AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 276

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Session 276: Rethinking the Kyoto School’s Politics in Japanese Empire

Organizer: Takeshi Kimoto, University of Oklahoma, USA

Chair: John N. Kim, University of California, Riverside, USA

This panel explores the politics of a philosophical discourse in Japanese empire. Since the publication of Inquiry into the Good in 1911, Nishida Kitaro, along with his colleague Tanabe Hajime, formed the so-called Kyoto school of philosophy at Kyoto Imperial University, producing a number of prominent scholars and intellectuals in both Japan proper and its colonies. Although the politics of the Kyoto school has been much discussed, the debates up to now have several limitations. First, they focus exclusively on the Kyoto school philosophers' involvement in the wartime regime. Second, they tend to minimize the wide political spectrum of the Kyoto philosophers, ignoring its left-wing members in particular. Finally, the existing approaches are premised upon the notion of the Kyoto school as “Japanese philosophy.” In order to address these issues, Takeshi Kimoto (U of Oklahoma) argues that Nishida’s early philosophy in the 1920s constructed a notion of subjectivity that was adequate for multiple identity formation of empire. Hirotaka Kasai (Tsuda C) addresses anti-fascist politics by the leftist intellectual Nakai Masakazu in the mid 1930s, describing his practice of collective subjectivity as similar to contemporary radical democracy. Masayuki Fukuda (Tokyo U of Foreign Studies) discusses how Miki Kiyoshi’s critical conception of the “social” served for his imperial philosophy of the East Asian Community in the late 1930s. Finally, Travis Workman (U of Minnesota) traces its repercussions and appropriations in colonial and postcolonial Korea, especially in An Hosang, emphasizing the need to rethink the Kyoto school in the context of East Asia.

Nishida Kitaro as a Philosopher of Empire
Takeshi Kimoto, University of Oklahoma, USA

In this presentation, I will provide a rereading of Nishida Kitaro as a philosopher of empire. In terms of Nishida’s politics, commentators thus far have focused on his later, wartime publications, including The Problem of Japanese Culture (1940), in which he sought to philosophically ground Japanese empire and the imperial household through his concepts such as “nothingness” and “contradictory self-identity.” These remarks tend to be taken as merely occasional or an aberration from his philosophy. However, I will argue that Nishida’s “imperialism” derived from his most basic standpoint by going back to his early works in the 1920s. Specifically, I will focus on how he theorized subjectivity as fundamentally malleable and multiple. By looking at his discussion of “self-consciousness” (jikaku), I will first show how he deconstructed the traditional opposition between reflection and intuition thereby proposing a new conception of reflection as productive. The subject, as Nishida understood it, produces its identity by reflecting and mirroring itself, which means that subjective identity is conceptualized as a dynamic, temporal process of self-identification as constant self-differentiation. I will then trace how he formulated this self-differential dynamics of subjectivity into his “logic of place.” In this way, Nishida not only undermined a fixed, essentialist notion of self-identity, but also demonstrated how subjectivity necessarily doubles and multiplies itself. Through these discussions, I claim that Nishida created an adequate theory of the subject formation for a multi-ethnic empire.

Talking about Culture Politically: Nakai Masakazu and the Question of Democratic Subjectivity under Fascism
Hirotaka Kasai, Tsuda College, Japan

This essay analyses Nakai Masakazu’s work on the conceptualization of subjectivity by placing it within the context of theories of democratic politics in wartime Japan. Driven by a strong commitment to resisting the fascist movements of the time, he formulated a distinctive version of rationalism as a dialectical transition from shukan, or the subject of observation, to shutai, or the subject of practice. He identified such epistemic shifts taking place in the transition from the individual to the group, a series of collective practices he referred to as iinkai no ronri or “the logic of committee.” Not only theoretically delineating the possibility of the notion of collective subjectivity, Nakai also participated in publication of such journals as Sekai Bunka (World Culture) and Doyobi (Saturday). Nakai and his friends sought to circulate information especially on anti-fascist cultural movements in Europe (Sekai Bunka), as well as to create social forum through which ordinary people (readers) could become aware of and talk about the social conditions within which they lived (Doyobi). In the sense that creating collective and democratic subjectivity was always at stake for Nakai, these two aspects, his theoretical speculation and social practice, were both sides of the same coin for Nakai. I seek to demonstrate that Nakai’s conception of subjectivity, which is dynamic and practice-oriented, is a marked departure from essentialist notions of identity, and shares similarities with contemporary theories of radical democracy.

A Genealogy of the “Social” in the 1930s: Between Society and Empire in Miki Kiyoshi
Masayuki Fukuda, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Japan

In this paper, I will discuss how the Kyoto philosopher Miki Kiyoshi developed his conception of the “social” (shakai teki na mono) and what kind of political implications it had in the context of Japanese empire. The notion of the “social” was originally discovered as so-called “social problems” became an urgent issue in modern Japan, especially since the Taisho era. As I show, however, in the 1930s, when Japan witnessed the rise of modernization and totalitarianism, the notion came to be reinterpreted as one moment in the entire concept of kokka or the “state.” Miki Kiyoshi, who made a debut as a Marxist philosopher in the late 1920s, most actively intervened in this situation. While other philosophers such as Watsuji Tetrurō were first and foremost concerned with philosophizing the state and nation (minzoku), ascribing a merely secondary meaning to society, Miki sought to retain the dimensions of the social in his theorizing of political philosophy. I will argue, however, that Miki, precisely because of his critical concern, was led to the idea of the East Asian Community (Toa kyodotai), which he proposed in the late 1930s at the time of the Sino-Japanese War. What was at stake in this project was to create an open, universal community that would go beyond a boundary of the existing nation-state. In this way, I argue that Miki appropriated the social into his philosophy of empire.

An Hosang: The Kyoto School and ‘Postwar’ South Korean Nationalism
Travis J. Workman, University of Minnesota, USA

Tracing the colonial, post-colonial, and regional vicissitudes of Kyoto School philosophies is an essential part of rethinking their relationship to politics. I propose broadening the scope of Kyoto School research to address the wartime and “postwar” careers of colonial philosophers, addressing problems of war guilt, fascism, nation-state formation, and race outside the culturalist hermeneutics of “Japanese philosophy.” Not surprisingly, the philosophical interpretation and appropriation of Kyoto School texts varied significantly in colonial Korea. In this paper, I will focus on An Hosang (1902-1999), who studied at Jena, Humboldt, and Oxford Universities in the 1920s, received his degree in philosophy from Kyoto under Tanabe Hajime in 1933, and was a visiting researcher there in the 1940s. During the American Occupation of South Korea (1945-1948), An became politically powerful, organizing nationalist youth groups and eventually serving as the ROK’s first Minister of Culture (1948-1950). An’s philosophy of “one nation” (ilminjuui), and his arguments for the spiritual foundations of the Korean nation-state, were attempts to indigenize Nishida Kitaro’s philosophy and Hegelian dialectics. Examining An’s translation of philosophical terminology into native Korean (e.g. using opsum in place of mu), I will argue that his far-right articulation of South Korean national identity was an incongruous attempt to at once translate concepts and to purify the national language of its foreign elements. I will ask what such colonial translations and repetitions mean for our understanding of the politics of Japanese and Korean intellectual histories.