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Approches critiques de la pensée japonaise du xxe siècle

Livia Monnet

Logiques du dépassement de la modernité et de l'indécidabilité

Destination and Clan-Destination in the Political Philosophy of Tanabe Hajime

Mark Driscoll

Texte intégral

My special thanks to Naoki Sakai, Katsu Endo, Jacques Derrida, diane Nelson, Scott Mobley, Joshua Young, Jacqueline Orr, Andrew Haas and Livia Monnet for discussing different aspects of this paper with me. I owe a special debt of gratitude to Beng-Choo Lim for her invaluable technical assistance. All translations from the Japanese and French are my own unless otherwise indicated.

  • 1 Judith Butler identifies the problem of the possibilities of human agency in constrictive symbolic (...)

1In this essay I want to uncover some of the central problematics in Tanabe Hajime’s philosophical oeuvre beginning with Kanto no Mokutekiron (Kant’s Theory of Teleology) published in 1924 (Tanabe Hajime 1963, volume 3). In the interim between Kant’s Theory of Teleology and the publication of the essays which would be collected in the influential Shu no Ronri (The Logic of Species, from 1932 to 1938), the question that most concerned Tanabe was that of the possibility of socio-historical agency for human subjects attempting to negotiate existential freedom within the confines of State authority.1 My examination of the problem of subjectivity in Tanabe (a subjectivity which, in the philosopher’s view, is constituted by negativity and antagonism) will uncover the following deadly aporia in his thought: although Tanabe explicitly delineated anti-foundational possibilities for human agency against the encroachments of State power by pointing to singular moments of undecidability and freedom, he betrays his philosophical commitment to these moments by positivizing them with the predicates of ethnic Japaneseness and masculine gender. But to get to that “betrayal” I want to travel by a somewhat wayward path in the forest of the academic study of modern Japanese philosophy.

  • 2 See Sakai, 1995, 1997, 1999 for the work that inspired me to think about Tanabe within the framewo (...)

2Since most available English-language studies of the so-called Kyōto School, of which Tanabe is considered the founder (the main inspiration for philosophers associated with the Kyōto school, in prewar Japan, was the work of Nishida Kitarō, who was Tanabe’s predecessor as chair of the Department of Philosophy at Kyōto University), emphasize its cultural essentialism and ultra-nationalism, I want to make it clear from the beginning that I consider this tendency a coerced particularizing reading of Japanese intellectual history of the 1930s and 1940s which itself is the outcome of the universalizing assumptions of the Area Studies of Japan in the United States. Instead of nervously insisting on Tanabe’s ethno-nationalism or Buddhism (either con–in the mode of the currently popular “critique of essentialism”, or pro-the standard Orientalist rendering of Asian thought), my reading of Tanabe will treat seriously his desire to configure a conceptual fragment for the universalistic and pluralist logic that grounded the Japanese Empire (northeast China, Korea, Taiwan, Okinawa, Micronesia and Sakhalin) until the outbreak of the Pacific War2. The most explicit articulation of this project is found in Shu no ronri (The Logic of Species), which insisted that any particular ethnic group or species (shu) constituting the Japanese empire (Taiwanese, Chinese, Okinawan, Yamato and Ainu) could participate in that Empire because the Empire represented the Hegelian universal (rui).

3In this project, Tanabe’s theory of ethnic identity is not fixed, but an effect of at least two processes of negation, the first involving any singular (ko) individual’s negative relation to his or her particular ethnic group. That is to say that an individual subject achieves self-consciousness through negative participation in, and through its awareness of its difference from–the particular ethnic group. In so doing, the subject participates in a higher form of universal organization called the rui, thereby establishing a form of human freedom (deciding whether to participate or not in the ethnic shu; to see if the shu fits, as it were) in the individual’s negative relation to his or her ethnicity. In this way, Tanabe conceptualized the singular individual’s participatory belonging to a structure of state imperialism not as a fixed positivity, but as a complicated dynamic movement of negativity and mediation shuttling back and forth between individual (ko), ethnic group (shu) and site of universal identification (rui). As the first two of these positions has a horizontal (between other individuals and other ethnicities) movement of negation as well as the vertical movement up and down Tanabe’s version of the Hegelian/Aristotelian ladder of singular, particular, universal, the processes of subject formation are fairly complex, and the usual intellectual-historical assignation of “Japanese” subject formation in the 1930s as one seeped in the essentialized particularity of nationalist-imperialist culturalism, or in theories of the specificities of Japanese history and culture, must be put to the side immediately.

  • 3 The etymology of secret is from the Latin se cernere and means “to cut one-self off from.” As I wi (...)
  • 4 For a much debated articulation of the purported racial and cultural essentialism of the Kyōto Sch (...)

4Nevertheless, even though Tanabe attempted to construct a universal, pluralist political philosophy grounded on individual freedom against both liberalism (where Tanabe insisted the operations of negativity and mediation were disavowed) and totalitarianism (where negativity and mediation were erased) there were elements of nationalism and masculinism in his philosophy which I hope to make clear below. In critically exposing some of these elements, I will merely be practising what Tanabe himself insisted was the act of true “philosophical thought” (Tanabe 1963, volume 3, 380). As a quick preview of my critique I will suggest briefly that in developing his complex meditations on negativity and constitutive contradiction, he configures the developing process of identificatory negativity as originating in the violent negation of the maternal presence (I will call this symptomaticity in his “necromaternalism”). Secondly, although he does try to keep open the relation between singular, particular, and universal, it becomes clear that Japanese ethnic particularity enjoys a privileged access to universality, especially when the singular Japanese subject is male. Finally, I will critically read these two notions of gender and ethnicity together with Tanabe’s elaborations of destination and teleology in order to inquire: Do all processes of subjective Bildung have the imperial State as their telos? and if so, how can one be “free” if the teleological end is given from the beginning? Furthermore, if all (male) subjects are destined for the Imperial State, if Tanabe paved the path to this destiny with Japanese ethnic subjects in mind, is this not a clan-destination, clandestinely kept secret3 from other non-Japanese ethno-racial identities?4

Tanabe’s Background

  • 5 On finite transcendence see Jean-Luc Nancy, The Experience of Freedom (Stanford: Stanford Universi (...)

