An interesting work of intellectual history by NII Yōko 新居 洋子 of the University of Tokyo has just been published by Nagoya University Press. Its title is The Jesuits and the Universal Empire: The Translation of Civilisation by Missionaries in China. イエズス会士と普遍の帝国 – 在華宣教師による文明の翻訳. In my translation, Dr. Nii’s presentation of her book on the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia website reads:
“There was an exchange of ideas between China and Europe from the 16th to 18th centuries. In this period, it was Jesuit missionaries working in China who took on the role of translators between the two sides. This book focuses on the latter half of the 18th century, which was the last stage of the Jesuit mission in China and the time when Sinology began to be established as a formal field of study in Europe. It does so by examining the Jesuit Jean Joseph Amiot, who served the Qianlong Emperor. Amiot took on the challenge of translating the enormous Chinese civilisation, not only from his own observations but by consulting the length and breadth of a variety of both European and Chinese intellectual sources. The Chine that emerges from his translations was in itself a product constructed from 18th century intellectual interaction between East and West.”
Missionary scholarship, especially by members of the Society of Jesus, has been tremendously important in the historical reception of East Asian thought in the West. To this day, Christian missionaries are among the most influential transmitters and interpreters of East Asian thought and research on Japanese philosophy, for instance, is more often than not .carried out in religious studies departments and in church-affiliated universities rather than in philosophy departments. And as this book shows, the first sustained intellectual engagement and attempts to think by drawing on both the East Asian and European traditions were by missionaries like Amiot. For better and worse, this historical legacy continues to influence the way Western scholars approach East Asia and its intellectual traditions. Studying the origins of what today travels under the name of comparative philosophy, as Dr Nii has done with this book, is therefore important and she has to be congratulated on her achievement.
For more details, including a table of contents, please visit University of Nagoya Press.
How to Serve a Sacred Cow: Reflections on Japanese-English Philosophical Translation in an “Anglobalising” World
International Japanese Studies Symposium. Trinity College Dublin, 2nd December 2017
James Heisig has argued for “desacralizing” translation, against “perfect translation” and for “thick translation”. He advocates “a radical liberalization of the standards of philosophical translation” where translators of philosophical texts are “set free to err on the side of creativity and rhetorical elegance”. Heisig prioritizes broad appeal and readability over accuracy, bringing the translated philosopher into the reader’s space and facilitating an encounter on the latter’s terms by slaughtering “the sacred cow of fidelity to the original text”. In this presentation, I discuss Heisig’s programmatic statements on translation strategy in the context of the global dominance of English, declining language capabilities and unequal distribution of translation capabilities among Anglophone philosophers, the tendentially conservative and “domesticating” Anglospheric regime of translation, and the “foreignizing” alternatives found in Japanese translation history, in Schleiermacher, Nietzsche, Benjamin, and more recent translation theorists. I suggest that learning from professional practices in the translation industry could help translating philosophers strike a suitable balance between domestication and foreignization and that the latter is the ethically and intellectually sounder strategy. If some degree of butchery is inevitable, the question becomes one of how to serve the meat – as a thickly cut, well-done steak or as thinly sliced beef sashimi.
From “Far East” to “East Asia” in Global English Academic and Societal Discourse: German and Japanese “hidden sources”
Public lecture at Trinity Asian Studies Centre, Dublin 6th November 2017
The dominant use in English of the words “East Asia” as a collective designation for Greater China, the two Koreas, Japan, and sometimes Vietnam is a relatively recent outgrowth of cold war era US scholarship. The previously dominant term “Far East” reflects a Eurocentric worldview, which was politically problematic in Japan and expedient for lesser 19th century European powers and post-war America to avoid. Through the influence of Karl Ritter, the German-speaking world and Scandinavia, like Japan, tended to conceive of the region as “East Asia”, whereas Britain and France thought, spoke and wrote in terms of “Far East”. “East Asia” was thus a counter-hegemonic concept developed on the margins of the colonial world order, which arguably entered post-war Anglograph scholarship through Japanese. Just as Heidegger hinted that his philosophy had Japanese “hidden sources”, the proliferating East Asia discourses today conceptually originated as part of Japan’s modernisation process and rise as the first non-Western great power. It was a disruptive resignification attaching new and positive meanings to the European idea of Asia, rejecting the externally ascribed and objectivating identity of “Far East”, asserting subjectivity and agency. This presentation traces the genealogy of the contemporary idea of East Asia through Karl Ritter’s Ost-Asien, his student Élisée Reclus’ politicised use of Asie orientale, the migration of the Japanese ideas of East Asia (Tō-A 東亜 from the 1880s and Higashi Ajia 東アジア after 1945) from meteorology and geography to political discourse, and from there to the dreaming spires of Harvard.
Shortly after arriving from Japan and 30 minutes after moving into a new apartment, I went to Ardmore House for a research seminar. This gave me an opportunity to introduce myself and my work to my new colleagues at UCD’s School of Philosophy.
The title was ““The Kyoto School as Comparative Political Thought: Ways forward after Seven Decades of a Dialogue of the Deaf.” The presentation slides can be read on academia.edu.