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Special Public Opening Symposium "After Metahistory: Lecture on Postmodernism by Professor Hayden WHITE", Ritsumeikan University
I would like to discuss movements of history and writing in 1950s Japan.
I believe that these movements should be reviewed today because they offer an alternative perspective compared to traditional history and scientific history. These movements have similar characteristics to the postmodernist historical approach which Professor White is going to lecture about later. However, in these movements, there are some possibilities for postmodern history that were not discussed about in Professor Whitefs lecture. Professor White has been focusing on the fictional character of histories, analyzing the poetics and emplotment in historiography, which frame the preceding stage of writing history.
Today I would like to show the different aspect shed a new light on that preceding stage. I draw our attention to gcommunication spaceh, a major part of that preceding stage: It is an area where people can participate in prefiguration of history by writing, reading and sharing their own experiences. In particular, I would like to consider the problem of who writes history, and why they write history, and how they write history by studying two movements which shared a common theme: gWhat kind of history can lay people write?h
The first movement I would like to discuss is the gMovement for Peoplefs History.h In this movement, professional historians tried to participate in common peoplefs lives to write their histories. This was a top-down movement in a sense.
The second movement is the gMovement of Life-Writing Circles.h In this movement, common people actively organized essay clubs and began writing their histories. Later they tried to overcome difficulties of writing histories. This was a bottom-up movement. Although these two movements were led by different organizations, they emerged from a common background: the chaotic time of the 1950s, right after WWU, when Japanese people needed a new history to re-construct their identities.
I will examine the historical significance of these two movements of 1950fs Japan.
1. Common ground with Professor White's discussion
I would like to clarify my question, referring to the draft of Professor Whitefs lecture. Professor White points that the Holocaust survivors became increasingly concerned with the problems caused by writing historyiParagraph No.36`Paragraph No.39j. What mattered to them was the meaning of the survivorsf experiences in the Holocaust and the responsibility of the societies that let the event happen. Professor White said gthe growth of a large body of gwitnessh testimony, about the Holocaust but also about other genocides, about the experience of decolonization, about migration, and about the horrors of modern warfare, showed that gartistich writing (such as Primo Levifs Se questo e un uomo) or cinema (such as Landsmannfs Shoah) were infinitely better suited to conveying the gshockh of new, contemporary experiences than were the dry, measured, and antiseptic tones of the conventional historical narratorh(Paragraph No.39). Moreover, Professor White stated that postmodernist historical thought is present-oriented and that the central need of our epoch is "coming to terms with" a past "that won't go away," especially the past of the Nazi genocideiParagraph No.57`Paragraph No.69j. Then he goes on to say gthat this past must be "perlabore," its burden lifted from the present, so that living men can go into the future without the old delusionsh (Paragraph No.64). Postmodernism focuses on historyfs potential therapeutic function and questions professional historians' presumption that they alone have the authority to decide what history is, how it must be studied, and what uses can legitimately be made of historical knowledge.
In my presentation I would like to suggest that the two Japanese postwar movements mentioned earlier share in the postmodern present-oriented historical thought found in such works as Primo Levifs writing and Claude Lanzmannfs cinema. However, what I want to address is not static arts, such as writing and cinema, but the dynamic communication spaces these movements made. I consider that postmodern present-oriented historical thought was keenly practical gperlabore,h not only in postmodern artworks such as those of Levi and Lanzmann but also in the dynamic communication spaces of the two Japanese postwar movements, where the therapeutic function was exerted to the full extent and professional historiansf presumptions were challenged. So, let us look at these two movements in greater detail.
2.History in Japan before and after the Second World War
I would like to explain the situation of the historical discussions before and after the Second World War in Japan. These form the background of the Movement of Peoplefs History. There were three major streams of Japanese historical thought at that time: Positivist history within the universities, Marxist history outside of universities, and Imperial Nationalistic history related to the government(1). Around 1930, these three schools of history made active arguments in magazines. Both Marxist history and Imperial Nationalistic history were interested in Benedetto Croce and both criticized the Positivism under the influence of by Leopold von Ranke(2)(3). They both avoided an essentialist view of history and believed that history is composed of the recognition of present people. Nonetheless, these two schools could not accept each otherfs historical perspective. The three schools of Marxism, Imperial Nationalism and Positivism had competed equally until the middle of 1930s. Then the Marxists were restricted in their activities and disappeared from the front stage. Instead, the Imperial Nationalist history began to get the upper hand by working with the government of the time.
Seizing its chance, Imperial Nationalistic history pushed to gOvercome Modernity.h Japanese intellectuals widely debated this issue during the war. Great attention was given to Japanese spiritualism and myths to counterattack Western scientism and materialism and to reconstruct history. Imperial Nationalistic history maintained its dominant position until Japan was defeated in 1945. In the postwar period, nationalist history was sharply purged from academia. It was replaced by Marxist history, which had continued its activities in hiding. This was the background to the circumstances of the 1950s.