5At Tōkyō Imperial University, Tanabe enrolled in the department of science, but he switched to the department of philosophy just before his graduation in 1908. In 1913, he became a lecturer in philosophy in the mathematics department at Tōhoku University in Sendai. In 1918, he was invited by Nishida Kitarō to teach in the well-known philosophy department at Kyōto University, where he gradually became the center of the so-called Kyōto-ha or Kyōto school of philosophy. From 1922 to 1924 he studied abroad in Berlin and in Freiburg under Edmund Husserl, where he met Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger. When he returned to Kyōto in 1924, he published a short book in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Kant’s birthday. Tanabe first articulated his notion of species (shu) in Kant’s Theory of Teleology, although the main thrust of this text is a bold reading of the formalism in Kant’s Critique of Judgement. This reading anticipates in many ways the deployment of Kant that turned out to be so crucial for Heidegger s work in Being and Time (1926) and for Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (1930). In Kant’s Theory of Teleology, Tanabe’s main concern is to force a reading of praxis into the (Third) Critique of Judgement by transcoding both Kant’s First Critique and its concern with epistemology and the Second Critique’s concern with moral practice and desire onto the Third Critique, to arrive at what is epistemologically and practically at stake in Kant’s discussion of the two kinds of judgement: constitutive and reflective. Finally, Tanabe’s major contribution in this reading of Kant is to insist on judgement’s relation to what he calls jikaku awasemetekisei, his designation for a radically anti-foundational subjective teleology or self-conscious purposiveness. This is a strange nomination, because the purposive subject in this text is actually both the subject of and subjected to a purposeless purposiveness. The teleological destination of this ungrounded subject is not a teleology as such, but something much more like a finite transcendence5, where the temporality of transcendence will deposit the subject as a finite being way short of his or her telic destination. Instead of the Kantian moral law that is interjected into a subjective interior, he wanted to ground this jikaku awasemetekisei (purposive consciousness) not inside the self but outside the self in the telos of a void of nothingness with no telos. The subjective consciousness of this telos of no telos – an a-teleology that is both in nature and in human consciousness – will motivate and pull the self in its temporal projection into an infinite void, and thus open the subject onto what Tanabe calls its “freedom” – jiyū no hatten.

6Kant employs the notion of teleology or purposiveness (Zweckmassigkeit) in the First Introduction to the Critique of Judgement, and this is where Tanabe performs most of his archaeology. Kant introduces teleology initially to characterize the meaning that reflective judgement must grant to nature as the foundation for the system of empirical laws. Kant seems to mean that the system of nature itself is its own teleology, a type of auto-telos. Kant defines telos or purpose (Zweck) as a concept of an object that “contains the ground of the actuality of this object” (Kant 1987, 392) and finality or teleology as “the agreement of a thing with that constitution of things which is only possible according to ends” (ibid. 393). Nature is teleological because of its systematicity, but that systematicity only becomes operational as it is projected by a subject who has the luxury of the “adaptation of nature to our cognitive faculties” that are simply “presupposed a priori by judgement” (ibid. 395). Nature is also teleological because it obeys the law of Newtonian causality. As the projection of teleology by the faculty of a judgement that is reflective–over and against the criterion for objects that are constituted by concepts from the faculty of the understanding, which must obey the law of causality–Tanabe claims that this kind of teleology/purposiveness is a higher kind of purposiveness and will be the teleology that concerns him:

Before, nature as simply the plan of nature’was recognized as being overtaken by its telos, now humans come into a teleological place that recognizes a nature that limits the realization of the mission of understanding. In other words, without the Gods of metaphysics, from the point of view of humans as ethical subjects, the purposiveness of the totality of given nature is a thing that is discovered (Tanabe, 1963, volume 3, 18).

7That is to say, it is the purposiveness operational in nature as ‘the plan of nature’ that will be displaced to make room for the discovery of purposiveness by a free subject who is thrown into a world, and who in some sense takes up its “mission” (shimei) of purposeless purposiveness. Tanabe wants to reroute the direction of this ‘teleology that overtakes’ as a teleology that overtakes the subject as it is overtaken by hir (or the transgendered subject).

8Tanabe draws out the distinction in Kant between aesthetic formal purposiveness and the formal purposiveness of nature to clear up the different modalities of teleology in nature and in self-conscious purposiveness:

In the a priori formal purposiveness of nature as logical purposiveness, with the form, meaning is given to that which relates to the act of cognition that achieves the unity of the object, in relation to the logical unity of the constitution of the object of cognition, and is inclusive of conceptual rules. This is a different mode from aesthetic formal purposiveness, which does not systematize the object as a thing (ibid. 14).

9Here, I want to briefly explore the difference between constitutive and reflective judgement in Kant, a distinction crucial for Tanabe’s reading and my reading of him here. Constitutive judgement is the determination made when the given universal rule or law subsumes some particular underneath it. In constitutive judgement the faculty of judgement subsumes particulars under (universal) concepts circuited to it by the faculty of understanding. The process of determinate judgement only has the capacity to apply a priori concepts given to it by the understanding to appropriate particulars by obeying the rigid rules of reason. But every once in a while, a delinquent and obstinate particular is given to be judged and the understanding cannot access a universal to fit it. This can only be a job for reflective judgement, which reflects on a given representation attempting to create a potential concept for the heretofore unsubsumable particular. In this way it acts as an interface between a particular object and a subject of cognition and this is how Tanabe and Kant will want to talk about the judgement related to aesthetic feeling. Nevertheless, reflective judgment also has the ability to excite all the faculties in the search for an appropriate concept for a particular object. Operational in this mode, the faculty of reflective judgement can incite a frenzied harmony between the imagination and the understanding, a harmony that can be pleasurable in itself. Tanabe writes that

In aesthetic formal purposiveness understanding, through mere conceptual power, gets its wake-up call. Although reflective judgement as aesthetic formal purposiveness arrives at the limit of providing meaning for the universal laws of subjective action, its proper operation is to rule conceptual power without concepts (ibid. 19).

