Tuesday, January 23, 2018


How to Be an Entrepreneur

Richard Bowring, In Search of the Way: Thought and Religion in Early-Modern Japan, 1582-1860 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 228-229:
But perhaps his most famous essay is On farting (Hōhiron 放屁論) of 1744. This was occasioned by his discovery that someone in Edo was making a living by an exhibition of farting. This Japanese flatulist had a fantastically wide repertoire of melodies, his genius lying in his ability to conjure up all sorts of sounds, animal noises, and music for plays; a cornucopia of soundscapes. In this sense he had created another language. Gennai describes one of his performances and then sets up an argument with a strict Confucian who, not surprisingly, brands the whole business as immoral and beneath contempt. It breaks the rules of propriety without which society cannot function and should be condemned because it does not edify but merely entertains. On the contrary, argues Gennai, defending the performer as a true artist. It is not shocking but an object lesson in how to be an entrepreneur. By taking something as utterly useless and common as a fart and then making the best of a special ability to control flatulence at will, the man is making money from nothing and should be praised for sheer creativity. Making money out of thin air, he is precisely the kind of person Japan needs to dig itself out of economic difficulties, in obvious contrast to Confucian scholars who produce hot air but do nothing with it. The argument is serious but undercut, as ever, by cynicism. The new language, capable of producing ideas and images from a man's arse, is ultimately just air and as incapable as any other language of pinning down reality.
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Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


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