Japan and the Schizophrenia of the West: From Feudal Vestige to Postmodern Paradise

Dr. Mike Tadashi Sugimoto
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This paper analyzes contradictory readings of Japan as a modernist utopia, as seen in early Western moderns, such as the Impressionists and post-Impressionists (Monet, Van Gogh) and the Hegelian philosophers (Fenellosa, Kojeve), continuing on through noted artists/ critics (Eisenstein, Pound, Barthes), as one culture's traditional arts were translated into another's avant-garde. Depending upon ideology, "Japan" was read as a premodern culture to emulate (transnational postmodernism) or overcome (feudal vestige), thereby indicating an inherently schizophrenic condition of modernity itself. As a society which did not experience the direct exercise of Western imperialism, Japan has appeared in the Orientalist imagination as a hermetic integrity provoking both fascination and anxiety.

I will look closely at the construction of Japanese national culture as a site of aesthetic utopia in the work of Japan's premier modern poet, Hagiwara Sakutarô (1886-1942). Just as "progressive" Western artists and intellectuals sought to overcome the epistemological and aesthetic dead-ends within their own traditions, Hagiwara as a Japanese Romantics, imagined "Japan" as a utopic cure, in an overcoming of modernity.

In the 1930s, inspired by Hagiwara Sakutarô's call to "return to Japan", the Japanese Romantics assembled critical arguments and poetic artifacts, informed by a Schopenhauerian notion of artistic will as synonymous with national spirit. Japanese modernity, no longer understood in terms of material equivalence alone (equally industrialized, rationalized), was trans-formed into a spiritual project of overcoming the modern and the West through the nostalgic construction of a cultural essence.

Keywords: Epistemology, Postmodernism, Orientalism
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies, Knowledge, Ethnicity, Difference, Identity
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Japan and the Schizophrenia of the West

Dr. Mike Tadashi Sugimoto

Assistant Prof. of Japanese Literature and Film, Asian Studies Program International Studies and Languages, Pepperdine University

Born USA, 1958 University of Minnesota, BA Cornell University, MA, PhD

Ref: H05P0364