“Through the Arc of the Rainforest” and Magical Realism

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In Yamashita’s novel Through the Arc of the Rainforest we are shown an alternative world sculpted through the magical realism genre.  Intrinsic of miraculous occurrences which are motivated through the class divide which takes place in a third world society.

Through the Arc of the Rainforest is presented in a genre is defined as a piece of literature which seems to take place in a realistic setting on the surface, but fantasy elements arise when the story unfolds. Either the character/s  can break the rules of the real world, or the world is invaded by something so strange, we can’t believe that it’s real in ‘our’ world.

We are shown many examples of this is, as one of the novel’s main character’s known as Kazumasa Ishimaru has a ball which is attached (or even floating close) to his head, this ball formed/came into his existence when he was in an accident as a Japanese born child.  The ‘ball’ is narrating the actual story (novel) from Kazumasa’s head.

It’s existence, as well as many other details in this book, like the three armed American corporate worker turned famous celebrity JB Tweep and his discovery of chemicals found in rural Brazil’s city of Matacao.  This chemical has the ability to cause complex genetic mutations so the consumer public can grow extra appendages!  These elements in the novel are not deemed as something which would naturally occur in our ‘real world’, but in the world which we are brought to in this story.

“There were, of course, the extravagant cars and the mansions with a hundred maids just like Lourdes. Then there were the great causes and small causes, businesses and hotels, plantations as large as the island of Shikoku, great poverty, great politics, great futures.”  (Yamashita, K.T., Kindle Pages 944-946). We are shown that this is a world which has extreme wealth and extreme poverty, a world which captures the essences of our third world which defines a struggling society in Brazil.

Kazumasa moves from Japan to Sao Paolo, a major city in Brazil(where his Japanese cousin resides), mainly for a change in career, but fortune shows up unexpectedly for him in Brazil.  His neighbor has created a huge local attraction of his written‘ prophetic messages’ delivered to him by his beloved pet, a pigeon.  The public looks at these messages as a sign, an indicator of good fortune.  One of the message sent spoke of a Japanese man with a ball on his head, shall give big fortunes, a message which captured the attention of many of Brazil’s societies.  Kazumasa then turns into a guru/healer, a man where hundreds, even thousands of people flock and line up for days to see him.  A man who can attain money as an endless fortune, and seeks to help people for properties of healing.  Not a man of money, but characterized as a man of charity, giving actual funding to people in need.

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“Through the Arc of the Rainforest” By Karen Tei Yamashita

The author’s seems to create a world which is more magnified, with a lot of religious affiliations in the use of saints which touches on religious symbolism, Catholic symbols are used to make sense of their world. Their world, in a funny sense has much more vivacity and dynamism compared to ours, specifically in the way they react towards  a person who is supposedly gifted with supernatural/ prophetic powers, the everyday citizens people of Brazil don’t seem to show skeptic towards a man of this nature.    “In a country where the disparity between wealth and poverty is great, the news of instant wealth spread in and out of every obscure crevice of that massive and unexplored land. Kazumasa became a household name, like a character in a nightly soap opera, on the tip of every Brazilian tongue.”  (Yamashita, K.T. Kindle Pgs. 923-925).  This reminds us of the third world The aspect the gap between wealth and poverty which then motivates people living in poverty to turn to tools/instruments in society which give them hope in a time of suffering.  According to Nations Online Project is a pioneer website in providing information about countries,  the term Third World, today is used basically describe the countries in development, countries like of Africa, Asia and Latin America.  These are more developing and technologically less advanced nations of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Latin American countries.

