Snobbery

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There's a salon / spa in Japan called "snob®".  Bill Benzon asks:  "Is 'snob' free of the negative connotations it would have here?"

Nathan Hopson replies:

Philosopher Azuma Hiroki wrote:

[Alexandre] Kojève emphasizes that after the end of Hegelian history only two modes of existence remained for human beings. One was the pursuit of the American way of life, or what he called the "return to animality," and the other was Japanese snobbery.

Azuma, Hiroki. Otaku: Japan's Database Animals. Translated by Jonathan E. Abel and Shion Kono. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009:45.

He was referring to this footnote (!) in Kojève's work:

One can . . . say that, from a certain point of view, the United States has already attained the final stage of Marxist "communism," seeing that, practically, all the members of a "classless society" can from now on appropriate for themselves everything that seems good to them, without thereby working any more than their heart dictates.

Now, several voyages of comparison made (between 1948 and 1958) to the United States and the U.S.S.R. gave me the impression that if the Americans give the appearance of being rich Sino-Soviets, it is because the Russians and Chinese are only Americans who are still poor but are rapidly proceeding to get richer. I was able to conclude from this that the "American way of life" was the type of life specific to the post-historical period, the actual presence of the United States in the World prefiguring the "eternal present" future of all humanity. Thus, Man's return to animality appeared no longer as a possibility that was yet to come, but as a certainty that was already present.

It was following a recent voyage to Japan (1959) that I had a radical change of opinion on this point. There I was able to observe a Society that is one of a kind, because it alone has for almost three centuries experienced life at the "end of History"—that is, in the absence of all civil or external war (following the liquidation of feudalism by the roturier Hideyoshi and the artificial isolation of the country conceived and realized by his noble successor Yiyeasu). Now the existence of the Japanese nobles, who ceased to risk their lives (even in duel) and yet did not for that begin to work, was anything but animal.

"Posthistorical" Japanese civilization undertook ways diametrically opposed to the "American way." No doubt, there were no longer in Japan any Religion, Morals, or Politics in the "European" or "historical" sense of these words. But Snobbery in its pure form created disciplines negating the "natural" or "animal. . . . [I]n spite of persistent economic and political inequalities, all Japanese without exception are currently in a position to live according to totally formalized values— that is values empty of all "human content" in the "historical" sense.

Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, trans. Raymond Queneau (New York: Basic Books, 1969): 161-162.

By this reckoning, (Japanese) snobbery is an almost Platonic pure form of postmodernism — and importantly Kojève prefigures postmodernists on the one hand and the rush to define Japan as always-already postmodern on the other — and will eventually become the dominant ethos for humankind.

On the other hand, snobbery is obnoxious and vulgar and contemptible. In Japan, too.

Seriously, though, it seems most likely to me that the company has either chosen the word on a phonetic or orthographic basis — or perhaps with some vague notion of upper-class-ness attached to it — or has taken the Japanese definition of the term as 俗物 (zokubutsu, i.e. materialistic individual) and attached a positive valence to it befitting of a high-/late-capitalist consumer society. Perhaps it's a mix of the two…?

It's hard for me to think of a good translation for "snob(bery)" in Chinese.  Perhaps the closest I can get is shìlì (yǎn) 势利(眼) ("[the eye] to be self-interested") where shì 势 = "power; influence; potential; momentum; tendency; trend; inertia; situation; configuration; circumstances; conditions; outward appearance; posture; position; pose; bearing; sign; gesture; male genitals" and lì 利 = "benefit; profit; interest; advantage; sharp; favorable", while yǎn 眼 = "eye".

The English word "snob" itself has an unusual derivation:

1781, "a shoemaker, a shoemaker's apprentice," of unknown origin. It came to be used in Cambridge University slang c. 1796, often contemptuously, for "townsman, local merchant," and passed then into literary use, where by 1831 it was being used for "person of the ordinary or lower classes." Meaning "person who vulgarly apes his social superiors" is by 1843, popularized 1848 by William Thackeray's "Book of Snobs." The meaning later broadened to include those who insist on their gentility, in addition to those who merely aspire to it, and by 1911 the word had its main modern sense of "one who despises those considered inferior in rank, attainment, or taste." Inverted snob is from 1909.

