- On the Persistence of the Japanese "History Problem": Historicism and the International Politics of History by Hitomi Koyama
This book makes a unique contribution to the existing research on the socalled history problem in East Asia. Such uniqueness lies in the book's focus on different strands of "historicism" as the horizon of the international politics of history. Put another way, while existing research has examined the international politics of history mostly in the empirical dimension—how Japan, South Korea, China, and other relevant countries constructed and advanced their own versions of history in international relations—this book introduces a reflexive approach to critically probe the foundational assumptions of international politics itself. This novelty stems, perhaps in no small part, from Hitomi Koyama's intellectual background that combines international relations and political theory.
With this unique combination of the international politics of history and the philosophy of history, the book promises to shed new light on "the persistence of the Japanese 'history problem.'" Specifically, the book thematizes and problematizes the idea of "the sovereign subject of history" that has been integral to the international politics of history. Koyama makes this analytical gambit because she believes that a historical examination of how the Japanese state and citizens grappled with the legacy of Japan's past wrongdoings is insufficient for understanding the persistence of the history problem; rather, this analytical task requires a genealogical investigation of how the Japanese state and citizens have understood "history" itself—and Japan's place in it—ever since they had embarked on "modernization" in the late nineteenth century.
From this genealogical perspective, the persistence of the history problem can be understood to be ultimately inherent in the normative assumption built into the international politics of history: for Japan to be able to achieve reconciliation with Korean, Chinese, and other victims of its past wrongdoings, it should be first constituted as the sovereign subject of history, an "agent-actor" capable of taking its own actions on the stage of world history dominated by the "West" as well as taking responsibility for its past actions vis-à-vis the call of the "Asian" other. In reality, however, Japan has never been fully constituted as a unified agent-actor but always remained a divided one, fractured with internal disagreements and permeated with the perception of being the victim, at least partially, of external historical circumstances. [End Page 514]
In fact, if being the sovereign subject of history is a normative requirement for reconciliation, it will inevitably create an impasse for any actor, whether a state or an individual, because such a requirement can never be empirically fulfilled. The idea of the sovereign state actor, for example, is the "organized hypocrisy" of international relations, as Stephen Krasner bluntly put it. The idea of the sovereign individual actor also begins to unravel once the distributed and networked nature of agency is recognized in light of science and technology studies. In this sense, the "sovereign subject of history" can be said to constitute the "condition of possibility and impossibility" of the international politics of history à la Jacques Derrida's paradoxical formulation. This is why the book concludes that interrogating the very idea of the sovereign subject of history may help the stakeholders in the history problem see through the impasse in which they have been trapped—and possibly reframe the problem itself in search of a new resolution.
Although I greatly appreciate the book's unique perspective on the ongoing debate on the history problem, I also think it falls short of fully articulating the theoretical promise of combining the international politics of history and the philosophy of history. On the one hand, the book's analysis of the international politics of history is not international enough, for it focuses mostly on domestic politics and debates inside Japan, only minimally examining Japan's relations with South Korea, China, and other relevant countries as a cause of the history problem. On the other hand, its philosophical reflection on...