Rethinking Identity in Modern Japan: Nationalism as Aesthetics

Rethinking Identity in Modern Japan: Nationalism as Aesthetics

Rethinking Identity in Modern Japan: Nationalism as Aesthetics

Rethinking Identity in Modern Japan: Nationalism as Aesthetics


Examining the creative and academic works of a number of influential Japanese thinkers, this volume is a major reconsideration of Japanese late modernity and national hegemony.


Yet the peculiarity of aesthetic discourse, as opposed to the languages of art themselves, is that, while preserving a root in this realm of everyday experience, it also raises and elaborates such supposedly natural, spontaneous expression to the status of an intricate intellectual discipline. With the birth of the aesthetic, then, the sphere of art itself begins to suffer something of the abstraction and formalization characteristic of modern theory in general; yet the aesthetic is nevertheless thought to retain a charge of irreducible particularity, providing us with a kind of paradigm of what a non-alienated mode of cognition might look like. Aesthetics is thus always a contradictory, self-undoing sort of project, which in promoting the theoretical value of its object risks emptying it of exactly that specificity or ineffability which was thought to rank among its most precious features.

Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Oxford, Blackwell 1990, p. 3 - reprinted here with permission

Decoding nationalism/reading the violence of modernity

Back in 1970, a dramatic series of pictures was posted at the end of the hallway of my elementary school, displaying a man's head and his decapitated body in army uniform. Next to these photographs were large Chinese characters for 'seppuku' and 'suicide.' Although the meaning and significance of the event was unclear at the time, the scandalous death of a famous novelist was sensational enough for a 10-year-old to ponder the how and the why beyond the headlines. Today, the death of Mishima is an even greater enigma; as one seeks for and fails to identify the 'true cause' and his intent, this indeterminacy conjures up, as he himself might have foreseen, various interpretations of the event and a search for some profound symbolic meaning about nation, cultural identity, and spirituality. in Mishima's own rationalization, the sensational suicide pact was an act of protest, an expression of rage at the spiritual degradation of postwar Japan, and a demand for the cultural revitalization of the Japanese. in Geki (Outrage), written just before the suicide, Mishima claimed:

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