Then there is that singular anomaly, the Inverted Snob, who balances a chip on his shoulder and thinks that everyone of wealth or social prominence is necessarily to be distrusted; that the rich are always pretentious and worldly, while those who have few material possessions are themselves possessed (like Rose Aylmer) of every virtue, every grace. ["Atlantic Monthly," Feb. 1922]

(Source)

Thus we have the Inverted Snob, where "snob" begins as the designation for a lower class person toward the end of the 18th century, whereas by not long after the beginning of the 20th century it had come to designate individuals of condescending pretension.  Then, within another decade or so, the notion of Inverted Snob arose, whereby individuals of lower social status and less wealth despised those of greater wealth and prominence.

It would seem that the idea of snobbery, whether in Japanese or English, is by its very nature volatile, most probably because people at various points on the social spectrum are insecure of their standing, whether they are looking down or up at others.



5 Comments

  1. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 26, 2018 @ 7:13 pm

    I was caught short by the phrase "the roturier Hideyoshi," since "roturier" is not a word I know. If I may be self-congratulatory about the range of fairly obscure lexemes I do know, the fact that I did not know it seemed rather a significant strike against it being the apt word in context, and indeed a quick google books survey suggested that it is most frequently used in English (when it is used in English, as a loanword from French) in describing a specifically French social category, and not so commonly in describing people who are more broadly plebians, commoners, baseborn, or what have you in such non-French contexts as 16th century Japan.* I suspect that Kojeve wrote his footnote in French using "roturier" as a not-necessarily-marked-as-weird French word, i.e. extending the French word to a non-French context would probably not have been unidiomatic, and was then ill-served by his translator, who was himself an L1 Francophone working in English as a second language. To VHM's puzzlement as to the Kojevian diatribe's status as a "footnote," I think the answer is that the text in question, relating as it does to observations made in the late 1950's, did not appear in the original 1947 French edition, which may have been presented as if the text had been given as a series of lectures without too much subsequent rewriting. So putting additional post-1947 material into rather lengthy footnotes seems plausible given that.

    *English translations of Nietzsche's "The Will to Power" traditionally have him calling the admittedly non-French Socrates a "roturier," but they often put it in italics as if to signal that it's an undomesticated furrin word, and I assume from that among other things that Nietzsche was probably out of playfulness or pretension using an extended sense of a French word not really domesticated into German in the middle of his German text, and the translators decided that using the sort of normal English word that would have been an idiomatic translation of the sort of normal German word that Nietzsche deliberately eschewed should thus be avoided.

    Whether Nietzsche and/or Nietzscheans should best be understood as pro-snobbery, anti-snobbery, or It's Complicated is left as an exercise for the reader.

  2. Bill Benzon said,

    December 26, 2018 @ 7:28 pm

    What do you make of ""Snob Eternita". My sister tells me that's the name the salon presents on the street (and you'll find the phrase on the website if you poke around).

  3. TS said,

    December 27, 2018 @ 9:32 am

    > English translations of Nietzsche's "The Will to Power" traditionally have him calling the admittedly non-French Socrates a "roturier,"

    1) Remember that this was not a finished work, but a collection of notes that was assembled (and falsified) after his death; so we do not know how he might have expressed this for publication.

    2) In his day, foreign loanwords used by the educated bourgeoisie came mainly from French, not English. Indeed, in the section concerned he used several French words repeatedly. So I suspect it would not have seemed so strange to his intended readership. And it was in more use in English at that time, too.

    3) I would say that a more appropriate translation in the 21st century would be "commoner".

  4. Victor Mair said,

    December 27, 2018 @ 10:31 am

    Even babies can be snobs.

    Paul Midler spotted this one in posh Nakameguro a couple years back.

    Day:

    Evening:

  5. dabinger blout said,

    December 29, 2018 @ 9:32 pm

    In today modern reference, a snob is really an insult

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