The Cage of Nature: Modernity's History in Japan
Posted on 25. May, 2009 by James Miller
|Title||The Cage of Nature: Modernity's History in Japan|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2001|
|Journal||History and Theory|
"The Cage of Nature" focuses on the concept of nature as a way to rethink Japanese and European versions of modernity and the historical tropes that distance "East" from "West." This essay begins by comparing Japanese political philosopher Maruyama Masao and his contemporaries, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. Both sets of authors define modernity as the moment when humanity overcomes nature, but Maruyama longs for this triumph while Horkheimer and Adorno deplore its consequences. Maruyama insists that Japan has failed to attain the freedom promised by modernity because it remains in the thrall of nature defined in three ways: as Japan's deformed past, as the mark of Japan's tragic difference from "the West," and as Japan's accursed sensuality, shackling it to uncritical bodily pleasures. In short, Maruyama sees Japan as trapped in the cage of nature. My argument is that Maruyama's frustration arises from the trap set by modern historiography, which simultaneously traces the trajectory of modernity from servile Nature to freedom of Spirit and at the same time bases the identity of the non-Western world on its closeness to nature. In other words, nature represents both the past and the East, an impossible dilemma for an Asian nationalist desirous of liberty. By revising our historical narratives to take into account the ways in which Western modernity continued to engage versions of nature, it becomes possible to reposition Japan and "the East" within modernity's history rather than treating them as the Other.