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  • Introduction:On the Virtues of Seeing—At Least, But Never Only—Double
  • Nahum Dimitri Chandler (bio)

I. The Place Within Quotation Marks

In the title for this special issue, Toward a New Parallax: Or, Japan—in Another Traversal of the Trans-Pacific, the name "Japan" could be placed inside quotation marks. For, in a word, the essays in this volume purport to question the sense of Japan that would already have been known. They may also be understood to do so in a distinct manner.

As an epistemic matter—although its possibility might in the past have seemed obscure for some, such is no longer the case—this issue has its first incipit in the occurrence of a question from the work of W. E. B. Du Bois about the place of Japan in modern history. Across more than half a century—from the late 1890s through the late 1950s, in essence the whole of the perduring itinerary from the inception of Du Bois's intellectual maturity—references to Japan comprise a persistent and densely interwoven strand in his thought. The question in its most distilled form can be stated quite simply, even if in a somewhat fulsome manner. In the wake of the centuries-long eventuality of [End Page 1] European imperial and colonial subsumption of much of the globe from the fifteenth century to the early years of the twentieth, what role might Japan play in the ongoing possibility (from one turn of the century to another) of a reorganization of local and indigenous forms of social practice on a world-wide scale, on the one hand, and global level systems of economy, governance, and moral conception, on the other, beyond what had been bequeathed to the planet under the different concatenations of Western-based hegemonies across the past half-millennium?

And too, the matter of the example of Japan was itself part of a larger scene of reference within Du Bois's discourse, perhaps its most deeply sedimented and fundamental, that is, a questioning about the possibility of another world—a new and transformed world horizon of value, of collective forms of ideal, of democratic practice in the conception and realization of such ideals—that would itself be the rendering obsolete (despite their tangible remains even within centuries of transformation in the future) of all contemporary existing forms of proscriptive limit.

This special issue has its second incipit in my sense of a gap between the ways Japan is understood within dominant discourses in our contemporary moment with regard to questions of social and historical forms of difference among human groups and the possible epistemic interest of a whole other understanding.

On the one hand, in terms of a predominant horizon, I gesture in a general sense toward the thought of Japan as itself homogeneous and configured—in any form of relation—according to the ideologically titular and epistemically determinant idea of the possibility of a pure term. And this is regardless of whether such a term is configured as itself in relation to others, as an other social entity of some kind (sometimes supposed as more powerful or historically advanced and sometimes thought of as less powerful and historically backward, inferior), in a multiply refracting and interwoven ensemblic sphere of senses and practices of self-reflexive differentiations within a putatively ultimate (planetary or global) frame of reference.

On the other hand, I propose a gesture toward a thought of Japan as configured out of multiple forms of genesis, always both diverse and re-inaugurating, in the instance of an originary irruption. And, hence, what goes [End Page 2] under that name is, paradoxically perhaps, a potentially powerful example of a whole other sense of historial possibility (originary, creative, technological [in the generic sense of problem solving]), now not in the operation or manufacture of the thing, but rather in the recognition of the generative capacity that might arise by way of an affirmation of difference in human relation at all levels of social and historical generality.

It may thus be said that it was the irruption of this possibility anew in the Meiji era—within and despite all of its limits—that has fueled Japan's...


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