“The Anatomy of Self” by Takeo Doi, MD

Subtitle: The Individual vs. Society

Recommended to me by: David Mitchell

David and I were discussing disclosure vs. silence, and he recommended this book. Rather than addressing the issue in a personal way, the book analyzes Japanese language and culture to address it in a more global way. None of it was immediately applicable, although it is validating to read that everyone struggles with the same issues, across cultures.

The first section analyzes Japanese word pairs that are essential to that culture. Omote and ura mean public, open, or spoken vs. private, hidden, or unspoken. They require each other, the way words require silence to surround them.

Tatamae and honne refer to the formal rules and public face of a group, vs. the unspoken rules and private opinions. Again, there must always be both, public harmony and private dissent. Even when someone intends to fully disclose their heart, the essence remains unspoken.

The second section addresses humans in society and analyzes several different stories.

The third section addresses secrets in the context of mental illness, charm, and love.

I was taken aback by the gratuitous subtle (all stories center on men) and overt (“effeminate” as an insult) sexism in a book published in 1986.

At the end of the book, my sense was that most of the message was unspoken, and I would have to study it in depth to understand the underlying points.

Available at Powell’s Books.

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