiring a dominant meaning in a particular historical period, but all three always constituting a palimpsest. As expressed in the monkey performance, its symbolism involves a subversive element—against the stratification in medieval times, against militarism at the height of Japan's imperial aggression, defiance against a social superior, and questioning the throne on which humans sit, ruling over all other animals. Yet, it never ignited a revolution or a social protest, even when the monkey was symbolically associated with the discriminated social group within which the monkey trainers were recruited, precisely because the simultaneous presence of the multiplicity of its meaning prevents any communicative clarity.

4 Rice and the Japanese Collective Self: Purity of Exclusion
chapter abstract

As the animal considered closest to humans, the monkey is an important symbol in Japanese culture. Its symbolism consists of three major themes: mediator, scapegoat, and clown, each acquiring a dominant meaning in a particular historical period, but all three always constituting a palimpsest. As expressed in the monkey performance, its symbolism involves a subversive element—against the stratification in medieval times, against militarism at the height of Japan's imperial aggression, defiance against a social superior, and questioning the throne on which humans sit, ruling over all other animals. Yet, it never ignited a revolution or a social protest, even when the monkey was symbolically associated with the discriminated social group within which the monkey trainers were recruited, precisely because the simultaneous presence of the multiplicity of its meaning prevents any communicative clarity.

5 The Collective Self and Cultural/Political Nationalisms: Cross-Cultural Perspectives
chapter abstract

As the animal considered closest to humans, the monkey is an important symbol in Japanese culture. Its symbolism consists of three major themes: mediator, scapegoat, and clown, each acquiring a dominant meaning in a particular historical period, but all three always constituting a palimpsest. As expressed in the monkey performance, its symbolism involves a subversive element—against the stratification in medieval times, against militarism at the height of Japan's imperial aggression, defiance against a social superior, and questioning the throne on which humans sit, ruling over all other animals. Yet, it never ignited a revolution or a social protest, even when the monkey was symbolically associated with the discriminated social group within which the monkey trainers were recruited, precisely because the simultaneous presence of the multiplicity of its meaning prevents any communicative clarity.

6 The Invisible and Inaudible Japanese Emperor
chapter abstract

As the animal considered closest to humans, the monkey is an important symbol in Japanese culture. Its symbolism consists of three major themes: mediator, scapegoat, and clown, each acquiring a dominant meaning in a particular historical period, but all three always constituting a palimpsest. As expressed in the monkey performance, its symbolism involves a subversive element—against the stratification in medieval times, against militarism at the height of Japan's imperial aggression, defiance against a social superior, and questioning the throne on which humans sit, ruling over all other animals. Yet, it never ignited a revolution or a social protest, even when the monkey was symbolically associated with the discriminated social group within which the monkey trainers were recruited, precisely because the simultaneous presence of the multiplicity of its meaning prevents any communicative clarity.

7 (Non-)Externalization of Religious and Political Authority/Power: A Cross-Cultural Perspective
chapter abstract

As the animal considered closest to humans, the monkey is an important symbol in Japanese culture. Its symbolism consists of three major themes: mediator, scapegoat, and clown, each acquiring a dominant meaning in a particular historical period, but all three always constituting a palimpsest. As expressed in the monkey performance, its symbolism involves a subversive element—against the stratification in medieval times, against militarism at the height of Japan's imperial aggression, defiance against a social superior, and questioning the throne on which humans sit, ruling over all other animals. Yet, it never ignited a revolution or a social protest, even when the monkey was symbolically associated with the discriminated social group within which the monkey trainers were recruited, precisely because the simultaneous presence of the multiplicity of its meaning prevents any communicative clarity.