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  • Anfractuosité et unification: La philosophie de Nishida Kitarō by Michel Dalissier
  • Ralf Müller
Anfractuosité et unification: La philosophie de Nishida Kitarō (Anfractuosity and unification: Nishida Kitarō’s philosophy). By Michel Dalissier. Genève: Librairie Droz, 2009. Pp. 640. Paper CHF 143.50, isbn 978-2-600-01188-4.

Anfractuosité et unification: La philosophie de Nishida Kitarō is the latest work by the French scholar Michel Dalissier, whose 2005 doctoral dissertation won him the 2007 Shibusawa-Claudel Prize, given each year to a French work on Japan.1 This new publication is the culmination of his rich, multi-lingual research on Japanese philosophy, both in Japan and abroad. Instead of providing an all-encompassing account of Nishida’s thought, Dalissier focuses on major concepts in key passages in a limited selection of essays, elucidating important ramifications implicit in Nishida’s at times opaque argumentation. Moreover, Dalissier clarifies Nishida’s concepts by explaining them in relation to almost every philosopher Nishida had read. He does this based on details that are at times miniscule but nonetheless important, such as Nishida’s underlining or marginalia in the copies he owned of Leibniz, Emil Lask, and others.

The first of three parts, titled “Psychology and the Dialectic of Unification,” deals with Zen no kenkyū (1911)2 and lays out Dalissier’s central thesis of interpretation. The second part, “Phenomenology, Epistemology, and Metaphysics of Unification,” shows the broadening of Nishida’s writing and its movement away from psychologism. This part focuses primarily on Nishida’s Jikaku ni okeru hansei to chokkan (1917)3 and explores his struggle with Fichte and others, and this paves the way to a proper conceptualization of his idealistic intuition of unification. Based on essays published in 1930 or earlier,4 the third and largest part, “Topology and Unification,” is devoted to Nishida’s main conceptual tool, basho 場所 (topos or place; Fr. lieu).

While Dalissier acknowledges Nishida’s “Eastern” intellectual heritage he emphasizes his intrinsically philosophical legacy, which is culturally unbiased and universal. According to Dalissier, Nishida’s basic intuition of unity is somewhat “oriental,”5 but the driving force in Nishida’s work is not a kind of religious experience or mystical insight based on Zen meditation; rather, it is the will to contribute to philosophical discourse, and with intellectual rigor: “In fact, it is no longer about postulating this identity between man and world, between the self and the exterior [End Page 249] object, but about justifying it—with the help of the philosophical heritage of the occident” (p. 29).

Dalissier takes Nishida at his word that “an idealistic spirit seeks an unlimited unity,”6 and reads his writings as realizing such a philosophical idealism. Hence, Dalissier insists on the “thought of unification” as being “ever more central” (p. 319). While the terms “unity” and “unification” (tōitsu) prevalent in Zen no kenkyū recede in his later work, they remain in the background of such essays as “Place,” written in 1926, but more importantly these terms evolve into new terms, which inherit the earlier concept’s meaning while becoming conceptually deeper and richer. In fact, from 1926 onward, Nishida’s work reveals coinages such as basho that become proper currency in philosophical discourse, and thanks to the terminological rigor of Dalissier they become understandable within the philosophic currencies already at hand.

Starting with Zen no kenkyū, Dalissier interprets Nishida’s philosophy as a concept of unification that in Nishida’s time was still psychologistically fashioned: “‘Consciousness’—through its own unifying activity—does nothing other than to reproduce a ‘unifying activity,’ that is peculiar to reality, ‘and that is this reality itself’” (p. 33). Dalissier’s discussion of Leibniz (pp. 34–35) clarifies why the tōitsu of tōitsu ryoku (unifying activity) is best understood as dynamic unification (Fr. unification) rather than as a static unity (Fr. unité). According to Dalissier, Nishida relegates to a secondary status what Leibniz takes to be the origin of beings, namely unity: “Nishida subordinates the unity to the unification: it needs the unification for the unity” (p. 34), and he comprehends “unity” only as temporarily “realized unification” (p. 34).

Based on this terminological clarification, Dalissier spells out the conceptual consequences...