Tetsurō Watsuji: A Climate: A Philosophical Study (1935/1961)

17 October 2013, dusan

“In 1927 the Japanese philosopher and cultural and intellectual historian Tetsurō Watsuji went to Germany and returned the next year much influenced by the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Watsuji could not agree with Heidegger’s theories about human existence, so he wrote a book named Fūdo, published in English as A Climate: A Philosophical Study (reprinted as Climate and Culture: A Philosophical Study). Watsuji explained Fūdo as ‘the natural environment of a given land’. Watsuji thought that Heidegger placed too much influence on the individual and overlooked the importance of social and geographical factors that affect the individual.

Heidegger’s emphasis on the individual was an outcome of centuries of European thought. Descartes said, ‘cogito, ergo sum’, (I think, therefore I am). Watsuji, however, saw the human being as a product of a ‘climate’ including not only natural surroundings but also the social environment of family, society and history. For example, Watsuji explains that ‘cold’ is not a specific temperature, but also the sensation of ‘cold’ which we actually experience in our daily lives. In other words, is the feeling of ‘cold’ a subjective, conscious feeling? Or does the feeling of ‘cold’ come from the independent existence of ‘cold’? Watsuji says that neither is a satisfactory answer because both explanations make a distinction between subject and object, or human and nature. A human being recognizes coldness before any division is made between ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’. For Watsuji, the relationship between a human and his environment, called aidagara, already exists before any other concepts are understood. This idea is similar to the “pure experience” of Nishida Kitaro.

Watsuji’s philosophical uniqueness is the explanation of human existence, aidagara, in terms of social and geographical phenomena. French scholar Augustin Berque was influenced by Watsuji’s way of thought and understood that Watsuji does not regard nature and nature-human as dual existences. Berque suggests the term trajet to include the subject simultaneously with object, nature with artificiality. In French the term trajet usually means distance of travel, or route. Berque sought to change the fixed meaning of subject and object, nature and culture, individual and society, to include the possibility of inter-changeable relationships.” (from New World Encyclopedia)

The book was reprinted under the title Climate and Culture: A Philosophical Study by Greenwood Press, 1961.

Originally published as Fūdo (風土 人間学的考察), 1935
Translated by Geoffrey Bownas
Publisher Printing Bureau, Japanese Government, 1961
235 pages
via golittlebook

Watsuji at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philippe Forêt, Andreas Kaplony (eds.): The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road (2008)

13 August 2013, dusan

“This book covers new ground on the diffusion and transmission of geographical knowledge that occurred at critical junctures in the long history of the Silk Road.

Much of twentieth-century scholarship on the Silk Road examined the ancient archaeological objects and medieval historical records found within each cultural area, while the consequences of long-distance interaction across Eurasia remained poorly studied. Here ample attention is given to the journeys that notions and objects undertook to transmit spatial values to other civilizations. In retracing the steps of four major circuits right across the many civilizations that shared the Silk Road, The Journey of Maps and Images on the Silk Road traces the ways in which maps and images surmounted spatial, historical and cultural divisions.”

Publisher BRILL, 2008
Volume 21 of Brill’s Inner Asian library
ISBN 9004171657, 9789004171657
243 pages

review (Ron Sela, Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology)
review (Liano Cai, International Journal of Middle East Studies)

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Chris Thompson: Felt: Fluxus, Joseph Beuys, and the Dalai Lama (2011)

21 July 2013, dusan

Felt provides a nonlinear look at the engagement of the postwar avant-garde with Eastern spirituality, a context in which the German artist Joseph Beuys appears as an uneasy shaman. Centered on a highly publicized yet famously inconclusive 1982 meeting between Beuys and the Dalai Lama, arranged by the Dutch artist Louwrien Wijers, Chris Thompson explores the interconnections among Beuys, the Fluxus movement, and Eastern philosophy and spiritual practice.

Building from the resonance of felt, the fabric, in both Tibetan culture and in Beuys’s art, Thompson takes as his point of departure Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion in A Thousand Plateaus of felt as smooth space that is “in principle infinite, open, and unlimited in every direction,” its structure determined by chance as opposed to the planned, woven nature of most fabrics. Felt is thus seen as an alternative to the model of the network: felt’s anarchic form is not reducible to the regularity of the net, grid, or mesh, and the more it is pulled, tweaked, torn, and agitated, the greater its structural integrity.

Felt thus invents its methodology from the material that represents its object of inquiry and from this advances a reading of the avant-garde. At the same time, Thompson demonstrates that it is sometimes the failures of thought, the disappointing meetings, even the untimely deaths that open portals through which life flows into art and allows new conjunctions of life, art, and thought. Thompson explores both the well-known engagement of Fluxus artists with Eastern spirituality and the more elusive nature of Beuys’s own late interest in Tibetan culture, arriving at a sense of how such noncausal interactions—interhuman intrigue—create culture and shape contemporary art history.

Publisher University of Minnesota Press, 2011
ISBN 0816653542, 9780816653546
319 pages

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