Sakai YouAsians 2000

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You Asians: On the Historical Role of the West and Asia BinarySakai, Naoki, 1946-The South Atlantic Quarterly, Volume 99, Number 4, Fall 2000,pp. 789-817 (Article)Published by Duke University PressFor additional information about this article Access Provided by University Of Pennsylvania at 01/14/12 10:47PM GMThttp://muse.jhu.edu/journals/saq/summary/v099/99.4sakai.htmlNaoki SakaiYou Asians: On the Historical Role of theWest and Asia BinaryPartly because of the consequences of acceler-ating globalization and the emergence of what,for the last decade or two, a number of peoplehave referred to as the postmodern conditionsdiscernible almost everywhere on the globe, weare urged to acknowledge that the unity of theWest is far from being unitarily determinable.The West is a mythical construct, indeed, yetwhat we believe we understand by this mythemeis increasingly ambiguous and incongruous; itsimmoderately overdetermined nature can nolonger be shrouded.Until recently the indigenous or local char-acteristic of a social and cultural constructfound in places in Asia, Africa, and sometimesLatin America has routinely been earmarked incontrast to some generalized and euphemisticquality specied as being Western. Withoutthis institutionalized gesture whereby to iden-tify what is allegedly unfamiliar, enigmatic, orbarbaric for those who fashion themselves tobe Westerners in terms of the Western/non-Western binary opposition, it would be im-possible to understand the initial formation ofAsian studies as a set of academic disciplines inThe South Atlantic Quarterly oo:, Fall zooo.English version copyright zoo by Duke University Press.790 Naoki SakaiNorth American academia. Things Asiatic were brought to scholarly atten-tion by being recognized as dierent and therefore Asian. Then, tacitlyfromthe putative viewpoint called the West, being dierent fromus andbeing Asian were taken to be synonymous in its anthropologizing ges-ture. A regiment was in eect according to which an acknowledgment ofallegedly unfamiliar, enigmatic, or barbaric things was immediately a rec-ognition of ones positionality as a Westerner. Asimilar operation could wellbe performed with Africa or Latin America, so as to identify Africa or LatinAmerica as belonging to the Rest of the World, the rest that is left over whenthe humanity of the West is strenuously extracted from the world.Let me begin my essay with a brief meditation on the term Asia and thepeople who call themselves Asians. Instead of speaking fromthe usual view-point of we Westernersa customary addresser stance when one writesin English in the United Stateslet me address myself fromthe contrastingposition of we Asians. For those who fashion themselves as Asians, theword Asians is implicitly we Asians and serves as a vocative of a rst-personplural pronoun that self-reectively designates a group of people whose pri-mary commonality is supposed to consist of being of Asia.But, who are the people who call themselves Asians? Or, more fundamen-tally, where is Asia? What is it?I am not sure to what extent one can seriously claim today that Asia is,rst of all, a cartographic index. Nonetheless it is widely believed that Asiais a certain proper name that indicates a vast geographic area with its hugeresident population. Accordingly, some people might without reection as-sume that those who live in the geographic area called Asia are naturallydesignated as the Asians.The population inhabiting the area called Asia is called the Asians. Fromthis, however, it does not necessarily follow that the people thus calledAsians are able to gather themselves together and build some solidarityamong themselves through the act of their self-representation or auto-representation by enunciating not only we but also we Asians. Clearly thereis a wide gap between the fact that the population is described as Asiansby some observers standing outside the populationwe will inquire intothe conceptual specicity of this outside or externality laterand the self-assertion by the people themselves in terms of the name attributed to them.Some sort of leap is required in order to move from the state of being de-scribed as Asians by some outside agents to the self-representation as a sub-On the Historical Role of the West and Asia Binary 791ject in terms of we Asians. And let us not be negligent of a historical veritythat this leap could not be made until the twentieth century. Until then, gen-erally speaking, there were objects designated as Asians but there were nosubjects who represented themselves by calling themselves Asians. Only inthe late nineteenth century a few intellectuals began to advocate the plausi-bility of constituting the transnational and regional subjectivity of Asia. Inthis respect one can never overlook the particular genealogy of Asia, thatthe