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positions: east asia cultures critique 8.2 (2000) 317-348
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Nothing Resists Modernity:
On Takeuchi Yoshimi's “Kindai Towa Nanika”
Richard F. Calichman
The purpose of this essay is to examine the difficult relation between history and subjectivity as it is presented by the postwar Japanese sinologist and thinker Takeuchi Yoshimi (1910–1977). Specifically, I have chosen to focus upon Takeuchi's attempt to think the meaning of “Japan,” and with this of course the status of the notions “West” and “East” that form in large part the context of this meaning, in light of Japan's defeat in 1945. For Takeuchi, the necessity to rethink the subject (and above all the national subject) on the basis of history was clear: unless one understood the logical priority of this relationship, that is, that the subject is not a given entity that merely has a history but rather initially becomes possible only in or through history, then the desire for subjective identity that so massively informed the Fifteen Year War would remain unquestioned, unshaken. For to realize that the subject's self-formation (shutai keisei), or its Bildung, is inscribed in its possibility within history is also to grasp that history threatens this formation essentially, [End Page 317] that it contains within it the conditions of impossibility of subjectivity as well. Here one must confront the radical implications of this insight for our understanding of history. The elusive movement or force of history cannot be domesticated by a historiography that insists on taking as its object of research the subject, which poses itself in all its unity and integrity. Viewing history as a history of subjects (for example, Japanese history, Chinese history) reveals that the empiricity that is the domain of historiography is in fact contained within, or subsumed under, the ideal unit that is the individual subject. As Takeuchi suggests, this understanding of history is inescapably theoretical; that is, it is based on the primacy of vision (theoria), regardless of course of whether historiography consciously recognizes this character or not.
What disturbs this traditional relationship in historiography between the subject and history may here be understood as historicity, according to which the subject's thoroughly historical being reveals not the activity of its formation but rather its fundamental passivity in the world. This passivity, let us emphasize, is originary. Before the subject assumes its proper unity qua subject, then, it is necessarily already exposed to alterity—or difference—which ceaselessly haunts its projects of self-appropriation. It is due to the subject's historicity, Takeuchi suggests, that resistance (teiko) against subjectivity first becomes possible. In this regard, Takeuchi calls attention to the manner by which subjective identity has been created in modernity through institutional identification with the signifiers “West” and “East.” By virtue of the oppositionality that holds between these terms, the subject comes into being by positing its self in negative relation to its other, such that, for example, Westerners are defined as that which Easterners, or Asians, are not. The importance of this insight must in no way be underestimated, as the Fifteen Year War was widely seen as a historical conflict between East and West. Through exposing the historical constructedness of such signifiers, the fact that history steadfastly resists (and so exceeds) any reduction of itself to oppositional logic, Takeuchi points to that which he calls the “nothingness” of subjective identity. Because of this nothingness, what can no longer be understood as the subject must now be rethought in its openness, or exposure, to history. [End Page 318]
The European Signification of the Orient
In his 1948 essay “Kindai towa nanika” [What is modernity?], Takeuchi Yoshimi paradoxically begins speaking about the West and the East—what he refers to, respectively, as “Europe” and the “Orient” (Toyo)—by denying their real existence. The Orient does not exist in and of itself but rather depends somehow on Europe: “What makes the Orient possible is situated in Europe. Not only does Europe become possible in Europe; the Orient, too, becomes possible in Europe.”1 Appearances to...