Authenticating Culture in Imperial Japan: Kuki Shuzo and the Rise of National Aesthetics

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Author: Yukiko Koshiro
Date: Summer 1997
From: The Review of Politics(Vol. 59, Issue 3)
Publisher: University of Notre Dame
Document Type: Book review
Length: 1,384 words

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Kuki Shuzo (1888-1941), a Japanese philosopher who received intellectual training from Martin Heidegger, Henri Bergson, and Jean-Paul Sartre in the 1920s and wrote extensively on "aesthetic existentialism," embraced seemingly contrasting worlds not as a discord but as a harmonious duality. Born into an aristocratic family of a mother who was a former geisha he enjoyed the worlds of regal splendor and of the chic, Epicurean pleasure quarters in both Japan and Europe. He also perceived aspects of modern Japan's cultural identity in dualistic terms of tradition and Westernization. Iki no Kozo (The structure of Iki) (1930), a work prepared during his eight-year sojourn in France and Germany, is a phenomenological study of a concept iki, an elusive sense of style, both sensual and sensuous, prized in the urban popular culture of the late Edo period. Deploying the European cultural hermeneutics for its methodological capacity, Kuki argued that the aesthetic style of pre-Westernized Japan had elements of "cosmopolitanism" and "modernity" comparable to those of contemporary Western culture. After World War II the work received a posthumous recognition in Japan as a successful synthesis of Western and Japanese scholarly discourse. In the late 1980s, it revived an interest among Japan's postmodern thinkers in the interwar reflection on Japanese culture.

Leslie Pincus challenges such a favorable reading of Iki no kozo and attempts to uncover an ominous link between aesthetic modernism and political fascism, borrowing heavily from the contemporary Western hermeneutics from Michel Foucault, Jurgen Habermas, Pierre Bourdieu, Wilhelm Dilthy, Neil Larsen, and others. Focusing on their modern logic of cultural nationalism, or insular culturalism, Pincus claims that Iki no kozo served as much an ideological weapon against Western imperialism as a rationale for Japan's domination of Asia. She thus encourages Kuki's admirers to reevaluate Iki no kozo not as an analysis of culture as ideal but as a product of discursive ideology of culture as terror - or an "absolute horror" of culture (p. 247).

To show how Iki no kozo drew its trajectory into the path of fascism, Pincus devotes much of her argument to an analysis...

Source Citation

Source Citation
Koshiro, Yukiko. "Authenticating Culture in Imperial Japan: Kuki Shuzo and the Rise of National Aesthetics." The Review of Politics, vol. 59, no. 3, summer 1997, pp. 606+. Accessed 27 Oct. 2021.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A19968023