name Asia originated outside Asia, and that its heteronomous origin isindubitably inscribed in the concept of Asia, even if it can by no means betaken as a geographic or cartographic locality.It is well known that the word Asia was coined by the Europeans in orderto distinguish Europe fromits eastern others, in the protocol of constitutingitself as a sort of territorial unity. It was a term in the service of the con-stitution of Europes self-representation as well as its distinction. Asia wasnecessary for Europe because, without positing it, Europe could not havebeenmarked as a distinct and distinguishable unity. Yet as the putative unityof Europe is inherently unstable and constantly changing, Asia has been de-ned and redened according to contingent historical situations in whichrelationships between Europe and its others have undergone vicissitudes.Since the nineteenth century there have been an increasing number ofoccasions when the West was used almost as a synonym for Europe. Themytheme West came to assume a global currency. Clearly the West neithersignies nor refers to the same thing as the word Europe. Yet in its para-digmatic discriminatory function, the West began to behave like Europe. Inother words, Asia was placed in a similar opposition to the West as it hadbeen to Europe.Today Asia is not necessarily subjugated to the domination of the West.Most of the Asian countries are, at least in theory, independent of theirformer colonizers. Yet we are still not justied in overlooking the endur-ing historical truth that Asia arrived at its self-consciousness thanks to theWests or Europes colonization, as Takeuchi Yoshimi, a sinologist special-izing in modern Chinese literature, asserted more than a half-century ago.1The historical colonization of Asia by the West is not something acciden-tal to the essence of Asia; it is essential to the possibility called Asia. In-sofar as the post of postcoloniality is not confused with that which comesafter in chronological ordering, Asia was a postcolonial entity from the out-set. Takeuchis insight was particularly penetrating because he had to ad-792 Naoki Sakaidress the problem of modernity and modern subjectivity from the vantagepoint of a specic historical question: How could a Japanese intellectual, asan Asian person, still speak about modernity in Asia after Japans defeat orafter what the Japanese had done to people in Asia during the fteen-yearAsia Pacic War?Negativity, without whichthe reectivity necessary for self-consciousnesscannot be achieved, never originated in Asia, and the absence of negativitywas certainly implied in Takeuchis word defeat (haiboku). Following thetenets of the Hegelian dialectic, Maruyama Masao, Takeuchis contempo-rary, attempted to showthat the moment of negativity could be discerned inJapanese thought in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, whereas theChinese never succeeded in giving rise to their own negativity.2Implicit inMaruyamas wartime historiography, whichjustiedJapans political superi-ority over China, was the old thesis of ight from Asia, entry into Europe,which meant that Japan should be capable of modernizing itself while therest of Asia must wait for the Wests initiative and that, accordingly, Japanought not to belong to Asia in that respect.Unambiguously, with respect to the invocation of we Asians in particular,Takeuchis historicism was diametrically opposed to Maruyamas, yet it isnecessary for us to acknowledge that both shared the foundational logic ofhistoricism.Asia could never be conscious of itself before it was invaded by the West,according to Takeuchi. Only through the acknowledgment of its lost au-tonomy, of its dependence on the West, or only in the mirror of the West,so to say, could Asia reectively acquire its civilizational, cultural, ethnic, ornational self-consciousness. The defeat is registered in the genealogy of thename itself.Ostensibly, Asia is a proper name; nevertheless, as a sign it would be tooarbitrary unless it is paradigmatically opposed to the West (or Europe). Itsseeming reality depends onthe very constitutive exclusivity, so that Westernand Asian properties/proprieties are not attributable to the same substance.The same person or thing cannot be Western and Asian at the same time.Depending on the choice of paradigmatic axis, Asia could signify a vast setof concepts, and its reference is too rich, too varied, and too full to be spe-cic. Therefore it does not possess any immanent principle with which toidentify its internal unity, either. Except for the fact that it points to a cer-tain assemblage of regions and peoples that have been objectied by andOn the Historical Role of the West and Asia Binary 793subjugated to the West, there is nothing common in many parts of Asia. Inother words, it is impossible to talk about Asia positively. Only as the nega-tive of the West can one pos