- Japanese and Continental Philosophy: Conversations with the Kyoto School ed. by Bret W. Davis, Brian Schroeder, Jason M. Wirth
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011
The introduction of this volume, “Conversations on an Ox Path,” opens with a straightforward statement of the book’s purpose: “to promote dialogue between Western and Japanese philosophy, and more specifically between Continental philosophy and the Kyoto School.” In view of the fact that the Kyoto School is defined by its engagement with Western thought, and Continental philosophy in particular, one can’t help but detect a hint of graciousness, of Kyoto indirectness, of the bow in this opening gesture.
This collection may be best understood as an enticement to Continental thinkers, and as an invitation to redeem this dialogical asymmetry. And since this title appears as part of the “Studies in Continental Thought” series, which is edited by John Sallis, the target audience is quite clear. Its concrete challenge, then, is that it must offer itself as an exemplar of what it means to take up this invitation to dialogue, while its capacity to entice the thinking of Continental philosophers constitutes the implicit criterion of exemplarity. To frame the point in more general terms, and in a way that the thinkers of the Kyoto School would likely appreciate: dialogue discovers its authenticity in its power to provoke thinking. The essays comprising this volume are for the most part careful, penetrating, and thoughtful encounters that meet the burden of this task. In my judgment, this volume constitutes a provocative confrontation with Continental thought and I certainly expect that it will be well received by the audience it solicits. [End Page 135]
Since it represents such a compelling solicitation to Continental thinking, one can imagine that it also has much to offer the reader who simply seeks to better understand the Kyoto School. Indeed, the power of its provocation is ultimately grounded in the force of its encounter with the Japanese thinking that lies at the heart of this book. To translate the hermeneutic correlation at work here into a core Shintō insight, one could say that a sincere (makoto) solicitation of the Other could never arise from the shallows of kokoro.
The volume is comprised of seventeen essays, which are gathered thematically into five parts. Apropos of the avowed purpose of the text, the first cluster of essays center around “The Kyoto School and Dialogue.” The first of these essays is by Ueda Shizuteru, “Contributions to Dialogue with the Kyoto School,” which was translated from the Japanese by Bret Davis. As the successor to Nishitani Keiji and the most prominent inheritor of the Kyoto School tradition today, it is only fitting that Ueda’s essay sets the stage for what is to follow. And given that a small fraction of Ueda’s work is currently available in English, the inclusion of this essay is significant.
Ueda’s contribution is a short but elegant paper in which he argues that the thought of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and deconstruction mark a critical questioning directed “toward nothingness,” whereas the thought of Nishida and Nishitani represents a creative response arising “from nothingness.” For Ueda, then, a dialectic of questioning toward nothingness and responding from out of nothingness constitutes the authentic movement of dialogue, and thereby the authentic hope for the radicalization of philosophy as counterforce to the “hyper-systematization” and “homogenization” of world culture. Ueda offers a striking image of the dialectical relation between the two traditions, an image that vividly testifies to the fact that the legacy of the Kyoto School is very much alive in Ueda’s thinking: “It has perhaps become possible for the directions of ‘toward nothingness’ and ‘from nothingness’ to converse by standing back-to-back, as it were, each contacting the other by means of the nothingness shared between them” (29). To my ears, I can’t help but hear Nishitani’s characteristic appeal to orientational language being deployed by Ueda as a way to frame a more Nishida-like emphasis on the generative space opened up by the very tension...