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The Christ Redeemer overlooking Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 

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Sao Paolo, Brazil

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Truth to Stereotypes of the East vs. West and Superstition in Asia

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Growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia definitely gave me a unique perspective on East Asian culture.  Based on my frequent travel to other countries in South East Asia such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and China, as well as having a Malaysian Singaporean mother myself, I have noticed that East Asians have an intriguing outlook on the world.  I always found that stereotypes of Asians as more open to supernatural occurrences as being normal, a haunted house is treated like an everyday emergency, similar to us in the U.S., we call 9-11 when someone is in a horrific accident. Just call the “dukun” in Indonesia, a medicine man which cleanses the house of negative spirits with traditional practices and tools.  And yet stereotypically Americans need ration and evidence to explain everything.  The idea that an evil spirit is haunting your home? We create shows on television such as “Ghost Hunters” which measures temperature and uses scientific devices which show proof of the supernatural.  Are these just stereotypes I have created based on no logical evidence? Or is there actual evidence which backs up these stereotypes as being valid. “How Culture Molds Habit of Thought” shows experiments which scientifically and not just from an anthropological point of view which proves that these stereotypes are valid.  I will follow this argument by examining how the practice of superstition is used in countries in Asia, specifically superstition in India, in a highly rational society which presents highly intelligent leaders in technology, proving superstitions based on religion is still a highly important aspect of the Indian citizen’s life.

I think this  article How Culture Molds Habit of Thought by Erica Goode, habits of thought are strategies people adopt while processing information which make sense of the world around them. These were what Western scholars assumed were the same for all people, which are exemplified by “a devotion to logical reasoning, a penchant for categorization and an urge to understand situations and events in linear terms of cause and effect” (Goode 2000).  But the University of Michigan conducted a series of studies comparing European Americans to East Asians, Dr. Richard Nibsett has found that people growing up in different culture don’t only think about different things, but they also think differently.  They argue that cognitive process are more malleable than mainstream psychology always assumed (Goode 2000).  According to the article, these cultural disparities are not surprising to Americans who lived in Asia, and having been an American who lived in Asia, I am not surprised, but when explaining this to Americans, whether Asian Americans or Caucasian, they sometimes aren’t familiar with these differences, unless they’ve been regularly and deeply exposed to attitudes of East Asian people.

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Where your from in the world determines your habit of thought?

These studies were carried out in the United States, Japan, China, and Korea.  Easterners appeared to think more “holistically” paying attention to relationship and context, a reliance more on experience based known than just abstract logic, and they showed more tolerance for contradiction.  But Westerners were found to be more “analytic” in their thinking behavior, detaching objects in their context, avoiding contradictions and rely very heavily on formal logic (Goode 2000).

Dr. Nisbett and Dr. Norenzayan from the University of Illinois found indications that when logic and experiential knowledge are in conflict, Americans are more likely, in comparison to Asians, follow the rules of formal logic which keeps in tradition that Western societies began with Ancient Greeks (Goode 2000).  For many years, anthropologists have been describing the same findings for cultural studies in the way people talk and interact, but scientific researchers found it difficult to make sense of qualitative judgments which aren’t controlled in an experimental process, hence this lead them to test these predictions quantitatively. Other interesting findings show that these approaches are not written in genes, when examining Asian Americans in their modes of thought they are indistinguishable from those of European Americans.

It’s amazing to see how much of these East-West differences could result in different social and religious practices. When dealing with subject matters such as traditions, religions, and ceremonies, the Asian population tends to live according to these beliefs, but especially towards the belief of superstition.  Countries all over Asia such as China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, or even Malaysia practice and believe in superstition.  Superstition runs many of their lives, it’s the common language of the young and the old.  When reading the article from Helium’s website-  Superstitions common to India by Andrew Victor.   We are questioning superstition from a highly rational Western point of view, stereotypically Americans practice rational thinking and need evidence for everything they believe in.  This article asks if there is evidence that superstition exists in economically booming countries such as India. Superstition is defined by a belief or action which isn’t based on evidence, most of these beliefs are based on fortunes and omens, either good or bad and sometimes even in fear of the supernatural. American author, newspaper journalist/ psychoanalysis researcher Judith Viorst described superstition as “foolish, childish, primitive and irrational.  But she asks “how much does it cost you to knock on wood?”  (Victor, 2009