3. The Movement for Peoplefs History
In 1950s Japan, people suffered an identity crisis after the countryfs defeat in the Second World War. They asked themselves: What is the nature of the drastic changes that have occurred? What position should we take? Whatfs the prospect for the future? Such anxieties turned common people to history for their answers.
Marxist historians began the Movement for Peoplefs History to respond to these kinds of questions from common people at that time. They aimed to write history together with factory workers, farm workers and others beyond the walls of academia. Marxist historians in the 1950s criticized nonpolitical positivism, promoted the writing of gcorrecth political history, and the historians themselves went directly to the people to write history (4). A large number of historians and students in this movement went to farming villages: some of them wrote down village oral histories that had not appeared before in written histories; others dug up historic sites with local people; others brought in picture-story shows made by themselves in order to show the villagers the history they had created as a result of their activities(5). Young historians, in particular, actively went into villages and factories. They wrote history in a new and unconventional style(6). For example, they lived, if only for a short time, in the villages or factories they wrote histories about, in order to share in the life there. These historians tried to unite with local people and write gour historyh as members of the village or the factory. At the same time, they questioned their stance on the people they were writing about, on how they should commit themselves to them.
This movement, however, collapsed in a few years (7). The movement failed because of differences in perspective between historians and lay people, political conflict inside the Japanese Communist Party, and because of sectionalism among student activists. After this movement collapsed, history within Japanese academia removed political elements and shifted to scientism or positivism. Although the Movement of Peoplefs History has been considered to be a failure. However, I believe the movement has value in that professional historians were trying to move beyond the walls of academia.
Sho Ishimoda, the leader of the movement, talked about the historiansf motivation for writing history, remembering those days: gI suppose that if I spent time studying instead of joining peoplefs meetings, I could have sped up my studies and gotten more academic achievements. But I chose to go to the meetings because, first of all, it was enjoyable work for me. Not only was getting together func but a new relationship of sharing responsibility gave us the pleasure of building a group. That is a creative aspect that previous educator didnft know (8).h Ishimoda hated the top-down educational campaign. He believed it was more productive and pleasurable to join factory or village people and create history in communication between common people and historians. He emphasized the joy of writing history partly because the government restricted his study of history during the war.
Ishimodafs fellow historians in the Movement for Peoples History shared in this joyful feeling in writing history with lay people. And it is this joyful feeling that led to the spread of the Movement of Life-Writing Circles.
4. The Movement of Life Writing Circles
While the Movement for Peoplefs History was a movement of historians who sought to come closer to common people to write their histories, the Movement of Life-Writing Circles was a movement of workers who belonged to culture clubs where they wrote their own personal histories. Laborers and housewives organized writing circles and made collection books of the compositions by mimeograph. They read each otherfs writings, gave comments and critiqued them in circles meetings. This movement began with gYamabiko Gakkouh (The Echo School) (1951). A junior high school teacher, Seikyo Muchaku compiled studentsf writings and published them. The movement had two aspects: one was the teaching of writing to children; the other was the club activities of adults and laborers. In this presentation, I focus on the latter.
Kazuko Tsurumi initiated the movement for adults. Her slogans, gA Group Involving Oneselfh and gSelf-Reestablishment in the Grouph encouraged and influenced the Movement of Life Writing Circles(9). She thought that Life Writing was a movement in which lay people could write contemporary Japanese history from various perspectives and re-establish themselves in the process. She approved of various expression forms and said gthe Life-Writing can be diaries, letters, books or movie reviews, comments on current events, aural transcripts, autobiographies, biographies, histories of workplaces or villages, documentaries, dissertations, literary works, and so onh(10). She thought that, through this movement, people could recover history from historians and remake it to be more familiar, to make it their own history, by writing about their lives. Thus, the purpose was not only to write objective history accurately, but also for people to confirm their position and re-establish themselves through the act of writing history in the familiar group to which they belonged.
The Movement of Life-Writing Circles was a movement that focused on the action of writing history and narratives. Also it focused on the aspects of communication and psychology, which had not previously fallen within historiansf sphere of interest. The movement was also conscious of the gspaceh where people narrated history.
The Movement of Life-Writing Circles wanted people gto write as they are without decorating,h about their births and their poor daily lives. So people were encouraged to build friendships by talking naturally in culture circles of singing or theater before joining Life-Writing Circles(11).
In one group mainly comprised to spinner girls, the participants wrote histories of their hard working situations, the poor lives in their village, their motherfs lives and war memories. This was done not in the spirit of recreation, but from their severe and harsh experiences. They wrote history with a different awareness of the issues and a different narrative than historians. The group members first circulated notebooks amongst themselves discussing their descriptions, and later copied their writings of self-history or their motherfs history by mimeograph and bound them into books. The bound compositions were sent to the writersf birthplaces or exchanged among Life-Writing Circles throughout Japan (12). Comments were exchanged between different writing circles.
