When reading Kevin Doak’s Dreams of Difference in week 9, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the Japan Romantic School and the French Annales School. In their novel approach to the study of history (informed by economics, sociology, and anthropology), the historians of the Annales School opened Western historiography to a wealth of new disciplines. Though ostensibly a literary group, the Japan Romanic School shared the same multi-disciplinary approach. Their reservations about modern Japan were articulated through a variety of mediums, including historical fiction, poetry, and aesthetics.
In particular, I’d like to draw a parallel between the work of Jinbō Kōtarō and Fernand Braudel, who independently confronted the dominance of narrative time in their respective societies. Jinbō understood that poetry was a “revolutionary epistemology… central to the romantic vision.” As “the voice of youth”, poetry “signified an artistic space in which the romantics could act on their revolutionary impulses.”1. To Jinbō, words possessed spiritual power and had the power to elucidate meaningful change (similar to the concept of kotodama mentioned during our readings on Japanese Nativism and Oomoto).
Kōtarō’s faith in poetry extended beyond mere literature. He felt poetry was the key to a new logic of spatiality. In his short essay titled “The Acquisition of New Time”, Jinbō suggests nothing less than the “supplanting of narrative history, the logic of developmental time, that lies at the center of modernity.” Like the rest of the Japan Romantic School, Jinbō felt that ancient space had to be defended against the dissociative effects of the modern world. A new conception of poetic time would be the newest weapon in their arsenal.
Braudel approached history from a similarly radical perspective. His groundbreaking history of the medieval France was one in which “the individual was subsumed by the environment”. Philip II was swallowed by the Mediterranean world, in an epic history whose heroes were not men but “grain and cereal crops, disease, technology, and transport, money, housing and clothing.”2 Braudel’s Annales schools aimed for nothing less than the “take-over of historical production: a rejection of narrative (histoire événeémentielle)”.3
With his rejection of the history of ‘great men’ and their crowning achievements, Braudel cut a bold course through the study of Western history. The introduction of ‘geologic time’ in its immense impersonality was a way to champion the everyman, and draw new fields of study into the historical discourse. Jinbō shared the same ambition with his suggestion of ‘poetic time’, which he felt could save the soul of Japan through the revival of ancient space. Both men would leave measurable impacts not just on their respective movements, but on the way we measure and memorialize the past itself.
Doak, Kevin Michael. Dreams of Difference: The Japan Romantic School and the Crisis of Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
Hufton, Olwen. “Fernand Braudel.” Past & Present no. 112 (August 1986): 208-213.
- Kevin Michael Doak, Dreams of Difference: The Japan Romantic School and the Crisis of Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994),28.
- Olwen Hufton, “Fernand Braudel,” Past & Present no. 112 (August 1986): 209-211.
- Ibid, 208.