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Reconfiguring Modernity

Reconfiguring Modernity: Concepts of Nature in Japanese Political Ideology

Julia Adeney Thomas
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 254
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppt3b
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  • Book Info
    Reconfiguring Modernity
    Book Description:

    Julia Adeney Thomas turns the concept of nature into a powerful analytical lens through which to view Japanese modernity, bringing the study of both Japanese history and political modernity to a new level of clarity. She shows that nature necessarily functions as a political concept and that changing ideas of nature's political authority were central during Japan's transformation from a semifeudal world to an industrializing colonial empire. In political documents from the nineteenth to the early twentieth century, nature was redefined, moving from the universal, spatial concept of the Tokugawa period, through temporal, social Darwinian ideas of inevitable progress and competitive struggle, to a celebration of Japan as a nation uniquely in harmony with nature. The so-called traditional "Japanese love of nature" masks modern state power. Thomas's theoretically sophisticated study rejects the supposition that modernity is the ideological antithesis of nature, overcoming the determinism of the physical environment through technology and liberating denatured subjects from the chains of biology and tradition. In making "nature" available as a critical term for political analysis, this book yields new insights into prewar Japan's failure to achieve liberal democracy, as well as an alternative means of understanding modernity and the position of non-Western nations within it.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92684-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Note on Transliteration
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Introduction: The Trouble with Nature
    (pp. 1-31)

    When blues legend Howlin’ Wolf sings, “Nature cause me to mess up my life,” we know how he feels.¹ Caught by the inevitable, yet never entirely blameless, a person trapped by “nature”—“bad-ass nature” in this case—will surely sing the blues. And yet, despite our instinctive respect for nature’s power, we rarely define what we mean by the term. Nature may mean a person’s individual nature, as it seems to for Howlin’ Wolf, or human nature in general. Alternatively, it may mean physical nature, the concrete world external to ourselves, or it may mean the nature of circumstances, the...

  7. CHAPTER 2 The Topographical Imagination of Tokugawa Politics
    (pp. 32-59)

    The sheer number of words for nature in Tokugawa texts dramatizes the concept’s many facets and renders vocabulary an obvious starting point for discussing nature’s multivalence. Despite this abundance of terms, Maruyama Masao’s critique of nature in early modern Japanese political thought relies almost exclusively on one word,shizen(自 黑). That word, however, did not become standard until the 1890s. Indeed, before the 1890s,shizenappears to have been rather uncommon; certainly it was not a preoccupation in Confucian studies. As historian Hino Tatsuo comments, “In the nine classics [of Confucianism], you cannot find one example of the use of...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Early Meiji’s Contentious Natures
    (pp. 60-83)

    The spatial, hierarchical cosmopolis developed in Tokugawa writings lay in ruins by the first decade of the Meiji period. No longer did it appear axiomatic that political rectitude and geographic centrality were paired in some definable locale, be it China, Edo, Kyoto, rural villages, or the purportedly perfect Dutch nation. Nevertheless, even as the relationship between politics and nature was destabilized in the upheavals of the 1860s and 1870s, writers continued to believe that nature was a politically potent idea. The sheer number of references to nature demonstrates that they imagined they could wring rhetorical advantage from the concept, although...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Katō Hiroyuki: Turning Nature into Time
    (pp. 84-110)

    More clearly and more decisively than anyone else, Katõ Hiroyuki threw down the gauntlet on behalf of the government in the fight over nature’s political standards.¹ In 1881, Katō turned decidedly in favor of autocratic control, relying in large part on social Darwinism. He claimed, in short, that oligarchic rule was the correct form of government for Meiji Japan according to the dictates of natural evolution. His challenge was met by Baba Tatsui, Ueki Emori, and others who found in nature a tool against Katō and against oligarchic power. This fierce debate, raging from 1881 to 1883, was the turning...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Baba Tatsui: Natural Laws and Willful Natures
    (pp. 111-132)

    Torn between antinomies, the life of Baba Tatsui (1850–88) bears a Romantic aspect. Indeed, given Baba’s early, lonely death in a strange land (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), his biographers have seldom resisted the trope of Romantic tragedy in describing his turbulent career and sad demise. Nakae Chōmin’s touching reminiscence of his friend and fellow Jiyūtō (Liberal Party) member begins by evoking Baba’s death in the “Meriken” hospital.¹ Yasunaga Gōro starts his rather hagiographic narrative at Baba’s tall grave marker in the Woodlands Cemetery.² The opening pages of Hagihara Nobutoshi’s 1967 biography continue this convention, inviting the reader to imagine Baba’s almost...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Ueki Emori: Singing the Body Electric
    (pp. 133-157)

    Ueki Emori (1857–92), in concluding his response to Katō Hiroyuki, declares, “I have turned the bones-and-flesh ofJinken shinsetsuinto a mix of salad greens. Although there may still be knots in the lumber [of my argument], I have no leisure today to feed healthy rabbits.”¹ This gleeful flourish of mixed metaphors serves as an introduction to Ueki as well as a conclusion to his bookTenpu jinkenben(In Defense of Natural Rights), published in January 1883. The exuberant puckishness exhibited in this passage is part and parcel of Ueki’s attitude toward the political authority that he challenged repeatedly...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The Acculturation of Japanese Nature
    (pp. 158-178)

    The preceding chapters highlighted the centrality of nature in early Meiji political thought through the mid–1880s; this chapter explores a hiatus in nature’s overt political presence, extending until the Russo–Japanese War of 1904–5. In contrast to early Meiji documents—the Charter Oath, the Constitution of 1868, and the books and articles by Katō, Baba, and Ueki during the Crisis of 1881—the major documents of Meiji state formation produced around 1890, including the Meiji Constitution, hardly mention nature in any form. Nature fades from political prominence just when Japan acquires its modern governmental structures, a modern educational...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Ultranational Nature: Dead Time and Dead Space
    (pp. 179-208)

    By the 1930s, nature had been wrapped in the mantle of Japanese culture and was fully deployed once more in the political arena. It was no longer, as it was in the 1890s, a suspect concept in governmental documents, but instead had become a mainstay of national, indeed ultranational, ideology. This chapter begins by describing the ultranational nature of wartime Japan and then traces the origins of this concept to the decade after the Russo-Japanese War, when culture, politics, nation, and nature were welded together in a new way.

    If we creditKokutai no hongi,that odd bricolage of ultranationalist...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Conclusion: Natural Freedom
    (pp. 209-226)

    In the first chapter, I posed two possible relationships between nature and modernity: one antithetical, the other cosmopological. It is now time to review these models and to ask how foregrounding the concept of nature has provided an alternative perspective on Japan’s place in what Maruyama, Weber, and so many others recognized as the problematic universal history of modernity.¹

    The most influential view for intellectual historians of Japan, Europe, and America defines modernity in opposition to nature, or, more precisely, as the separation of human consciousness from instinctive, physical, and material forms of nature so that human beings can attain...

  15. Index
    (pp. 227-239)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 240-240)