In the Movement of Life-Writing Circles, it was important to gwrite history in a group.h The writers could grow through communication and writing in the circles made gnetworks.h In networks composed of common people with no clear distinction between writers and readers, they wrote present-oriented history and shared the same era.
Finally, I would like to pose several questions raised by these two movements.
My first question is: Who should write history? In postmodernism, the subjects of writing history include not only professional historians but also a wider range of writers, such as novelists, artists, and so on. I believe lay people can be included in writing history. For example, factory workers and housewives wrote history in the two movements discussed about previously. How should their history writing be evaluated?
Second, why do people write history? gThe great schematah has broken down in post-modernity; therefore history is referred to as far as it is useful for the present. In other words, I think peoplefs motive for writing history is important to the history. Not only survivors of the Holocaust but also Japanese people who lived in the postwar confusion took history as an issue of their identity. However, what would be the motive for writing history for other people? For example, Sho Ishimoda of the Movement for Peoplefs History spoke about the joy of writing history. Kazuko Tsurumi of the Movement of Life-Writing Circles held out the possibility of Self-Reestablishment by writing history. Do their motives have potential? This can be said in a simple question: why do we write history?
The third question is how to write history. I understand that Professor Whitefs study of this issue has mainly focused on figurative moment in historical writings, such as style, rhetoric and emplotment. But I would like to suggest that some attention be paid to communication space, in which people make history together. In the Movement of Life-Writing Circles, laborers and housewives got together in circles, narrated and wrote about their experiences, made books and handed them out, and held meetings of review to remark upon them. Of these gatherings, I think it can be said that the space in which the people wrote their histories had more importance than the written histories or works themselves. Professor White says that studying poems and plots are important in postmodernism. In addition to that, I think it is equally or more important to study how people might communicate to write history together, and in what space the history writing activity might happen. I would like to have your comment on this point.
Thank you very much.
1 Narita 2001 p.69 Narita labeled these three streams Academism, Marxist, and Nationalism. In my presentation, their names have been made changed.
2 Ludwig Riess, who was Rankefs pupil, became a Professor of Tokyo Imperial University.
3 Narita 2001 p.76 ? p.77
4 Oguma 2002 p.314
5 Oguma 2002 p.334
6 Narita 2006 p.131
7 Oguma 2002 p.346 - 347
8 Ishimoda 2001(1960) p.368
9 Sawai 2009 p.46
10 Sugimoto 2009 p.70 ? p.71 Tsurumi 1998(1961) p.527
11 Sawai 2009 p.46
12 Ukai 2009 p. 194 ? p.225
Ishimoda, Sho 2001(1960) ehKokumin no to tame no rekishigakuh oboegakif(A note of gHistory for Peopleh), Ishimoda sho chosaku shu 14, Iwanami
Narita, Ryuichi 2006 eRekishigaku no positionality: rekishijojutsu to sono shuhenf(the positionality of history historiography and its periphery), azekura
Narita, Ryuichi 2001 eRekishigaku no style: shigakushi to sono shuhenf(the style of history: history of historians and its periphery),azekura
Oguma, Eiji 2002 e to : sengo nihon no nationalism to koukyouseif( and : Nationalism and Publicness in Japan after WWU), shinyosha
Sawai, Yoshiro eBousekikouin no Seikatsukiroku kara kougai no kiroku hef(From Spinning wWrkersf Life-Writing to Writing about Pollution) Nshikawa, in Yuko and Sugimoto, Seiko(ed.) Kyoudou kenkyu Sengo no seikatukiroku ni manabu: Tsurumi Kazuko bunko tono taiwa, mirai heno tsushin, Nihon Tosho Center
Sugimoto, Seiko 2009 eTsurumi Kazuko to Seishi Bouseki de Hataraita gSandai no onnatachihf(Kazuko Tsurumi and three women of three generation who work in filature and spinning factories), in Yuko and Sugimoto, Seiko(ed.) Kyoudou kenkyu Sengo no seikatukiroku ni manabu: Tsurumi Kazuko bunko tono taiwa, mirai heno tsushin, Nihon Tosho Center
Tsurumi, Kazuko 1998 eTsurumi Kazuko mandara2 hito no maki: nihon no life-historyf(the Mandara of Kazuko Tsurumi a number of gpeopleh: Life-histories in Japan), Fujiwara
Ukai, Masaki 2009 eSeikatsu tsudurikata kara tsunagaru sekaif (the possibility of network of the Life-writing), in Yuko and Sugimoto, Seiko(ed.) Kyoudou kenkyu Sengo no seikatukiroku ni manabu: Tsurumi Kazuko bunko tono taiwa, mirai heno tsushin, Nihon Tosho Center
White, Hayden 1992 eHistorical emplotment and the problem of truthf Friedlander, S. ed., Probing the Limits of Representation, Harvard
White, Hayden 2009 ePostmodernism and historiographyf the draft of After Metahistory
UP:November 2, 2009 REV: