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  • From Van Gogh as Intellectual History:The Reception of Reproductions and Imagination
  • Kinoshita Nagahiro (bio)
    Translated by Kevin Singleton (bio)

This excerpt is composed of segments from the introduction, fourth chapter, and conclusion of Kinoshita Nagahiro’s Van Gogh as Intellectual History: The Reception of Reproductions and Imagination (Shisō to shite no Gohho: fukusei juyō to sōzōryoku, 1992). Kinoshita began his career as a scholar of Okakura Kakuzō, perhaps the most influential art critic of Meiji-period Japan, and has focused much of his work on the intellectual history of art. Moreover, his interests also include the art critic Nakai Masakazu, as well as French philosophers and writers such as Simon Weil and Marcel Proust. Kinoshita has also retranslated Okakura’s Book of Tea (in which he stresses the playful nature of Okakura’s English text by reading Okakura’s use of “humanity” as “humanitea”) and has recently, after retiring from his position at Yokohama University, completed a book on the aesthetics of chaos in Michelangelo. Kinoshita started publishing specifically about Van Gogh with two books in the late 1980s–Van Gogh: The Story of a Boy Who Became a Painter (Gohho: gaka ni natta otokonoko no hanashi, 1988) and Dismantling the Myth of Van Gogh (Gohho shinwa no kaitai e, 1989). Van Gogh as Intellectual History emerges as the crown achievement of Kinoshita’s examination of Japanese discourses about the Dutch artist, whose legacy was instrumental in constructing specific emotional parameters of modern and contemporary art. Methodologically, the book explores the intersection of literature and art history, and offers an insight into how “affect” was structured through Western art. If Kitazawa Noriaki’s study Temple of the Eye (1989) study focuses on the “eye” of the beholder, then Kinoshita looks to the “heart,” and the desire for a poetics that identifies the “pathology” of modernity.

The genealogical examination of the book is laid out chronologically: Chapter One, “Event” (Hattan), 1910-13; Chapter Two, “Poetry” (Shi), 1914-25; Chapter Three, “Pathology” (Byōri), 1926-47; Chapter Four, “Territorialization” (Ryōiki), 1948-58. The [End Page 242] overall process of containment occurs precisely in this order: an artistic phenomenon called Vincent van Gogh sparks an encounter (hattan) among Japanese writers and artists, which engenders a space of verbal, intellectual, and poetic imagination (shi). A more logical and positivist approach is then developed to codify that experience as pathology (byōri), leading to a stable genre that solidifies into a territorial knowledge (ryōiki). Kinoshita argues that the reproduction of Van Gogh’s paintings initially gave imagination a burst of life (“The experience through ‘reproductions’ led to greater imagination than the experience of the ‘original’”i), yet it was territorialized within the original-copy dichotomy that would always privilege the actual work (mainly located in the West). Reproduction stimulated a universal imagination uncontaminated by hierarchy but the “original” introduced into the discourse reinstated the center-peripheral dialectic, which continues to inform our worldview. To substantiate this argument, Kinoshita carefully examines, in the first chapter of the book, how the level of excitement and daringness to feel was developed among the Shirakaba writers who were enamored by Van Gogh’s work in reproduction. In the excerpted section, the author examines the criticism of Kobayashi Hideo and the playwright Miyoshi Jūrō to trace the process through which the postwar image of the tragic artist that had come to define the affective parameters of art was formulated. The desire for “the common,” a neutral space beyond original and reproduction, is the utopia without hierarchy that copies proposed to the world, but modernism (and the East-West dichotomy) rescinded that heretical promise. In Japan, the artist who set that imagination into motion was Van Gogh–yet, ironically, as Kinoshita demonstrates, he was also the very artist who was used to limit the scope of imagination.

(Kenichi Yoshida)

Territory: 1948-58

In Japan, to imitate Arthur Schopenhauer’s phrasing, all art aspires to the condition of poetry. All expressive activity yields pride of place to poetry. In literature and the fine arts, even in territories wholly unrelated to art, to say that a work “has poetry in it” not only redeems it but...