It’s common to come across a twenty something tech worker in India consulting with a astrologer in the right time to buy a new car and even find a partner in marriage! India has one of the largest economies in the world, however the fact still remains that superstition is one of the most important rulers in an Indian’s life. India is a largely vast country, there are as many superstitions as there are regions.  (Victor, 2009) Some silly superstitions may be on their way out in the big, metropolitan cities but the deeper ones exist in rural areas.  There is a lot of evidence that these Western deemed ‘irrational beliefs’ are running most of their lives, maybe due to a lack of education, or as Edmund Burk notes in the article “Superstition is the religion of feeble minds.” (Victor, 2009)

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The Modern Worker in India

But for your everyday ‘irrational minded’ Asian, these superstitious practices/beliefs may serve a higher purpose to their lives and even if they don’t serve up scientific evidence, it doesn’t make them less valuable to one who lives a life in unity with deep traditional values.

Third World Countries and Mystical Practices

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Brazil, a country which is depicted in the novel Through the Arc of the Rainforest in which Third World order seems to characterized by it’s people and their attitudes towards faith/spirituality/religion.  But is it strictly religion which is taking grasp of people of the third world?  Or is it mystic practices, which can’t simply be explained as ‘religious’?

This brings me to a Blog post-  Why is Religion Popular in the Third World from the blog website “Don’t feed the Animals”  by Andrew GonsalvesThe writer examines the reasons of religion as being very popular in many third world countries. Third world countries have an infrastructure which is ‘in the ditch’, due lack the lack of trade, poor education, limited social services, and countless management issues just to name a few. According to Gonsalves  “low education, high occurrence of violence, high corruption, and high religiosity are all typical characteristics of third world countries.”   He believes wealthy first world countries are usually at the opposite ends of those scales.

Gonsalves point out how third world citizens are more familiar with suffering than first world citizens, they recognize the worth of religion more, in turn utilizing it more intensely than in wealthier places with less suffering as I noted earlier.  However another reasons he gives for religion being poplar in the Third World (nations online) is the lack of education and knowledge flow which introduces the modern day way of thinking as a means to live an alternative lifestyle.   As Gonsalves himself is an atheist, he believes once they attain this ‘flow of information’ they are quick to toss out religion, like many of the first world population does, such as Gonsalves apparently did.  However, the symbolism of the Catholic religion used in Brazil does not necessarily mean that they are strictly religious, but maybe in a sense turning towards mysticism.  Let me explain the concept of mysticism.

Mysticism can be distinguished from ordinary religious belief because its emphasis on the direct personal experience of unique states of consciousness.  Mysticism (webster’s dictionary) is the pursuit of communion with, identity with of an ultimate reality, spiritual truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight. Mysticism usually centers on practices intended to nurture those experiences versus a set of rules which are set to govern people like organized religion.

The use of miracles and ‘signs’ in Brazil is something of mystical powers which seems to serve as a kind of sovereignty to the masses living in poverty, as a way to escape and survive in a money driven, repulsive, hierarchical society.  Kazumasa is one of many characters which is formed in this novel which serves as a person with special powers, a man who has the means to pay you money when you’re at your wits end.  A man who is representing hope to millions of people.  The inspiration which encapsulates the use of miracles/pilgrimage and signs in the sense of prophecy in this book is something which could be based on real life occurrences in our world.

Our world, which brings me to John of God.  According to the Healing Quest website   “For 43 years he has served as the channel for over 30 spirit entities who perform healing for the thousands every week who visit him at his center, the Casa de Dom Inácio de Loyola in Abadiânia, Brazil.” John of god is a medium, he mediates communication from the spirits of the dead and other human beings.  The Roman Catholic Saint Ignatius of Loyola is the guiding Entity of John of God’s healing center. It wasn’t an easy road for John of God, he never profited from his mediumship, but it was a threatening practice to local religious and medical authorities.  His supernatural work was seen as non-religious from a strictly religious standpoint, religious authorities would call the police and at many times he was arrested, beaten and jailed.

