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positions: east asia cultures critique 10.1 (2002) 111-139



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The Politics of Loss:
On Eto Jun

Ann Sherif


As part of a larger critical reexamination of the relationship between public social space, private subjects, and the state in the period of high economic growth in postwar Japan, this article considers the shifting status of the public intellectual by examining the career and writings of critic Eto Jun (1932–1999).1 Since he started writing in the late 1950s, Eto continuously acted as a central player in the formation of the public sphere in Japan. By public sphere I mean the realms of public discourse that engender public opinion, or as Geoff Eley (elaborating on Jürgen Habermas's concept) has described it, “the structured setting where cultural and ideological contest or negotiation among a variety of publics takes place.”2 While social and political debates such as those surrounding the Anpo U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and the widespread grassroots citizens' movements dominate the image of the public sphere in the 1960s, an individual such as Eto—known [End Page 111] variously as a humanist, a literary and cultural critic, and a neoconservative—also developed influential means of participating in the conflict and contest between varied publics.

Eto Jun's writings are nothing if not controversial. Eto not only produced scores of influential books and articles about subjects as far-flung as literary criticism and the postwar political scene; he also established himself among the foremost public intellectuals who dominate Japan's print and visual media and accordingly function as important “agents of public memory.”3 Eto drew fire especially during the mid-1960s when, not long after his return from a two-year stint at Princeton University, he produced a series of essays that seemed to indicate a shift toward conservatism and ultranationalism.4

This article has come about as a result of my effort to understand the complexities of a central rhetorical and conceptual figure prominent in Eto's discursive and intellectual career, that of loss (soshitsu), and the politics of this figure of loss. The idea of loss is tremendously compelling because it works as part of a logical narrative that allows us to clarify why Eto insisted on working as a cultural critic—or, more accurately, as a public intellectual. It also helps readers make sense of the ideas that bridge Eto's interests in literary texts and in political rhetoric and reality and that enable him to write so persuasively in both arenas. I will study Eto's evocation of the often ambiguous figure of loss especially in his best-known work of literary and cultural criticism from the mid-1960s as well as in some of his well-known essays.

Before I explore the significance of this concept of loss in Eto's writings, it is important to clarify the semantic implications of Eto's usage of loss, or soshitsu. First, the term soshitsu means loss in the sense of loss of memory (kioku no soshitsu) or being divested of or forfeiting one's legal rights (as in kenri no soshitsu). Although the English word loss also suggests losing a war, the Japanese word soshitsu does not include this sense of military defeat.5 Eto also employed the term soshitsu kan, which can be interpreted as feeling(s) of having lost something, or emotions occasioned by absence of something thought to have existed before.

The timing of Eto's fascination with loss, in the first and second decades after the end of the Allied Occupation, comes as no accident. Defeated in war and divested of its imperial and militarist ambitions and assertion of [End Page 112] itself as Asia's light, Japan found itself in the ambivalent position of Cold War protégé to its former enemy the United States for decades. Because of that subservient relationship with the United States, Japan was protected from “accepting full responsibility for [its] wartime acts.”6 Of course, writers and intellectuals hotly debated war responsibility (senso sekinin) for decades after the defeat. But in the end...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8271
Print ISSN
1067-9847
Pages
pp. 111-139
Launched on MUSE
2002-03-01
Open Access
No
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