10To return to my argument, aesthetic formal purposiveness, (the privileged mode of reflective judgement) operates without rules and does not posit ends in objects but, as Tanabe quotes Kant “always in the subject and in fact in the subject’s mere capacity for reflection” (ibid. 18). Tanabe claims that these different modes of the formal purposiveness of nature (he calls this mode the narrow sense of teleology) and aesthetic formal purposiveness (the broad sense of teleology) have the capacity for reflective judgement: “nevertheless, both these relate to the subject as one” (ibid. 19). Tanabe proposes a reading of Kant that suggests that the only reason for assigning teleology to nature is for the subject’s own telos of systematicity. When the text elaborates on ethics as pure will grounded in the now overheated faculty of reflective judgement, teleology emerges as the ability of any particular to be subsumed by the obsessive creativity of reflection. And because these particulars are always contingent and their subsumption an activity that is local and renewed each time, they will not be taken up into universals. It is this sense of a radical contingency and locality that Tanabe will emphasize later in his discussion of ethics as the praxis of contingently reflective judgement.

11For my own purposes here, I would like to foreground this sense of a particular that cannot be subsumed by a universal, a particular that is radically unknowable by the operational codes of the Kantian program of reason. As contingent particular, or as what Tanabe calls a “limit without a concept”, it acts as a sort of Lacanian ‘objet petit a’ which drives the whole systematicity of judgment. And with the privileging of this faculty of judgement by both Tanabe and Kant, it operates as an irreducible gap in reason itself, a negating capability that will prevent reason from ever knowing itself.

12This sense of limits without concepts, in my reading, does not imply a subjectivist metaphysics of will, but rather something that could be configured as different, and this is what I think Tanabe means by the “finitude of self-consciousness.” As a self-consciousness that stops at the knowable thereby delimiting reason’s precinct (moreover, realizing through negativity what it is not), this grounds action in a finite transcendence thrown into the indeterminacy of the particular and the micro. Moreover, the sense of finitude that both respects the local as it willfully disregards the operations of reason that frame the conditions of the local in its contingent particularity, necessitates operations of chance and indeterminacy that are foreclosed from metaphysical systems Fixated solely on universality.

13Of course, this philosophy of indeterminacy is full of dangers as well as new opportunities. Reflective judgement itself is only what Kant weirdly calls a “presupposition” that can only be applied in certain cases with an extreme sense of uncertainty. And the faculty of reflective judgement itself–the theory of the judgement of taste–turns out to be indeterminate in its applicability to particular operations of aesthetic reflection. The force of this type of judgement is that it provides no a priori concepts of reason but only offers particular goals, goals without any a priori readout for their materialization. As an anti-foundationalist, Tanabe finds this omnipresent indeterminacy philosophically and ethically enabling. He calls this indeterminacy both experience and will (ishi): a will that is not rational but cognitive, and one that accompanies embodied experience as a mode of being-in-the-world. These particular experiences have a temporal priority and then as ruins, offer themselves to reflection for consciousness. Tanabe references Kant claiming that “Kant called intelligible accidentalness–that accidentalness to the extent that it is completely accidental-experience” (26). As the uncaused cause of this chance, Tanabe emphasized that “will exists at the root of reflective judgement. Through an ungrounded self, reflection returns to the self again, and is what discovers the self under the system of a concrete moral will.” Therefore, he theorizes will as always out ahead of the body and in some sense looking back at the body like the Lacanian retrovisé, a second looking that is constitutive in ways the first looking can’t be. “Will, to say it differently, is transferred into the object abandoning the self” (65). Furthermore, he emphasizes will’s purposiveness as its purposiveless purpose: “Through purposiveness as the so-called law of accident, will rationalizes the unity of those laws of experience” (29).

14Tanabe insists throughout the text on the primacy of will as the motor of reflective judgment. In his anti-foundational system, reason can be nothing but faith. He claims that the only methodological thesis for his system can be “the object of will projected into the world of cognition. In knowledge lies belief” (29). However, in spite of his emphasis on pure will and his admonitions to trust in this projected will (he even goes so far as to claim that “Nature’s formal purposiveness is nothing but the object of belief projected into the world of knowledge” p. 30) he begins to fill in the pure form of will with some contents.

15Therefore, these unsubsumables will not be able to resist particularization for much longer. At the end of his text Tanabe starts to provide a conceptual schema to figure these particulars, in the meantime partly stripping them of their contingency. Here as well, he begins to configure the deadly metonymy of the pure will of self-conscious purposiveness (read, destination) as ethno-nation or clan-destination:

The content of morals must possess an individuality that relies on the presence of the subject. Individuality can only come into existence as a particularity within the totality of a background. As the heading for the teleology of the country that forms the creation of individual character, the actions of the subject in each instant are determined such that the totality of nature forms one teleological system (66, my emphasis).

16His insistence on a universal law that is culturally and nationally determinate of the individual intensifies as he writes, “The law is precisely an individualized law. If culture provides a ground for this kind of ethics, this law is individualized, and the universal that is recognized in that is also a synthetic universal and this is strangely never satisfied” (67).

