The felicity with which you can change a duck into a rabbit or vice versa with just a few strokes in the art of anime is a pointer to a deep philosophy that ventures into the dissolution of dualism

The talk is about anime or Japanese animation. The conversation is between Jane Goodall and Alan Saunders. We learn that anime gives free rope to the imagination; so free that it is not restrained by inhibitions wrought by social life, so easy that everything is within the control of the creator, so seamless in time that ancient mythological characters are endowed with modern technological prowess and so deep that it is a philosophy all by itself. Another feature is the presence of an avatar in most anime. In the process of highlighting these aspects, Jane Goodall reveals some fascinating observations of humans and their minds.

One is the idea about innocence. Goodall says, “...(being innocent) is criticised as a mentality that breeds non-assertion...And that’s actually how William Blake sees it. He has innocence symbolised as little lambs, weeping children, lost boys, chimneysweeps, these figures of pathos. And perhaps they are good, they certainly don’t do any harm in the world, but they attract predators, they have no power, they can’t change anything. So as a principle, innocence makes goodness a very weak principle.”

Innocence/goodness is looked at as a weak principle, not as vulnerability. And more, as she says, “...experience which does all the forbidden things, it becomes very sexual, very violent, it plays with all the stronger energies of life, that’s what changes the world”.

Goodall says that is what makes anime special. “...if you’re going to be completely uninhibited with the human imagination, you’re going to go places senses don’t like you to go to. And one of the most sensitive areas is when you get innocence in what I call the experience end of the spectrum, the more decadent kind of knowing end, they come together.” That is why anime can be both violent and sexually explicit.

The second idea is about the role of reason and morality. Goodall says, “He (Blake) thinks reason draws boundaries around the way the mind works. He has this sort of force formed dualism. Reason is about form, and he’s more interested in force which changes forms... And that’s absolutely the way animation works. If you look at some of the more sophisticated end of animation, like the Japanese series, “Urotsukidoji”... that plays with the elements and is all about shape-shifting and the alteration of forms and values...”

Goodall says that this shifting is often conditioned by moral values, “...And there’s a moral tradition that gets very upset if you can’t tell the good from the evil. But that holds things back in terms of the can’t go from the world of military industrial technology to the world of the ecological forest beings, without changing dimensions. You have to have a complete body and mind change in order to make the transition. You literally become a different person...minds can’t hold in the form that they began in.” Morality is limiting and any change demands corresponding change in the mind too.

The third point is about good and evil. “...we get in the habit of setting the mind for one kind of perception, and then when we shift it to another one, we can’t inhabit both at the same time. And animation doesn’t necessarily ask you to stay with the ambiguity, but it says okay, let’s make a real hybrid out of this and see what the hybrid does,” says Goodall as she explains how characters in anime are both good and bad. “...I think in Japan, there’s this freedom to fuse and hybridise and metamorphose, that lends itself to experiments with the dissolution of dualism. So you understand the world in terms of opposites, because it helps to organise the way you see things. But then you allow those opposites to fuse and transform. In America, I think perhaps it is to do with the influence of rationalist science, there’s a need to hold to taxonomies, and people get very upset if they can’t tell the duck from the rabbit, (in anime, you can change a duck into a rabbit or vice versa with just a few strokes) you know, you’re interested in evolution, this really matters.” There are no categories. Life is full of fusions and rejections.

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