It is a fairly rare thing to see Japanese public intellectuals pour praise on the work of historians of Japan who are active outside of Japan. It is heartening, however, to occasionally find examples of this and be reminded that our worlds of writing are not completely separate. Some examples from my recent reading that come to mind are when Kang Sangjun praises and makes use of my advisor, Andrew Gordon‘s conception of “Imperial Democracy” in his essay on “Radical Democracy” or a few articles I have read recently that build on ideas from Carol Gluck’s many essays. Of course, Gordon and Gluck have many of their works translated into Japanese or write actively for Japanese publications.
Even more rare, I think is when such a historian of Japan’s work is referred to as a, “work of art.” Today I found a particularly early example of this kind of attention in Takeuchi Yoshimi’s 1948 essay “What is Modernity” (translated by Richard Calichman, who also has a forthcoming work on Takeuchi that I’m looking forward to entitled Takeuchi Yoshimi: Displacing the West) The context of the quote is a discussion by Takeuchi of Lu Xun’s parable of the wise man, the fool, and the slave, and about what Takeuchi believes to be the unique connection between the claims to the “superiority” of Japanese culture and its “slave mentality.” He finds echoes of this in the Marxist scholarship of E. H. Norman:
The following words are found in Norman’s Soldier and Peasant in Japan. Of the books I’ve read recently, this one made a particularly deep impression, striking me as virtually a work of art. It hits home through the weight of its content. The text possesses a formative logic, with the wealth of its resources rising up like a Rodin sculpture. It is classically beautiful in its abundance of life force. Toward the end of the book, when the militarists become the tool of capital (which lagged behind European capital) and set off for the mainland invasion, the inevitable process of barbarization on the part of the modern army is captured in precise psychological realism: “The common Japanese man, himself an unfree agent enrolled in a conscript army, became an unwitting agent in riveting the shackles of slavery on other peoples.” After this Normand adds, “It is impossible to employ genuinely free men for enslaving others; and conversely, the most brutalized and shameless slaves make the most pitiless and effective despoilers of the liberties of others.” (80)