17What could be the content of this Universal, a Universal that is insatiable and always hungry, a Universal that now seems to trump the unsubsumed particular that had seemed to ground a radically promising ethical system in Tanabe’s reading just until the end? The devouring Universal that never seems to have its fill of Particulars comes to be positivized with the contents of the nation. At the end of the book, he comes as close to de-particularizing the specific group as he would in this 1924 text:

If you proceed in such a way that there will be something in the construction of a culture that creates new meaning over and above nature (such as achieving the telos of a country that forms character as its final purpose–the content of ethics, like a precious gem, from the position of self-conscious purposiveness) there is no doubt that its content should not be individualism or subjectivism, such as that presumed from the contents of the Critique of Practical Reason, as Kant’s ethical theory sketches this out (69).

From Kant to Hegel

18If the content of this “something” is neither individualism nor subjectivism, then what is it? To answer the question, we need to move on to another of Tanabe’s major works, a long study of Hegel published in 1931; and to examine Testugaku tsūron (Elements of Philosophy, 1932) which became one of the most popular philosophical texts in the 1930s. In these texts, Tanabe is concerned with the transcoding of the Kantian problematic articulated above onto more properly Hegelian (and at times, Aristotelian) architecture. As I will show below, the aporetic tension in his book on Kant–between particular/individual and universal–will be granted a fundamental role in establishing Tanabe’s system of negativity and mediation in his turn to Hegel. His critique of the drawbacks of constitutive judgement in Kant led him to an emphasis on reflective judgement. As I showed above, reflective judgement involves a process of what Tanabe would come to call negation.

  • 6 I replace the transgendered pronoun “hir” with the pronoun gendered masculine here because the sub (...)

19His theory of “absolute mediation” (zettai baikai) will involve a complex process of negation, whereby the subject will need to realize (become self-conscious of) his6 otherness first to different phenomena in the world, and then to his particular culture. Only through this negativity of othering can there be distinction (as well as mediation) between the Aristotelian/Hegelian logical categories of individual subject (ko), particular ethnic species (shu), and universal genus (rui). By realizing first his difference from phenomena (those not capturable by reason and requiring the process of reflective judgement), then his difference from his own ethnic group can the subject become self-conscious. As Tanabe hinted at in the Kant book, this process is a desiring one, where “grounded in will, reflexive judgement, moves out from the subject as an ungrounded self towards the unknowable, and returns to the self again. This movement is what produces the subject under a system of universality” (p. 27). This statement clearly anticipates Tanabe’s consideration of dialectics and negativity in his work of the early 1930s.

  • 7 See for example The Philosophy of Metanoetics, trans. Takeuchi Yoshinori, Laldo Vigliemo and James (...)

20Although several scholars and translators of Tanabe7 have emphasized his movement from “Kant to Hegel”, Tanabe states clearly in his book on Hegel that, notwithstanding his awareness of “the slogan from Kant forward to Hegel, I want to move as well from ‘Hegel back to Kant’” (Tanabe 1963, volume 3, 134). This suspicion of any going beyond Kant’doubles both as a critique of dialectical development (he warns his readers over and over about the falseness of the Hegelian ‘cunning of reason’, which “strips individual freedom from Hegel’s thought”, 286) and as a warning that the split modern subject developed in Kant (empirico-transcendental) should be held on to and incorporated into modern dialectical theory. This new modern dialectical theory would not be the “idealist dialectic” (kannen benshōhō) of Hegel, nor the subjectivist dialectic of Fichte and Schelling, but his own version of an “absolute dialectic” (zettai benshōhō) based on “absolute negativity” and “absolute mediation.” Tanabe considered the main problem in Hegel to be his overturning of Kant’s ‘Copernican revolution’ and consequent recentering of the subject of transcendental knowledge/Spirit as the Christian God.

21Tanabe considered the split of the ego in empirical and transcendental in Kant quite crucial and, while remaining faithful to his true dialectical reasoning (which, he prophesied, would be realized only when “the unification of Kant and Marx will be required”, 233) thought that Kant’s recognition of the finite character of reason and the absolute separation of the noumena and phenomena should be respected. Although constitutive judgement is grounded by the operations of reason, reflective judgement is necessary when reason (the empirical ego) becomes incapable of properly designating (noumenal) objects in the world. Since Kant considered reason to to be driven by the desire for absolute knowledge, his recognition of the finite character of reason (and likewise, his recognition of the limitations of constitutive judgement) lead him to acknowledge the basic limitations of reason. According to Tanabe, this acknowledgement left open possibilities for other kinds of logics grounded not in reason but in aesthetics, religion and morality.

22Although Tanabe greatly admired this gap in Kant, he wanted to go further and “critique the critique of reason” (136) by creating an “absolute critique.” Dialectics was the system best suited for absolute critique because it was based on contradiction and negativity. The movement of dialectical negativity and sublation would for Tanabe “guarantee the independence of the object opposed to the self, at the same time as mediating the object that is antagonistic to the self” (97). Tanabe wrote that Hegel provided a schema where “the absolute difference between phenomena and noumena” could be preserved and be overcome “contradictorily”. This “contradictory unity” (98) and “oppositional harmony” between subject and object (the awareness of the object negated as ‘other’ to the self, then this particular negation itself negated by the universality of dialectical law, producing at once both subjective individuality in and for-itself, and universality) solved the “problem” of the limits of reason in Kant. But it did this by locating the site and destination of the unification of contradictory opposites “above” their material contact in the universal (rui).

