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Overcome by Modernity

Overcome by Modernity: History, Culture, and Community in Interwar Japan

Harry Harootunian
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 480
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  • Book Info
    Overcome by Modernity
    Book Description:

    In the decades between the two World Wars, Japan made a dramatic entry into the modern age, expanding its capital industries and urbanizing so quickly as to rival many long-standing Western industrial societies. How the Japanese made sense of the sudden transformation and the subsequent rise of mass culture is the focus of Harry Harootunian's fascinating inquiry into the problems of modernity. Here he examines the work of a generation of Japanese intellectuals who, like their European counterparts, saw modernity as a spectacle of ceaseless change that uprooted the dominant historical culture from its fixed values and substituted a culture based on fantasy and desire. Harootunian not only explains why the Japanese valued philosophical understandings of these events, often over sociological or empirical explanations, but also locates Japan's experience of modernity within a larger global process marked by both modernism and fascism.

    What caught the attention of Japanese thinkers was how the production of desire actually threatened historical culture. These intellectuals sought to "overcome" the materialism and consumerism associated with the West, particularly the United States. They proposed versions of a modernity rooted in cultural authenticity and aimed at infusing meaning into everyday life, whether through art, memory, or community. Harootunian traces these ideas in the works of Yanagita Kunio, Tosaka Jun, Gonda Yasunosuke, and Kon Wajiro, among others, and relates their arguments to those of such European writers as George Simmel, Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Georges Bataille.

    Harootunian shows that Japanese and European intellectuals shared many of the same concerns, and also stresses that neither Japan's involvement with fascism nor its late entry into the capitalist, industrial scene should cause historians to view its experience of modernity as an oddity. The author argues that strains of fascism ran throughout most every country in Europe and in many ways resulted from modernizing trends in general. This book, written by a leading scholar of modern Japan, amounts to a major reinterpretation of the nature of Japan's modernity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2386-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface All the Names of History
    (pp. ix-xxxii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxxiii-2)
  5. CHAPTER 1 The Fantasy of Modern Life
    (pp. 3-33)

    Although the Meiji state put into place the infrastructure of a modern capitalist political economy, the economy itself did not grow at a constant speed between the years 1887 and 1920. The time span was punctuated by business cycles and variations produced by the growth process itself and by specific events like the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. This meant a rather shaky round of spurts and retrenchments, the deflation of the 1880s, subsequent recovery based mainly on the development of textile and traditional handicrafts industries, railway construction, and the stimulus supplied by...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Overcoming Modernity
    (pp. 34-94)

    In July 1942 a prominent group of Japanese critics, thinkers, scholars, and writers met in the old imperial capital city of Kyoto during what was described as two very hot summer days to discuss the question of how to “overcome the modern” (kindai no chōkoku) and the meaning of the war for the nation. Six months into the war, Japan had virtually swept across Southeast Asia, where its troops were initially welcomed as deliverers of Asians from white man’s colonialism, and had occupied most of the islands of the western Pacific. As a member of the Axis Powers, Japan was...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Perceiving the Present
    (pp. 95-201)

    At the same moment that popular discourse exploded in new media like film, mass-circulating magazines, opinion journals, radio, and newspapers to figure and fantasize the new everydayness that was being installed in Japan’s larger cities in the 1920s, thinkers, social researchers, and critics were busily involved in envisioning the experience of modernity and its constituent elements—speed, shock, sensation, and spectacle—through an optics that produced differing effects according to the angle of the lens through which experience was being refracted. These refractions distilled certain intensities in the experience of modern life and privileged others to present a vision of...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Persistence of Cultural Memory
    (pp. 202-292)

    Even as thinkers and researchers were seeking to uphold the completion of modern life as a future possibility, Japan was already being drawn into the crisis of the capitalist world in 1930 as the economic depression spread from the industrial and financial centers to the periphery. But the world depression was simply the most recent and certainly the most devastating of the economic episodes Japan experienced throughout the 1920s—episodes which, cumulatively, socialized the country into the cyclic ups and downs of capitalism and its capacity to produce periodic breakdowns. In Germany, Siegfried Kracauer had already alerted the country to...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Communal Body
    (pp. 293-357)

    If the pursuit of a “living culture,” where intellect was embedded in nature, provided the prospect of concreteness to a world dominated by social abstraction and “nonrelationships,” the communal body formed by the folk was seen as an even more promising defense against the uncertainties and destructions of modern life. Even before Miki Kiyoshi called for the establishment of a “new gemeinschaft,” as we shall see in the following chapter, native ethnologists, self-proclaimed folklorists, and other communitarians had already turned to the task of refiguring the folk and resuscitating their beliefs, customs, and practices in order to preserve the last...

  10. CHAPTER 6 History’s Actuality
    (pp. 358-414)

    If Heidegger, as Watsuji believed, erred too much on the side of phenomenology—separating humans from everydayness—Watsuji erred too much on the side of a hermeneutics that mandated living a specific life as a condition of comprehending it. While he exceptionalized culture, differentiating it from others, he turned around to make its understanding inaccessible to all but those who lived and experienced it. But his discourse undoubtedly persuaded others to attempt a reunification of a changeless everyday life and the claims of an exceptional culture in order to meet the assault of modernity. In practical terms, this meant retaining...

  11. Abbreviations
    (pp. 415-416)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 417-432)
  13. Index
    (pp. 433-440)