Eclipse of the Other in Prewar Japanese Discursive Space: Japanese Cultural Identity in the Modern World
In this paper, I conceive identity as a particular cognitive inclination or a `movement’ of a mind troubled by its need—i.e., the desire for identity—characterized by a retrogressive longing for an idealized past. Here I do not follow the conventional definition of national identity in the field of international politics—the embodiment of the cultural characteristics common to a people. Investigating the development of Japanese prewar discursive space between the rise of the romantic movement circa 1905 and its maturity in the mid-1930s, I found Japanese intellectuals persistently attempted to erase the existence and influences of the Other—the epistemological separation between the subject and the object from which scientific objectivity and the modern conceptions of humanity and history arises—by constantly challenging, denying and eventually dismissing such philosophical traits from the native discursive space. This consistent effort to eliminate the Other matured in the mid-1930s, and the native discursive space came to demonstrate two highly problematic and seemingly paradoxical characteristics: a hermeneutic `play of language’ characterized by an arbitrary linkage among signifiers devoid of meaning, and a `desire’ for subjectivity and an articulation of meaning under the single banner of `Japan’—the cultural essence of the Japanese. Curiously, this development was accompanied by an extremely reductive description of non-Japanese peoples (i.e., Chinese, Korean, and American), in such a way as to affirm the superiority of Japanese culture. I argue that these features were the expression of a Japanese `collective effort’ to reconstruct a lost cultural identity, an attempt to construct an imagined cultural ideal which had until then never existed. This was made possible only by denying the past encounters with and the present existence of the Other and by radically diverging away from the historical world, and as such constituted the discursive preconditions to a fascist logic of action and a mythological belief in the divinity of the emperor.