23Tanabe develops his argument about Hegel’s dialectic in a long discussion of the history of dialectical thought beginning with Aristotle’s materialist critique of Plato. Tanabe thought that Aristotle’s materialism could help ground the tendency toward abstract idealism in Hegel. As Aristotelian logic is divided into the genus, species, and individual, Tanabe maps this classical tripartite schema onto Hegel’s formula in the Phenomenology of Spirit. He does this because he perceives that although there is “no Other in Aristotle, there is not enough matter in Hegel” (Tanabe, 1963, volume 3, Hegel’s Philosophy and the Dialectic (Hegeru tetsugaku to benshōshō)). The introduction of the Hegelian constitutive contradiction between Self/Other into classical materialist dialectics will make Tanabe’s theory of “total dialectic” just about complete. But first, he has to factor in Marx’s inversion of Hegel, because “in its complex analysis of the dialectical unity of matter and idea, we have to recognize that Marx’s reading is correct” (229). Although most critics have been quick to dismiss Marx’s influence on Tanabe, I just want to pause here to elaborate on his reading of Marx and Aristotle before I move on to conclude with a discussion of Shu no ronri.

24Even though Tanabe was quick to point out what were for him the obvious drawbacks of historical materialism–the eliding of the role of subjective agency, and the reliance on historical laws of development, the crucial role of Marx in his initial speculation on the absolute dialectic and logistics of species in his book on Hegel and then in his popular introduction to world philosophy Elements of Philosophy (1932) is easy to see. For the problem of how to configure the contradictory relation between transcendental reason and the noumenal Other to reason (a subject/object variant unsatisfactorily resolved in Kant), without falling into the idealist sublation of subject/object and thesis/antithesis he registered in Hegel, was solved in the early Marx. It is there that he learned to apply both the overlooked operation of reflective judgement as a movement of praxis that contradictorily joins the judging subject and the uncertain object in his reading of Kant, and his positive reading of dialectical movement in Hegel, to his immediate concerns with thinking social subjectivity and embodied freedom.

25Let me briefly introduce here Marx’s reading of species being (Gattungswesen). In the first of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts Marx writes that “Man is a species-being (Gattungswesen) not only in the sense that he makes the community (his own as well as those of other things) his object both practically and theoretically, but also (and this is simply another expression for the same thing) in the sense that he treats himself as the present, living species, as a universal and consequently free being” (Marx 1964, 126). Now what is interesting about this passage is the absolute break with Aristotle’s essentialist notion of species as unchanging and invariant. Against Aristotle (and Hegel, but in an altogether different way), Marx asserts that human being is a species not because it belongs passively to a classificatory and biological category, but rather because it actively takes its own (and others) species as an object to be necessarily transformed. What is new about the mutual alienation and mutual imbrication of subject and species is the theory of praxis which is read by Marx both against the quietism of Aristotle and the subjectivism of Feuerbach (a critique that Tanabe seems to draw on heavily in his Philosophy of Hegel (Hegeru no tetsugaku)). In the socio-historical act of human transformation with and against one’s particular social system all three elements (individual–ko, particular species–shu, and genus–rui) are transformed.

  • 8 For an excellent short introduction to Marx’s notion of praxis and freedom see Etienne Balibar, Th (...)

26Although Tanabe is unequivocal in his celebration of the Theses on Feuerbach (Tanabe 1963, Testugaku tsūron, volume 3, 492-493), he refrains from citing Marx’s text at length. Even at this moment, at the beginning of total mobilization in Japan, it was not advisable to acknowledge one’s indebtedness to Marx. Nevertheless, both the Elements of Philosophy and his book on Hegel state emphatically that the early Marx solved the problems vis-à-vis human freedom, species-being, and dialectics that had arisen in Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, and Nishida. First, it is in the Theses on Feuerbach that the conception of praxis is made central8 and it is there that Marx differentiates himself from Aristotle and Feuerbach:

the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of human relations (Marx, 1977, 157).

27Marx asserts that species-being is linked with the entire structure of social existence as a totality, and as something that is made by human individuals in collectivities, this structure is intrinsically subject to historical transformation. As I will indicate briefly below, the Theses on Feuerbach seems to anticipate the most important advances in Tanabe’s Shu no ronri: the notion of the dynamic link of (and mutual negative relation between) individual, species, and universal; the definition of the ontological structure of humans in terms of its essential transformability and historicity; and the insistence that all social life is a material effect of human acts of negativity. Although Tanabe was trying to get at some of these notions through new and innovative readings of the philosophical tradition (which resonate with the so-called “destructions” of the same tradition undertaken by Martin Heidegger at the same time), his major work, Shu no ronri, seems dramatically presaged in the early Marx.

From Marx to Hegel

28The Logic of Species carries on the elaboration of the notion of species that was first introduced in Hegel’s Philosophy and the Dialectic. The Logic achieves a complete recasting of the Aristotelian/Hegelian understanding of the concept of species, establishing the latter as something completely different from a creature’s physiological belonging to a particular biological classification. This sense of a biological classification of an individual into his or her particular group involves no elements of subjective action; action that is necessary for self-consciousness in the modem dialectical rendering of consciousness. Tanabe is clear that self-consciousness (jikaku) has little to do with the biological fact of life, being rather a complex process of negation, othering, and mediation:

Self-consciousness has nothing to do with brute experience; rather it has to do with mediation... Likewise, through being negated, brute life (sei) attains the level of self-consciousness (Tanabe 1963, volume 6, Shu no ronri, 185).

29Tanabe is arguing here against the corporatist notion of society whereby a single individual is subsumed under a particular group, as that group is subsumed under an organic whole. Because organic society lacks negativity and mediation between individual, group, and totality, it is impossible for this kind of system to be dynamic and to be historical. In place of a harmonious continuity Tanabe inserts antagonism, gaps, and undecidability. He writes that:

Social totality cannot be seen as a harmonious accumulation of parts, but rather as a complex system of mediation where the individual (ho) maintains a productive antagonism towards the species (shu), and the species (shu) maintains a productive antagonism towards the whole (rui), whereby each part is also part of some other part; i.e. species does not have its own principal as predication. Instead, it is a hybrid mix (kongōmono) that exists only through antagonistic relation with some other (tasha ni yoru) (ibid. 62).

