On two hot, steamy days in July 1942, inspired by Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, a small group of Japanese intellectuals gathered for a symposium titled "Overcoming Modernity
." They discussed the Renaissance, democracy, individualism, and Americanization, among other things. One topic, however, troubled them most: science.
In the words of the main organizer, the symposium, organized as a "Conference of Intellectual Collaboration," was held to deal with a problem that had been "tormenting Japanese intellectuals" — the problem of how to reconcile "Japanese blood and Western intellect." Most of the thirteen participants were literary writers and scholars associated with the Japan Romantic School and the Kyoto school
of philosophy, both popular during wartime for elaborating upon spiritualism, aestheticism, and a criticism of reason and objectivity. The symposium did not reach any conclusions about how to overcome modernity, let alone what overcoming modernity meant; but they had things to say about classical Japanese poetry, traditional Japanese music, spiritualism, and gods.
When it came to science, however, evasion and silence prevailed. The symposium's discomfort with the topic of science was clear from the beginning. The first day of the symposium began with a discussion of the Renaissance as the essence of Western modernity. Eventually, a Kyoto Imperial University historian, Suzuki Shigetaka, intervened in this conversation, stating that "when we discuss overcoming modernity, it necessarily includes the problem of how to solve the question of science. We have been saying that overcoming modernity means overcoming the Renaissance, and it is rightly so… [B]ut apart from that, there is a question of science. I think that makes overcoming modernity more difficult and complicated." Suzuki's problematization
of the relationship between science and modernity was not pursued further, as the other participants moved on to discuss the relationships among science, magic, and religion in premodern Europe. Although the topic of science continued to come up during the symposium, each time the discussion digressed toward spiritualism and mysticism. When pressed to say something as the only scientist participating, physicist Kikuchi Masashi, who had been silent until then, apologetically stated: "I do feel science needs to be overcome, but I have no idea how."
The uneasiness surrounding the topic of science in fact characterizes the modernity of Imperial Japan (1865-1945), whose history was in part shaped by two potentially opposing aspirations: to be recognized by the West as a modern, civilized nation, as the Western powers were, and to celebrate the nation's particularity to build a national identity
. The symposium could not deal with the topic of science, but not because most participants were not scientists. Rather, it was extremely difficult to conceive of a modern yet non-Western science. Not only was modern science introduced to Japan as Western science but more to the point, despite its Western origin, modern science gained legitimacy and authority on account of its supposed universality. Universally verifiable and applicable, modern scientific knowledge made local cultural logics irrelevant [cultural logic
, from Management Across Cultures: Challenges and Strategies
]. For non-Western nations whose modern national identities were constructed around local cultural logics and mythologies, incorporating modern science into those logics and mythologies posed a problem, even a threat. For Imperial Japan, imperial mythology constituted the absolute core of its national identity and was thus something that could not be made irrelevant by modern science.
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…how did science promoters and the wartime state "overcome" science, the question that troubled the Overcoming Modernity symposium participants?
These are the central questions this book addresses. The answers this book provides reveal highly complicated and contested discourses of what science was, what Japan was, and what Japanese modernity was. This book is as much a history of the discourse of science as it is a history of nationalism and modernity in interwar and wartime Japan… How nationalism mobilized science and how, in turn, the promotion of science mobilized nationalism, however, are new questions. As nationalism and science are two major aspects of modernity, it makes sense to ask how the two worked together in modern Japan.
The discourse of science this book explores is complex and contested because what counted as scientific differed, depending on who spoke of it and for what political purpose. Labeling something "scientific" is not a mere definitional practice but also political and ideological. I am problematizing the word scientific
here, because a goal of this book is to find what was regarded or claimed to be scientific by Japanese intellectuals and policymakers at the time rather than to judge whether or what part of Imperial Japan was really
rational or scientific. This book sees science as a dynamic site where its definition and political power are continually contested. The aim of this book is to dissect the politics of the scientific (kagakuteki
) — that is, what "science" meant — in interwar (1920-36) and wartime (1937-45) Japan. As Pierre Bourdieu argues, science is "a social field of forces, struggles, and relationships that is defined at every moment by the relations of power among the protagonists."
Dumbledore looked very intensely at Harry for a moment, and then said, "I have a theory, no more than that… It is my belief that your scar hurts both when Lord Voldemort is near you, and when he is feeling a particularly strong surge of hatred."
Because you and he are connected by the curse that failed," said Dumbledore. "That is no ordinary scar."