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Reviewed by:
  • Neglected Themes and Hidden Variations
  • John W. M. Krummel
Neglected Themes and Hidden Variations. Edited by Victor Sōgen Hori and Melissa Anne-Marie Curley. Frontiers of Japanese Philosophy 2. Nagoya: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, 2008. Pp. vi + 261. ¥1,500.

Neglected Themes and Hidden Variations, edited by Victor Sōgen Hori and Melissa Anne-Marie Curley, is a volume that any student and scholar of Japanese philosophy can benefit from. It is a collection of essays by contemporary academics on a variety of themes that, as the title states, have been neglected or ignored, relegated to the "margins," in the English-language scholarship on the Kyoto school. As editor Victor Hori explains in the introduction, the book is the product of a conference held at McGill University in 2007 that aimed "to focus attention on the more marginal figures and less studied lines of thought in the Kyoto School" (p. 1). The "Kyoto School" here is broadly construed to include figures like Watsuji Tetsurō and Kuki Shūzō, as there are themes that overlap between them and the core members of the school. The text is well-organized in its sequence of topics, arranging together essays with similar or relatable themes. The juxtaposition of several essays on the same thinker but from [End Page 297] different and even contrasting angles makes the volume well rounded. Although I did not agree with some of the views expressed I appreciated the balance of perspectives thus represented. On the whole I found the essays to be well researched and replete with helpful details and information. In a variety of ways, they bring Japanese authors into dialogue with non-Japanese thinkers and perspectives. They succeeded in stimulating my own thinking, inspiring many questions and rousing my curiosity to learn more about these thinkers. This is not to say, however, that the essays in themselves were unproblematic. In the following, I will comment upon specific essays.

The volume begins with a series of essays on Kuki Shūzō. Graham Mayeda provides a detailed discussion of Kuki's theory of contingency in relation to Neo-Kantian theories. The reader can appreciate the well-researched and clear explication of the theories of Windelband and Rickert that influenced Kuki and exactly where Kuki's theory diverges. John Maraldo's essay is another excellent introduction to Kuki's theory of contingency. While overlapping in theme, these two essays are not redundant but complement one another in their analyses. Michael Marra completes the discussion on Kuki by detailing the relationship between Kuki and Heidegger concerning their respective confrontations with the other. Taking Heidegger's discussion of Kuki's aesthetics in his Dialogue on Language as a starting point, Marra applies Kuki's discussion of contingency to the question of otherness in race or culture that Kuki himself faced during his stay in Europe, and contrasts this with Heidegger's discussion of otherness in his reading of Hölderlin's "The Ister." Marra suggests that in contrast to Kuki's other, Heidegger's other—ancient Greece—was still "local." In reading this, two questions come to mind: Can one still extract from Heidegger's ostensible "Eurocentrism" a universal message regarding the existential journey one takes "to foreign lands and back home"? And did Kuki's encounter with his other, even when he had to vomit the unpalatable cuisine (pp. 73 ff.), in any way contribute to his "homecoming," that is, to his sense of self? If the other is only to be vomited out, what conclusion are we to draw from this in our own encounters with otherness? These are three thought-provoking articles covering Kuki's thought from different angles.

Following Melissa Curley's essay on Miki Kiyoshi's relationship to Shinran, which breaks some stereotypes about the Kyoto school, we get another set of essays on a single figure, Watsuji Tetsurō. Bernard Bernier starts off with a discussion of Watsuji's concept of the state, and in particular the Japanese imperial state as retaining "the sacred character of the state as totality" (p. 68). Bernier's explication provokes questions in my mind as to how this might compare with the ancient Chinese Confucian state...