30This is to say that the crucial function of species is to guarantee that any society will not be sutured into an organic whole, but must be constituted vertically and horizontally through the mediating negativity of species. Instead of a static relation of classificatory binaries, species (shu) operates as a productive enabling tension that provides dialectical dynamism to socio-cultural systems. Vertically, the individual needs to self-consciously perceive its difference to (in other words, negate) their species, which at the same time needs to maintain a homogeneous social cohesion brought about by the negation of each individuality. Here on the side of the subject, Tanabe was insistent that for self-consciousness grounded in individual freedom it was essential that the subject experience a discontinuity with/from species. Although the rules and customs of a particular species are “normatively” experienced by the individual as ideologically given and unquestioned (very similar to the operation of constitutive judgement that Tanabe located in Kant, where the subject blindly and passively applies rules of reason to certain experiences and objects), for the subject to attain self-consciousness there has to be a moment when it experiences a gap “spacing” itself from the species. At this moment, species is experienced as “other” (like in Tanabe’s discussion of reflective judgement in Kant above, where the unknowability of an object different from the self retroactively produces free human will and judgement) and given not as something continuous with the subject, but as something antagonistic to and in conflict with it. Here, Tanabe emphasizes that for there to be a sense of subjective difference from species, the individual’s immediacy with respect to its species must be broken. When it is broken, species becomes cognized antagonistically by a subject as something intent on restricting the subject’s freedom and individuality.

  • 9 Although Heidegger names this process differently, calling it “horizonal schema” in The Basic Prob (...)

31Here, we can register two moments: the first is the factical, immediate, not-yet-self-conscious belonging to a particular species, and the second is the mediated negation of that belonging. What is important is that when the immediate relation of the subject with species is negated and a spacing/gap is produced (which creates both a relation of interdependence and a distinct independence for both subject and species), the subject appeals to a site of universality to receive codes both about the ways in which to negate species and to configure the differences between these three things. In the first essay of Shu no ronri, Tanabe spells this out through a discussion of Heidegger’s text Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (1929), a book that was intended to be the concluding section to Being and Time (1926). In this essay called “Zushiki ‘jikan’kara, zushiki sekai e” (“From Schema of Time, to Schema of World”), he sympathetically critiques Heidegger’s emphasis on the temporal (jikan) nature of the transcendental imagination9 and replaces it with “world” (sekai). Although for the most part Tanabe relies here on his original critical reading of the philosophical tradition’s deployment of genus (rui), species (shu), and singular thing (kotai), he insists at the same time in a Kantian mode that there is never a sutured closure between the species configured as irrational intuition and the rational understanding of an individual (kotai); i.e. there is always a gap between these two things. The gap that structures that relation is only given contingent meaning in the world through an appeal that transcends this individual/particular-species conflict into the universal site of meaning production (rui) that Tanabe suggests is homologous with the transcendental imagination in Kant. Though this universal place is non-subjective, it provides the individual with the contents for a recharged imagination. Tanabe is clear that the contents of this place are given by the universal (rui) and “worldly” (sekai) Imperial State. Later in the text, Tanabe argues that there is a relation of negativity between the individual (kotai) and the pre-individual collectivity (shu). Again, the individual only arises as a result of its negation of the group, and the group is re-generated and re-produced by this negation and its simultaneous negation of the individual (Tanabe, Shu no ronri, pp. 25-28).

32Individual and particular social structures are constituted and deconstituted horizontally as well. In this way, movements of negation and mediation among individuals, species-groups, and universal genuses will necessarily clash with other subjects and groups. Nevertheless, this incessant antagonism, violence, and mediation will in the end be mediated by the universal. (As Shu no ronri was a text explicitly concerned with rationalizing Japan’s colonial-imperialism, “universality” always means that enjoyed by the Japanese Imperial State). Tanabe’s notion of “absolute mediation” (zettai baikai) signifies both this unsuturable process of negativity and antagonism existing vertically between the individual, species-group, and universal; horizontally between different individuals and groups; and the characteristic of the universal (Japanese Imperial State) to mediate absolutely all these movements of negativity and antagonism.

33In other essays in Shu no ronri which discuss Marx, Heidegger and Hegel, Tanabe wanted to redirect the ground of human action away from logic and metaphysics and situate it in the existential freedom of socio-historical praxis. In his book on Kant he focused on the undecidability and contingency of reflective judgement and in The Philosophy of Hegel he concentrated on the dialectical movement of negation and mediation. In Shu no ronri he focuses on Marx and Heidegger before realizing his original theory of subjective sociality in essays three, four, and five. With his reading of Heidegger, he began to think about subjectivity as thrown (Geworfenheit) into the future. In other words the givenness of human existence in its species (shu) must be negated as the subject is projected by time (and thrown in space in Tanabe’s recasting) into an undecidable future, where the individual subject takes it upon himself to bring about something new. And through his reading of Marx advanced in his Tetsugaku tsūron (Elements of Philosophy) he stressed the way socio-historial praxis rides on negativity and antagonism.

  • 10 An earlier version of this essay was a seminar paper for Jacques Derrida for his spring seminar at (...)