Kazumasa as well as other characters in Through the Arc of the Rainforest could be compared to John of God, not exactly performing miracles under an authoritative religious source, but practicing the mystical aspects of a religion as John of God did or Kazumasa’s use of other prophetic powers which aren’t based in religion.  There are positive aspects of religion, I think that the third world may look at religion as an outlet to practice their beliefs, instead of letting religion dictate and control their lives from an authoritative point of view. They can use it for other purposes, taking a mystical approach towards religion instead of ‘tossing it out’ as Gonsalves explained in his blog.

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John of God, known as a medium and healer in Brazil

John of God has played a role in my personal life.  My aunt who suffers from paraneoplastic syndrome and cancer resulting in paralysis, she is unable to walk and has a hard time expressing herself through speech.  For several years she has been in very bad shape, dropping weight and even suffering from depression.  We have taken her to different hospitals across the country which specialize in cancer and disorders of this nature, but it’s been hard to live with the fact that nothing has truly helped her.

We weren’t able to physically take her to John of God, but once my mother and I learned of John of God we actually ended up setting up a session with him by mailing him a photo of her, what his center calls ‘distant healing.’  Shortly after seeing her photo, his spirit entities knew exactly what she needed, and communicated this to John of God.  Either they recommend she travels there, which is done in very extreme cases, or he sends us herbs which are tailor made for her.  The herbs arrived 2 months ago, since she has taken them her health has improved tremendously, she has more energy, she has put on a healthy amount of weight, and most importantly she has hope in her eyes again.  Many of my family is very please with this outcome, my conservative Grandparents (who are usually closed to these third world healing practices) are even interested in getting her more herbs.  It hasn’t cured her syndrome, but it’s definitely miraculously improved her condition.  The experience has served as a way for my family to come together again, to believe in something a higher power that is not of this world.

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I would like to start by introducing you to my blog!  Welcome 😉

A lot of what I am going to be writing will include many sources from literature- Through the Arc of the Rainforest by Karen Tei Yamashita, an online article- How Cultures Molds Habits of Thought by Erica Goode from the New York Times. I will use online media as other sources – a blog known as Don’t Feed the Animals and a website known Healing Quest which explains the life of John of God from Brazil, as well as other sources retrieved along the way.  I would like to do two blogs.

First blog- After reading Yamashita’s novel known as Through the Arc of the Rainforest, I will explain the concept of magical realism and how this book brings the audience to ‘another’ world.   I would like to focus on the acceptance of the supernatural and mystical practices which take place within the novel and it’s relevance to what actually happens in our ‘real world.’  The different impacts religion has on societies, especially in the third world.

I would like to observe the practices of faith which takes place in Brazil as depicted in Through the Arc of the Rainforest.  The Healing Quest website will then be observed as as a source for John of God, a well known man in Brazil who is known to heal people with supernatural practices.  Also other online websites  known as  The blog  ‘Don’t Feed the Animals’  amd examining their blog entry- Why Is Religion Popular in the Third World? by Andrew Gonsalves.  I will also examine this question of religion being popular in the third world using Through the Arc of the Rainforest as my source. But I will challenge this notion of ‘religion’. Is it strictly religion which is taking grasp of people of the third world, or something of mystic origin, which can’t simply be explained as ‘religion’?  I will explore the concept of mysticism versus religion and how mysticism is used by a popular ‘medium’ of our modern day known as John of God, instead of strict practices of religion.

In my second blog, I would focus on differences in ideologies, how living in an Eastern vs. Western culture forms one’s specific ideologies.  I would also like to observe how we have created stereotypes for East Asians and their points of view towards faith, spirituality, the supernatural as being acceptable, And comparing this to Western (American) stereotypes as being characterized as more rational, scientific, skeptical, and logical therefore leading to having a more limited point of view.  The article How Cultures Molds Habits of Thought by Erica Goode  gives a good argument as well as evidence which gives truth to these stereotypes which are percieved in our world.  I also examine the religious tradition of superstition in the country of India, researching the article –   Superstitions common to India by Andrew Victor.  I question how rational Western scholars view superstition as a practice of the feeble minded.

I hope you enjoy my blogs!