The Revival of Distance

Table of Contents

Welcome to Genron 7. Genron was established with the intent of publishing nine issues over the course of three years. With the publication of this issue we enter into our nal year.
Genron was launched with the goal of reviving the value of criticism. Here “criticism” does not simply mean critique. What I call criticism, rather, is the condition of becoming embroiled in the conflicts unfolding before one’s eyes, the refusal to simplify reality. While leaving complexities complex, criticism is treating particular points of humanistic knowledge sweepingly and theoretically, at times irresponsibly and with a cruel distance. Such positionality is missing from Japan today.
The loss of criticism is not a problem exclusive to Japan. We are currently in
an age of populism, the essence of which is closeness. In times when populism rises to its most influential levels, the very act of distancing oneself from a subject is regarded as evil. Politicians, academics, and journalists, too, are only able to uncover proof of justice by cozying up to the persons involved, that is, the players involved in a drama, and rallying and reacting to the most immediate of issues. Genron is a journal that intends to fight against such a zeitgeist, striving to once again reclaim the value of distance.
Having said that, I imagine it is difficult to understand the positionality of such a journal. We distance ourselves from the here and now in order to fight against populism. It is for this reason that our political attitudes are not made explicit. As a journal we do not clarify which political party we support nor do we participate in any demonstrations. Rather, we aim to question and overcome the assumption that a reaction-without-distance is the only way one can claim to have confronted politics and reality. Now, so as not to be misunderstood, let me say this: I do not mean that one should refrain from naming the political party they support or from participating in protests. All I mean to say is that these actions do not encompass everything about politics and reality. In Japan today, however, it seems to only be an elaborately crafted escapism or cynicism. Such misunderstandings are difficult to upend because they arise out of widely shared understandings of politics and reality.
Therefore, I am beyond thrilled that, despite its aws, our journal has been warmly received for the past two years and has been able to continue publication. It was also a wholly unexpected fortune that our inaugural issue, Genron 0: A Philosophy of the Tourist (Genron 0: Kankokyaku no tetsugaku), became a best-seller and recipient of the prestigious Mainichi Publication Culture Award.
These successes do not free me from Genron; instead, I feel they have given me renewed duty to support a space where one can continue to resist the populism encompassing us for as long as possible. It is for this reason that I have changed my plans, deciding not to end the journal with the ninth volume. The first series will conclude with issue nine, but the second series will continue as Genron. We have yet to make any decisions regarding the second series. The layout and frequency of publication may change. The day may come where I step down as editor. Still, for as long as our company exists, that is, for as long as I am a critic, Genron will continue to be an entity that will–must– continue publication.

The major theme of Genron 7 is “Russian Contemporary Thought II,” with a secondary focus on rebooting philosophy.
As suggested by the title, the topic of contemporary Russian thought is a continuation from our previous issue. For this special, too, we have asked Kyohei Norimatsu, associate professor of Russian literature at the University of Tokyo, to oversee its completion.
Though it is possible to read part I and part II independently of each other, we follow Norimatsu’s lead in conceiving part I as focusing on thought and criticism while part II focuses on society and culture. It is true that part I might have been too highbrow, focusing intensely on Russian contemporary thought. (As a student of philosophy I personally found it exhilarating…) Though we did receive positive feedback from a particular readership, we also received word that some readers felt lost. This time our focus is more concrete in nature, including a round-table discussion that sketches in great detail the changes in post-Cold War Russian society, various timelines, and an essay analyzing the context behind anti- Putin protests. For readers, then, it might be better to begin with this volume.
As I wrote in the previous issue, Russian contemporary thought may function as a mirror to help Japanese readers understand their own positions.
Russia and Japan are both late-modernized states, both attempted to overcome Europe, and both have at some point taken the United States as their enemy. At present, both are also regarded as weak democracies and as backwards societies that have embraced stances violating human rights. However, both societies are also thought to have been exposed to excessive postmodernization. And yet, the distance experienced by Russia and Japan toward Europe and the United States is expressed in completely different forms in politics and culture. I imagine that introducing the “thought” emerging from a country like Russia or Japan might yield a particular self-re ective effect not found by introducing the “thought” coming out of advanced modernized nations such as the UK or France.
For this reason, I am not hoping to simply “import” Russian thought. Far from it. My aim is to use Russian thought as a mirror, slipping in distance between a Japanese readership and the current situation in Japan. With this perspective in mind I would ask you to pay particular attention to the essay by Alexander Etkind, its introduction by translator Junna Hiramatsu, and the relationship between memory and politics treated in the joint discussion featuring Hiramatsu.
Japan has problems with its past. The question of how to remember history or how to mourn the dead is beset with an onerous condition that always draws heated reactions both domestically and abroad. The majority of Japanese tend to think this is an issue exclusive to Japan, but Russia faces similar problems. The question of how to think of the Great Patriotic War (1941–1945) or the confusion and pain experienced by Russians when thinking about how to remember Stalinism are reminiscent of the debate between Norihiro Kato and Tetsuya Takahashi examined in the opening remarks to Genron 2 and Genron 3.
The reality is that Japan is not alone in its anxiety over whether to affirm or deny its past. I believe it would be good if the presentation of this fact could, even just a little, change the prejudices readers have about this so-called problem of history. This is related to actual politics. In Japan, it appears as if there will be a refrain from proposals or a national referendum on making changes to the constitution while the deep divide between the revisionist faction and the supporters of the current constitution deepens. Here, the questions of whether one is a constitutional revisionist or conservative, on the right or left, or whether you affirm or deny the past, are trumpeted as an apparent dichotomy that causes great concern for the citizens of the nation. As I mentioned earlier, this journal was established to combat such a zeitgeist. For this reason, the past is not something we affirm or deny. Instead, we attempt to insert “distance” between those two choices. While this is certainly an abstract problem, the special feature of this particular volume exhibits concrete means. Such an attempt may be completely null when viewed in terms of political effectiveness, but, even that being the case, I believe criticism works in such a way.