34While continuing his reading of the fundamental elements of individual existential freedom in Shu no ronri, Tanabe wanted as well to produce a conceptual frame that could situate many different species capable of co-existing under a shared site of universality. One must acknowledge that, for the purposes of Japanese imperial policy, Tanabe produced a stunning theorization of pluralism without falling into either liberalism or totalitarianism. Needless to say, there are many problems that necessarily arose by assigning Japanese imperial contents to the site of universality. Although in theory, any of the ethnicities in the Empire (Taiwanese, Korean, Yamato, Ainu, Pacific Island, Okinawan, etc.) could appeal equally to the site of imperial universality, the Heideggerian Geworfenheit seemed destined for a particular Japanese ethnicity; a secret or clandestination that took away the dynamic negativity in the case of particular and universal for ethno-Japaneseness. In other words, despite all the energy Tanabe expended in deconstructing and keeping undecidable the teleological destination of human praxis, this ended up clandestined for ethno-Japanese, secreted and cut-off from other ethnicities in the Empire10. In the essays published just after Shu no ronri, the emphasis on contingent and undecidable Geworfenheit became marginalized in favor of a fixed destination of the nation-state; albeit a destination clandestined to and kept secret from other ethnicities. For example, in a 1939 essay called the “Logic of Nation-State Being” (“Kokkateki sonzai no ronri”) he writes:

In the act of self-negativity that offers the self up as a sacrifice for the nation-state, paradoxically, the self is affirmed. At this time, because the nation-state demands that the self be sacrificed for it, it harbors the source for the individual self’s life, and therefore, this sacrifice doesn’t have the sense of being for some vague Other at all. It is just the opposite of this; it is about restoring the self to its true self (to be found only in the state). Owing to this process, self-negation transforms paradoxically into self-affirmation and the totality becomes unified with the self. The autonomy and freedom of an ungrounded ethics is not abolished when all is destined for the nation and subordinated to its decree, but rather is made possible by this destination and decree (Tanabe, 1963, volume 7, 41. Emphasis mine).

From Mothers To Sons

35Finally, I want to underline what is at stake for gender in Shu no ronri. It seams nearly superfluous to mention that existing studies of Tanabe in English have not felt compelled to talk about gender. However, as Shu no ronri was designed as the key political philosophy of Japanese imperialism in the 1930s, and given what we know about the history of sexual violence against Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian, Filippino and other women in the empire, including the 200,000 women used as sex slaves by the Japanese military in Asia, it seems imperative to reread the text in search of clues that might have contributed to that history. In a manner similar to the ostensibly undecidable conflict of negativity between species (shu) in the empire (but which were never undecidable; they were always destined for a victory of sublation by a universalized Japanese ethnos), the horizontal movement of negativity between two individuals and the vertical movement of negativity between individual and species always seemed to be destined for men, and seemed not to consider the possibility that women could be subjects of existential praxis and negativity. By way of conclusion to this essay, I want to briefly argue that in Tanabe’s system women could only be the bearers of male negativity and violent antagonism.

36In the longest and most important essay of Shu no ronri called “The Logic of Social Existence” (“Shakai sonzai no ronri”, 1935) Tanabe defines species as possessing no definable predication in itself, but as that which negates and multiplies all social relationality:

in a system based on the logic of species (shu no ronri), there can be nothing at all like the I/Thou or whole/singular binary relation; rather there is an infinite and total differentiation (mugen no bunka) of phenomena brought about originarily through the violent intrusion of shu as an unrepresentable thirdness which negates and multiplies all relationality.(“Shakai sonzai no ronri”, 75).

  • 11 In a reading that I find to be close to Tanabe’s, Giorgio Agamben interprets Marx’s notion of prax (...)

37So species as this “driving” (shōdō) force ruptures the stasis of any mode of sociality based on a simple binary opposition, and Tanabe’s examples are I/Thou and Nature/Culture. However, in this unrepresentable and originary force of shu, social space is both torn apart (at one point, Tanabe associates this tearing apart with a werewolf-ōkami, “Shakai sonzai”, 65) and born again historically. As I indicated briefly above, this pre-subjective notion of a rupturing and joining intervention into the historical-social is inspired by both Marx’s notion of praxis as well as the Heideggerian notion of the ecstatic temporality of thrown Dasein11.

38Tanabe reads species (shu) as both an originary offering and as a theft which comes before symbolic ordering and classification, or “before the unity of the opposites Nature/Culture.” For our purposes here it is significant that his first clear example of the operations of antagonism and the originary negativity of species existing “before the unity of the opposites Nature/Culture, I/Thou” specifies that,

because the immediate delimitation of species is the mother’s womb (botai), species’ sovereign independence can only arise through the antagonizing theft (ubau) of that ground of its own conception; the violent usurping (sandatsu) of the womb creates difference (ibid. 70; my emphasis).

  • 12 See Tanabe 1963, volume 3, 402-403 for an elaboration of the necessity for the mother to be violen (...)
  • 13 There are many feminist critiques of the originary matricide paradigm of male teological bildung. (...)

39This projection of matricide, which I call a “necromaternalistic symptom”, replicates Tanabe’s earlier statements in Elements of Philosophy,12 where he argues that the process of sociality must begin with the individual’s violent negation of the maternal presence.13 Nevertheless, it is significant that The Logic of Species (which, once again, was considered the central text of political philosophy in the 1930s, the time of Japans military expansion and occupation of large territories in China), associates the origins of social subjectivation with a male-gendered “werewolf”-like entity’s devouring of the maternal womb. Although Tanabe had insisted that the originary force of antagonism precedes all predication and identity, in “The Logic of Social Existence” (“Shakai sonzai no ronri”) this force acquires the gendered predicate of “kare” or “him.” The male-gendered power originary of the historical-social begins its operations of violent appropriation and incorporation with matricide. The unleashing of the workings of species (shu) into the world must begin, in Tanabe’s view, with the chilling, violent negation and annihilation of the maternal presence; the first–but not necessarily the last-woman that the masculine imperial subject, destined and clandestined to climb the vertical social ladder of individual, species, and genus to the heights of Japanese ethno-national universality, comes into contact with.



Agamben, Giorgio. Infancy and History: The Destruction of Experience London: Verso, 1993.

Boutang, Pierre. Ontologie du Secret. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1973.

Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”, New York: Routledge, 1993.

Derrida, Jacques. “Donner la mort,” in L’éthique du don:Jacques Derrida et la pensée du don. Paris: Métailié-Transition, 1992.
— “Comment ne pas parler: dénégations,” in Psyché: inventions de l’autre, Paris: Galilée, 1987.

