- Takeuchi Yoshimi: Displacing the West, and; What is Modernity? Writings of Takeuchi Yoshimi
There seems to be a renewed interest, both in and outside Japan, in the work of the sinologist, literary critic, and cultural commentator Takeuchi Yoshimi (1910-1977), one of the leading intellectual figures of postwar Japan. This interest has been sparked, not least, by the surge of debates about Japan's Asian identity, the putative impact of "Asian civilization," and the currency of notions connected to a "clash of civilizations," or, alternatively, "multiple modernities." Against this backdrop, publication of Richard F. Calichman's Takeuchi Yoshimi: Displacing the West is very timely. The book, which consists of an analysis of Takeuchi's writings, is complemented by What is Modernity? Writings of Takeuchi Yoshimi, Calichman's translation of several important texts by Takeuchi that makes these available in English for the first time. The parallel publication of a German translation of a number of significant essays by Takeuchi (Takeuchi Yoshimi, Japan in Asien: Geschichtsdenken und Kulturkritik nach 1945, edited and translated by Wolfgang Seifert and Christian Uhl; Iudicium, 2005) and of Christian Uhl's detailed engagement with Takeuchi's major work on Lu Xun (Wer war Takeuchi Yoshimis Lu Xun? Ein Annäherungsversuch an ein Monument der japanischen Sinologie; Iudicium, 2003; see review by Hans Martin Krämer, MN 59:3) further attests to the current transnational fascination that Takeuchi's works elicit.
Calichman's study is based on a thorough and close reading of a number of seminal texts by Takeuchi. The approach owes much to philosophy, literary studies, and cultural studies; well versed in European philosophy and recent critical theory, Calichman presents Takeuchi as a highly original figure of critical thinking on modernity, Asia, subjectivity, identity, and literature. The book is a sophisticated intellectual achievement. It is not exactly an easy book, however, and can be described as a challenge to the reader willing to engage with it.
Calichman has divided his book into five parts. Chapter 1, "Literature and its Dangers," deals with Takeuchi's views on literature and the tension between the immediacy and worldliness of literature and the abstract and general idea it is supposedly derived from. Calichman reconstructs Takeuchi's critique of the "literary establishment" (bundan). For Takeuchi, following Heidegger and Nishida, the fixed identities that the institutionalization of literature brings about need to be undermined with reference to the categories of feeling, anxiety (fuan), and nothingness. Takeuchi is thus presented as a complex thinker of displacement and of a "logic of unbelonging" (p. 49), as a critic who unsettles categories and binary distinctions. At the same time, Takeuchi is well known as a thinker of the nation (minzoku) and for his plea to use the nation as the point of departure for strategies and practices of resistance. While the deconstructivist and the primordialist Takeuchi, so to speak, might seem to contradict each other, Calichman is instead interested in subtly reconstructing the [End Page 269] common discursive field within which they both speak to each other. He situates Takeuchi's recourse to Japanese particularism in the context of the Allied Occupation of Japan and the call for an anti-imperialist struggle. The nation thus appears as the legitimate basis for resistance-even though it contradicts the differential logic of identity that Takeuchi's thought also entails. Calichman therefore concludes by criticizing Takeuchi's nostalgic turn towards a sense of community. For Calichman, "the question comes down to thinking the origin beyond nostalgia as in some sense already divided from itself, already multiple" (p. 84).
The second chapter, "The Instant of Experience," largely addresses the epistemological foundations of Takeuchi's thought. Drawing on his comparative studies of the Chinese thinker Hu Shi (1891-1962) and the author Lu Xun (1881-1936), Takeuchi, Calichman holds, sides with the latter in focusing on the actual sites of experience. In particular, according to Calichman, for...