chapter  42
JAPAN
ByTHOMAS LAMARRE
Pages 11

Japan is commonly evoked as an example of technoscientific modernization, of a tumultuous yet ultimately successful adoption and adaptation of paradigms originating in the West. One of the enduring images of Japan, among both Japanese and non-Japanese, is that of a land in which ancient traditions coexist harmoniously with highly advanced, sophisticated, even futuristic technologies. Such an imaginary reinforces a fundamental dualism between tradition and modernity, and between East and West, in which Japan succeeds in mixing, fusing, balancing, or mediating (the actual mechanism usually remains unclear) contradictory worldviews, historical experiences, and cultural paradigms. As such, Japan’s technoscientific modernization has frequently been presented not only as the exception among non-Western nations but as a model for them. There are a number of problems with this imaginary. It presumes, in the

West, unitary experience and linear development of both science and technology. It also presumes a unitary Eastern or Oriental worldview or cultural paradigm. But such unities are metaphysical, as are the binary oppositions of East and West, and tradition and modernity. They appear ready to crumble at the slightest touch of empiricism or historicism. Yet, if such metaphysical unities and oppositions nevertheless prove exceedingly persistent, even though they seem out of touch with contemporary realities, it is due not only to our psychic, ideological, or subjective investments in them, but also to practices, techniques, institutions, and discourses that ground and perpetuate them. As a consequence, it is not possible or desirable to dismiss this imaginary as sheer fantasy. Rather, we need to scale down the scope of rhetoric and analysis, and explore actual practices, institutions, and discourses. This is where the study of science and literature in Japan has something to

contribute to the understanding of the real experience of science, technology, and modernity, not only in the context of Japan but also in the broader contexts of the non-West and global modernity. As a first step, we need to pluralize the basic terms for discussion: not science but sciences, not technology but technologies, not literature but literatures, and not the nation but nations or peoples. This latter move – discussing Japan in terms of nations or peoples – runs counter

to the received and entrenched imaginary of Japan as a mono-ethnic nation, yet we cannot ignore that the modern Japanese nation was from the outset an imperial nation with multi-ethnic aspirations (Sakai 2000), especially since Japan today officially recognizes its multi-ethnicity – in the context of Ainu peoples, although not, unfortunately, vis-à-vis Okinawans, resident Koreans, and other minorities. Pluralizing these terms, however, is but a first step. We must also consider

how unities such as the nation, science, and literature have emerged, and how institutions, practices, and discourses have grounded and sustained them. On the one hand, such an approach demands some manner of historical account of scientific discourses and techniques and of literary institutions and practices. On the other hand, it requires some consideration of how we propose to study the interaction of science and literature. Of these unities, the unity of science remains the most persistent and proble-

matic today, both in historical accounts of the sciences and scientific discourses in Japan, and in the emerging field of literature and science. Historians and literary scholars have gradually become more accustomed to pluralizing literatures and peoples, even if they are not yet entirely comfortable with them. It has never been uncommon to acknowledge literary movements and schools (naturalism, Romanticism, diabolism, modernism) and varieties of fiction (detective fiction, science fiction, J-lit). And it has become more common to acknowledge peoples in Japan, in the context of minorities, or populations (women, children), or both. But we hesitate to pluralize sciences. There are good reasons for this hesitation. The history and philosophy of

science are heirs to an intellectual movement that began, largely in the midnineteenth century, to speak in terms of science rather than sciences. Ian Hacking (1996) gives a persuasive account of the historical emergence of this idea of the underlying unity of the sciences, detailing the theses that have developed in support of it. In addition, in response to this heritage, those who wish to stress the impact of the sciences on the formation of modern societies tend to posit a unified, almost deterministic historical force, whether their intent is to extol science or to rue its excesses. The result is a tendency to think in terms of a monolithic technoscientific modernization, and thus in terms of unified, farreaching, all-encompassing rationalization, with a relentlessly instrumental relation to nature and social exchanges. Thus the idea of the unity of sciences accords with and reinforces a massive modernity thesis. The desire to acknowledge the efficacy of the sciences tends unwittingly to encourage a lumping together of diverse fields of rationality under the rubric of science, frequently in the guise of a modern technoscientific condition. Whether our aim is to laud or castigate them, we hesitate to speak of plural sciences or of fields of rationality because we fear losing sight of their efficacy. What proves difficult is retaining a sense of the very real efficacy of the

sciences without calling on the metaphysical unity of science or the metaphysical

dualisms that often accompany it (West versus East, modernity versus tradition). Yet we get a better sense of the efficacy and impact of the modern sciences when we think in terms of specific fields of rationality rather than a massive overarching rationalization or modernization. The case of Japan is particularly instructive here, because, even though both literary studies and science studies have tended to rely on and shore up the metaphysical unity of Western scientific modernity (and, by extension, the unity of the Japanese nation), it becomes empirically very difficult to sustain such unities when we take a closer look at science and literature together. There have long been studies of the impact of science on literature, and Japanese

scholars have produced such a prodigious number of studies that it is impossible to cite them here. Such studies have tended, however, to gauge the impact of science on literature largely in terms of a general problem of technoscientific modernity, with an emphasis on how individual writers responded to it. Yet, in a number of recent studies, there is as much emphasis on the analysis of science as on literature, which marks the emergence of a new paradigm of literature and science. Across such studies there is an implicit “disunification” and a localization of the sciences. In the hope of opening up the disunification implicit in this new paradigm of study in which science is taken as seriously as literature, I would here like to offer some general remarks about the relation between science, literature, and Japan. I will focus primarily on the large-scale adoption of Western sciences and technologies in Japan of the Meiji period (1868-1912), for this moment continues to establish the basic paradigms for thinking science in Japan.