Haver, William. The Body of This Death, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1987.

Irigaray, Luce. Le Temps de la différence: pour une révolution pacifique, Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1989.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgement, trans. and introduced by Werner S. Pluhar, Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing, 1987.

Kuki, Shūzō. “Iki” no Kōzō, in Kuki Shūzō zenshu, volume 1 ed. Amano Teiyo, 12 vols. Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten, 1981. (1930).
Guzensei no Mondai (The Problem of Contingency), in ksz, v. 2. Tōkyō: Iwanami shoten, 1981 (1935).

Marx, Karl. Early Writings, trans. and ed. Tom Bottomore. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964. Selected Writings, ed. David McClellan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Pincus, Leslie. “In a Labyrinth of Western Desire: Kuki Shuzo and the Discovery of Japanese Being” Boundary 2, volume 18.3, Fall 1991.

Sakai, Naoki. “Shuteki dōitsusei to bunkateki sai” in Hihyō kūkan (Summer/Fall 1995) “Nihonjin de aru koto” in Shisō (December 1997): 5-49.
— “Ethnicity and Species: On the philosophy of the multi-ethnic state in Japanese imperialism”. Radical Philosophy (May/June 1999): 33-45.

Kosofsky Sedgwick, Eve. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1985.

Tanabe, Hajime. Tanabe Hajime zenshū, 15 volumes. Tōkyō: Chikuma Shobō, 1963.

Yūasa, Yasuo. Shintai, Tōkyō: Sōbunsha, 1977.


1 Judith Butler identifies the problem of the possibilities of human agency in constrictive symbolic systems “enabling constraints.” See her Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993).

2 See Sakai, 1995, 1997, 1999 for the work that inspired me to think about Tanabe within the framework of pluralism and universalism.

3 The etymology of secret is from the Latin se cernere and means “to cut one-self off from.” As I will suggest towards the end of this essay, these operations of cutting and secrecy should draw our attention to disavowals of castration anxiety and attendant production of gender difference. On this see Pierre Boutang, Ontologie du Secret. (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1973).

4 For a much debated articulation of the purported racial and cultural essentialism of the Kyōto School philosophy see Kuki Shuzo, “Iki” no Kōzō, in Kuki Shuzo zenshū. volume 1 ed. Amano Teiyo, 12 vols. (Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten, 1981 (originally published in 1930)). For the most comprehensive treatment of Kuki in English see Leslie Pincus, Authenticating Culture in Imperial Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997). Another text which has been described as embodying the racial and cultural essentialism of the Kyōto School is Kōsaka Masaaki’s Minzoku no tetsugaku (The Philosophy of Ethno-Racialism) (Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten, 1942).

5 On finite transcendence see Jean-Luc Nancy, The Experience of Freedom (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993).

6 I replace the transgendered pronoun “hir” with the pronoun gendered masculine here because the subject of negativity will become explicitly gendered beginning with his work on Hegel.

7 See for example The Philosophy of Metanoetics, trans. Takeuchi Yoshinori, Laldo Vigliemo and James Heisig (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

8 For an excellent short introduction to Marx’s notion of praxis and freedom see Etienne Balibar, The Philosophy of Marx (London: Verso, 1995).

9 Although Heidegger names this process differently, calling it “horizonal schema” in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology (1927) and “transcendental schemata” in Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (1929), he insists that the imagination must be understood as containing both of the functions described above. Beginning with Being and Time (1926), imagination will cease to have solely a synthetic function in the service of the understanding. Trying to correct the metaphysical bias of Kant’s emphasis on reason and the understanding, Heidegger will give understanding the independent function as outlining the conditions (or horizon) within the nothing which allows entities to come forward and be present in a “scene” of Being. The “ec-static” (un-fixed) nature of the imagination determines in advance all the different combinations of synthesizing operations of the understanding But because the power and praxis of the imagination precedes the function of sending the information “disclosed” in the scene of transcendence back to the understanding of the subject, Heidegger emphasizes the futurity of the imagination and links it to original temporality.

10 An earlier version of this essay was a seminar paper for Jacques Derrida for his spring seminar at University of California, Irvine in 1993 which was on the thematics of cryptography, secrecy, and death. See Derrida’s “Donner la mort,” in L’ethique du don: Jacques Derrida et la pensée du don (Paris: Métailié-Transition, 1992), and “Comment ne pas parler: Dénégations,” Psyché: Inventions de l’autre (Paris: Galilée, 1987).

11 In a reading that I find to be close to Tanabe’s, Giorgio Agamben interprets Marx’s notion of praxis as the thrown articulation of species where there is at once a fusing and separating of nature/culture, and matter/form. Agamben configures the event of praxis as the possibility of the historical itself, what he calls infans, or not-yet-speaking. See his Infancy and History: The Destruction of Experience (London: Verso, 1993).

12 See Tanabe 1963, volume 3, 402-403 for an elaboration of the necessity for the mother to be violently negated for anything like “society” to be possible.

13 There are many feminist critiques of the originary matricide paradigm of male teological bildung. See for example Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman (1974) and Le Temps de la difference: pour une révolution pacifique (Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1989).


Professeur adjoint à l'Université d'Alberta, Edmonton, et a enseigné à l’Université du Michigan. Il a reçu son doctorat en littérature comparée et études culturelles de la Cornell University en 2000. Il a étudié à Paris ainsi qu’à l’Université de Tōkyō au Japon. Parmi ses publications récentes, on note plusieurs articles sur la culture de l’ero-guro-nansensu (érotisme, grotesque, nonsens) dans les années 1920 et 1930 ainsi que sur la philosophie moderne japonaise. Il travaille présentement à une étude sur la relation entre culture et capitalisme dans l’empire japonais depuis le début du XXe siècle jusqu’à la fin de la Seconde Guerre mondiale.

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