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Philosophy, Manga, and Ōmori Shōzō

Masahiro Morioka and Pierre Bonneels

-- European Journal of Japanese Philosophy Vol.3 (2018):245-262

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Abstract:

Why would a philosopher choose to convey his ideas in the form of Manga? This discussion between Masahiro Morioka, author of Manga Introduction to Philosophy, and the translator of its French edition, Pierre Bonneels, shows how philosopher and artist Morioka became acquainted, through images, with fundamental abstract notions. After a short historical analysis of the aesthetic advantages of Manga, consideration is given to this unique way of provoking thought. On this basis, theoretical aspects of “time” and the “I” proposed by Ōmori Shōzō are compared with Morioka’s Manga presentation. Although the questions raised are universal, the authors note that the use of Japanese metaphors enables these two thinkers to draw on a concrete understanding of notions like temporality and identity.


 

To address the question of why a philosopher would choose Manga as a medium to express abstract ideas, and to show how this can be done effectively, we begin with an account by the Manga artist himself on our capacity to draw images that have philosophical content, and how that conceptual content is related to the image itself. In the second part, Morioka’s translator Pierre Bonneels take up that argument and confronts it with a more classical way of doing philosophy, focusing on the thought of Ōmori Shōzō. His aim is to demonstrate that the use of metaphor as a means of explaining “time” produces a different result, a result directly related to the medium chosen to express one’s thinking.

 

Morioka Masahiro
Why I wrote “Manga Introduction to Philosophy”


In 2013, I published a book in Japanese entitled Manga Introduction to Philosophy (『まんが哲学入門』) with Kōdansha Gendai Shinsho, and with the help of cartoonist Terada Nyancof. This book was warmly received
not only by general readers but also by those researching philosophy in the Japanese academy. There are many books that aim to introduce readers to elementary philosophy through cartoon pictures or illustrations, both in
Japan and throughout the world. The majority of these books are written with the cooperation of a philosopher and a cartoonist, with the former writing the text while the latter adds cartoons to it.

Let us take a couple of examples from English books. The Cartoon Introduction to Philosophy, published in 2015, is co-authored by philosopher Michael F. Patton and cartoonist Kevin Cannon. In this book, Patton
gives an original story about the history of Western philosophy and great philosophers” ideas on a variety of philosophical concerns, and Cannon
provides a series of visual images in typically American style cartoon pictures. Another example is Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, published in Greece in 2008, written by author Apostolos Doxiadis and computer scientist Christos Papadimitriou, and illustrated by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna, which subsequently became an international bestseller.
In this case, as well the original story is written with the cooperation of a writer and a scholar, and then completed in its cartoon format by two illustrators. In both cases, what the authors mainly talk about is great philosophers”
epoch-making ideas and inspiration as found in the history of Western philosophy.

Morioka and Terada’s Manga Introduction to Philosophy is completely different. This is perhaps the world’s first book in which a philosopher himself illustrates his own philosophical investigations, many of which deal with
the problems concerning time, being, solipsism, and life, all in the form of Manga. Although here and there I refer to great philosophers” ideas on time, being, and other topics, the main discussion of the book is based on my own philosophical investigations into those topics. Original pictures of all 230 pages were first hand-drawn by me, using pencils and white paper, and then given professional cartoon lines by Terada.1 There were two key reasons I wrote the book. First, I wanted to use Manga pictures to express my own philosophical ideas and reasoning, and to share them with young readers, who were interested in philosophical issues and philosophical ways of thinking. In ancient India, philosophical thought was conveyed in verse, and in ancient Greece the genre of dialogue was used.
Japan is a nation of Manga and Anime: can these genres also serve as vehicles of philosophical expression?

Second, I had a keen interest in the visualization of philosophical ideas. In my own case, philosophical thinking first emerges as a picture. When I think about philosophical topics, I first start to visualize the concepts or images in my head and make them move, stretch, press, and modify as if
they were rubber balls floating in the air. When I do philosophy I do not use words. I struggle with philosophical ideas and images, and finally, when
I begin writing something, I use words to give the ideas appropriate linguis-tic expression. I had long been wondering whether there was some way of conveying my philosophical images directly to readers, and one day I came
up with the idea of using Manga as a tool to allow readers to visualize them effectively in their minds. I thought that there had to be some philosophical ideas that could be more effectively conveyed to readers in the form of Manga than by using language. I found this to be true when I actually
started drawing Manga pictures.

The following figure is an example of this effective conveying of ideas in the form of Manga (Illustration 1). Sensei (the teacher) asks Manmarukun (the boy’s name on the left side) “Where is your ‘I’?” The boy points to his head and answers, “It’s right here!” After that, suddenly, the teacher approaches him, opens the boy’s head and takes a look inside his brain, saying, ‘I’ is nowhere to be found.” Then Sensei points out that the situation is the same in his own case by showing the inside of his own brain to the boy
(and to his friend, the creature). The theme of this sequence is a little difficult to explain to those learning philosophy via ordinary language, but by using Manga, it becomes strikingly easier to convey intuitively the central message to them.

 

Continues......