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

The placing of intellectual history within contemporary cultural debates is the intent of this volume. Leslie Pincus, Associate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, also examines contradictions at the core of Japanese modernity. To achieve his aim, Professor Pincus targets the work of Japanese philosopher Suzo Kuki (1888-1941), with his most famous (1930) opus 'Iki' no kozo (The Structure of Edo Aesthetic Style) in particular. Many have identified this as the best 'discourse on Japanese uniqueness'. Edo, by the by, was the old name for Tokyo and its overall nineteenth century cultural development - with herein, Kuki's penchant for the 'Edo pleasure quarters' playing a role in his assessment of Nihonjinron (Japaneseness).

Suzo Kuki was a cosmopolitan figure in Japanese philosophical history with a liking for European travel. He was influenced by the writings of Europeans like Michel Foucault and the 'Frankfurt School' theorists, and dabbled in a wide range of philosophical interests. These ranged from British utilitarianism to suicide as the 'quintessential expression of Japanese idealism'.

During the 1920s and 1930s in Japan intellectual thought turned round sharply on itself to a re-discovery of Japan's cultural past, unsullied as many thought by the modernisation that was a consequence of the 'opening up of Japan' to western influences in the 1850s. A further consequence was the building up of a repressive state control of Japanese culture and intellectual thought with the support of the intelligentsia - as Tosaku Jun pointed out in Nihon ideorogiron. This control of the national culture smoothed the way to the Japanese sentiment of Hakko Ichiu ('The Whole World Under One Rule', that is, Japanese colonialism) at the heart of 1930s militarism and the machinations of the Tokko ('Thought Police').

The author traces the patterns of the Japanese philosophy of culture from its intellectual regeneration in the late nineteenth century to the 1930s. From the developing story can be drawn bases for understanding the contemporary dichotomy of Oriental and Occidental thought, particularly on 'modernity'. The volume is a useful addition to the series 'Twentieth-Century Japan: The Emergence of a World Power'.

RAYMOND LAMONT-BROWN
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Author:Lamont-Brown, Raymond
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1997
Words:349
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