Such a strategy is also related to the other feature of this volume, namely, a reboot of philosophy. For this I have invited philosophers Koichiro Kokubun and Masaya Chiba, two prominent figures of the 2017 boom in humanist writings; organized a round-table discussion on the theme of cyberpunk; and prepared the first Japanese translation of Yuk Hui, a young philosopher born in Hong Kong who currently resides in Berlin.
All three of these texts function in their own ways as a template for this issue’s call for a reboot of philosophy and criticism. First, we hope to pursue so- called contemporary thought in the most orthodox sense of the term. Put another way, we are looking for an analysis of the times tied to traditional academic knowledge. The talk between Kokubun and Chiba is a perfect example of such an endeavor. Second, we would like to pave the way for a critical space that is
on the cutting edge of things, tied to a more hybrid and ambitious information/ visual culture. The round-table discussion focusing on cyberpunk fulfills that role.
Thirdly, I present Hui’s essay as, above all else, an example of a third possibility of our journal going forward, namely one existing beyond the borders of the nation: collaboration between contemporary philosophers from Asia.
Hui is a true multilingual. In addition to his native Cantonese and Chinese, he moves freely between English, French, and German, and is also active in Russian. Translations of his work into Korean is also progressing. For some reason, however, he has yet to be introduced to Japan. I first learned of him in the autumn of 2016 at a symposium in Hangzhou, China. After returning home I received a copy of The Question Concerning Technology in China: An Essay in Cosmotechnics. I decided to have it translated immediately after reading it.
Though only the introduction will be published here, Hui attempts to build a new platform in which traditional Chinese thought and contemporary Western thought, in particular Heidegger, shed light on and inform each other. At the core of the piece is Hui’s philosophical interpretation of technics and technology. Hui does not limit himself to European thinkers such as Gilbert Simondon and Bernard Stiegler. Instead, he mobilizes philosophers from the Kyoto School or Chinese New Confucianists, as well as Aleksandr Dugin, whom we introduced in the previous Genron. I was, more than anything, struck by the ambitious scale of the project. Hui is more than 12 years my junior. Outside of Japan he is trying to restructure Eastern philosophy while referencing Japanese philosophers. I felt as if I must introduce this reality to readers in Japan. In Japan, the interpretation of the Kyoto school has become impaired due to its historical background. For this reason, there are few comparisons between it and New Confucianism. Such an impairment, however, is certainly natural as the Kyoto school did not explicitly oppose the Greater East Asian War. Here, too, we run into the problem of memory and politics.
Abroad, however, we see the emergence of an environment in which the Japanese language has been shed and philosophers such as Kitaro Nishida and Keiji Nishitani are being read and connected to a global context irrespective of the necessity or confusion of postwar Japan. Such a reading is, in a sense, irresponsible and cruel. It would be difficult for a Japanese readership to reach a similar state. And yet, it must be reached. There is no question that this is also just one philosophical possibility of the Kyoto school.
Here we also encounter the problem of distance. Sometimes it is necessary for us to distance ourselves from ourselves in order to know our potential. As I mentioned earlier, thanks to the success of texts such as Kokubun’s The World of the Middle Voice (Chudotai no sekai), Chiba’s The Philosophy of Learning (Benkyo no tetsugku), and my own Genron 0, the first half of 2017 saw the arrival of a completely unexpected boom in humanist writing. There were whispers of the revival of philosophy and criticism. The title of the secondary feature agrees with such a situation. However, if that revival does nothing within us to create distance–that is, if there is no acceptance of an irresponsible and cruel viewpoint from the outside when engaging in philosophy or criticism in Japan–then the boom was, after all, nothing more than a boom, a passing moment. The translation of Hui contains such a self-admonition.

In these introductory remarks to the various issues of Genron I have continued to write about the nature of criticism. In Genron 4 I wrote that criticism was a malady of the postwar, in Genron 5
I wrote that it was the viewing of ghosts, and in Genron 6 I wrote that it was being in the position of a recipient. And in this issue I argue that criticism is the revival of distance.
A postwar malady. The vision of a ghost. A passive position. And the revival of distance. Though such descriptions may seem disparate, in my mind they are all closely connected. Criticism is an act in which reality and language cannot perfectly align, where it is de ned by an acuity to such an impediment or impossibility. Given such a de definition, then, it is impossible to de define criticism in perfect terms. Regarding the question of exactly what criticism is, one must speak of it using different metaphors each time while also viewing it from different aspects.
This journal will, as much as possible, continue to be acutely aware of such an impediment and impossibility. Moving forward, Genron will likely continue to avoid words that neatly overlap with the politics of here and now. Though many readers might nd this irritating, this is the mission of our journal. We ask for your continued and long-reaching support.