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Friday, December 04, 2009

Creeping Literalism

Symbolic slippage and a ceremonial flower in Japan—Allusionists, watch where you step!


‘Applause,” the blue rose developed by a Japanese company and presented as an emblem of collaboration and accomplishment to Barack Obama.

Photo: inventorspot

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, elected just this fall, hosted Barack Obama during the U.S. President’s recent trip to Asia.

In his weekly address, Hatoyama narrated a human flower project of diplomacy: “At the beginning of the (official state) dinner, I presented President Obama with a single blue rose.” 

Hatoyama wrote, “It was believed impossible to create a blue rose, since roses lack the gene to produce the color blue. However, a Japanese company spent 14 years in research and finally succeeded in developing the world’s first blue rose. I explained to President Obama how this blue rose, which holds the meaning ‘to accomplish the impossible,’ was created and said, ‘Let us work together to accomplish the impossible.’”

Yesterday, writers on the global economic weblog Euromoney went after the prime minister’s gesture with symboli-cide.

“Having campaigned against his opponent’s 50-year policy of spending huge amounts of public money on unneeded public works projects,” wrote the Euromoney editorialists, “Hatoyama might have paused to consider whether his anecdote about an expensive and idiosyncratic 14-year project to create a blue flower might best demonstrate his new ethos. ‘We can accomplish the impossible,’ it says, leaving the listener to supply the concluding, ‘whether it’s a good idea or not.’”

We must come to the prime minister’s defense – not to justify blue roses, which we find peculiar, but to combat onesidedness. In this era of “transparency,” our capacity for symbolic thinking and figures of speech seems to be shrink wrapped. The fine and risky thing about symbols is that they invite multiple interpretations. Whereas for the prime minister the blue rose signifies accomplishment, for the editorialists it suggests frivolity or, worse, unnatural, nefarious and ultimately perilous meddling. (Quite probably, the genetic modifications behind the blue rose touched off this sour reaction; European societies have been most vociferously anti-GM.)

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Posted by Julie on 12/04 at 02:15 PM
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