Joumal of Chinese Philosophy 17 (1990) 61-86

Copyright @ 1990 by Dublogue Publishing Company,Hawaii, U.S.A.



  Jacques Derrida, the foremost philosopher of contemporary post- structuralism, has developed a style of critical thinking which has come to be called "deconstruction." In a word, Derrida has endeavored to deconstruct all notions of "self-presence" or "self-identity" which have arisen as correlates to the dominant category in the episteme of Western culture: namely, "being." The basic strategy by which Derrida carries out his project of critical deconstruction is to undermine all notions of selfidentity through the logic of differance. That is to say, Derrida endeavors to demonstrate how any category of presence, being or identity can be deconstructed into a "play of differences," or in Nietzuchean terms, an irreducible "play of forces." As Derrida writes in his book entitled Positions: "Differance is the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other."(l)

  The key term in Derrida's ever-shifting lexicon of technical terms, differance, is a combination of two French verbs: "to differ" and " to defer." On the one side, differance indicates "to differ" (diff'erer),in the sense that no sign can be simply identical with itself, but instead disseminates into a chain of differences. Derrida's differential logic has here been especially influenced by the semiology of Ferdinand de Saussure's Course on Ceneral Linguistics, which asserts: "in language there are only differences without positive terms."(2) On the other side, differeance indicates "to defer" (diff'erer), in the sense that the meaning


of a sign is always deferred by intervals of spacing and temporalizing so as to be put off indefinitely. The idea of diff'erance as "differe- nce/deferral" thus functions to prevent conceptual closure —or reduction to an ultimate meaning. In other words, diff'erance is a critical deconstruction of the "transcendental signified"; each "signified" is revealed as an irreducible play of floating signifiers so that any given sign empties out into the whole network of differential relations.

  The project of critical deconstruction is itself expressed in terms of what Derrida calls the language of "decentering." In this context a "center" is any sign which has been absolutized as having self-identity. His polemic here is that any sign thought to be an absolute "center" with self-identity can itself be fractured into diff'erance, a chain of dif- ferences/ deferrals. In a key statement, Derrida describes his theme of decentering as "the stated abandonment of all reference to a center, to a subject, to a privileged reference, to an origin, or to an absolute archia."(3) He further asserts that his project of decentering emerged as the development of a major "rupture" in the history of structure, which took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, heralded especially by Nietzsche's destruction of all axiological-ontological systems as well as Heidegger's destruction of traditional metaphysics and onto- theology. Hence, Derrida writes: 'The entire history of the concept of structure,before the rupture of which we are speaking , must be thought of as a series of substitutions of center for center, as a linked chain of determinations of the center."(4) He adds that although the history of metaphysical structure has run through a long series of "centers" like substance, essence, subject, energy, ego; consciousness, God or man, "it was necessary to begin thinking that there was no center."(5) Consequently, Derrida endeavors to deconstruct the various "centrisms" which have afflicted philosophical and theological discourse such as ethnocentrism, anthropocentrism, phallocentrism, egocentrism, theocentrism and logoc- entrism. Derrida commences his deconstruction of the Western meta- physics of presence with an effort to crticially decenter onto-theological discourse. In the Western metaphysics of presence, God has been comprehended as Absolute Being, Presence or Identity. In other words, God is the absolute Center. In this context Derrida speaks of a "negative atheology" which endeavors to deconstruct



the transcendent God of theocentrism, thought of as the Transcendental Signified. He writes: "Just as there is a negative theology, there is a negative atheology. An accomplice of the former, it still pronounces the absence of a center." (6)

  Yet, Derrida is not propounding nihilism since all absolute centers deconstructed through diff'erance are said to reappear as " trace," understood as an interplay of presence and absence or identity and difference. As differential trace all fixed metaphysical centers incl- uding the transcendent God of theocentrism and the individual self of egocentrism or anthropocentrism are placed "under erasure" (sous rarure), i.e., written with a cross mark X, thereby to signify a presence which is at the same time absent and an absence which is at the same time present.(7)




  The postmodern deconstructionist boom in America and on the Continent has now arrived in Japan. This can be especially seen in the writings of Karatani Koojin and Asada Akira, foremost among postmodernist critics in Japan. One need only mention the sudden and unprecedented popularity of a book about poststructuralism by Asada Akira, entitled Koozoo to chikara (Structure and Power, 1983).(8) In several weeks this work sold nearly eighty thousand copies, and its author became a sensation in the weekly magazines and newspapers. Read by office workers, university students, artists, and musicians, the media announced the advent of a "new academism." Indeed, this event soon came to be known in Ja pan as the AA genshoo (Asada Akira phenomenon).(9) Karatani Kojin's deconstructionist texts such as Nihon Kindai bungaku no kigen (The Origins of Japanese Modern Literature, 1980) have also become controversial bestsellers in Japan. This Japanese postmodern boom has been intensified by the advent of Jacques Derrida's visit to Japan in 1984,at which time he met with both Asada Akira and Karatani Kojin. The Asahi Journal (May 1984) published part of the transcript of this discussion as 'The Ultra-Consumer Society and the Role of the Intellectual"(Choosoohi shakai to chishikijin no yakukwari).(10)



  According to Karatani Kojin, postmodernism in Japan is a movement which seeks the "deconstruction of modernism or, more fundamentally, of the framework of Western metaphysics."(11) It involves the "disappearance of the subject, the decentering (or 'multicentering') of the[putative] center ..."(12) In his conversation with Derrida and Asada Akira, Karatani Kojin argues that since Japan has no fixed structures, deconstruction as such is not possible. By this view, deconstruction has already taken place in Japan, insofar as it has already arrived at a radically decentered or multicentered reality in which God, the ego, and all other fixed metaphysical centers have been displaced through a differential logic13 However, in response to Karatani Kojin, Derrida suggests that the "Asada Akira phenomenon" is not simply a repetition of deconstructive elements already present in Zen Buddhist modes of thought, and that there are structures in Japan which still require critical decentering. In Derrida's words:


1 wonder if deconstruction is truly so easy in Japan. I have my doubts about whether we can say that deconstruction is a direct element in Japanese-type thought. Certainly, Japanese often say that Buddhist thought or the Zen of Dogen was already a kind of deconstruction, but I wonder if that is so. If that were really so, then why, for example, has Asada's book received such trem- endous attention? If that phenomenon of Asada were nothing more than a repetition of deconstructive elements already found within Japanese thought, then it shouldn't have called down such an enormous response in contemporary Japan.(l4)


  As pointed out by Derrida, it is held by many scholars that deco- nstruction is already a basic element in Japanese thought, especially Zen Buddhism. Indeed, some scholars have argued that the nonsubstantialist and uncentered worldview of Mahaayaana Buddhism in general and acentric Zen Buddhism in particular can best be interpreted through Derrida's postmodern vision of a dislocated reality devoid of all fixed centers. For instance, the thesis of Robert Magliola's Derrida on the Mend is that the



Buddhist logic of 'suunyataa(Chinese: kung; Japanese: kuu)a is in fact a "differential logic" which is itself structurally isomorphic with Derrida's logic of diff'erance. Magliola writes:


I shall argue that Nagarjuna's ("'suunysataa") ("devoidness") is Derrids's diff'erance, and is the absolute negation which absolutely deconstitutes but which constitutes directional trace.(15)


According to Magliola, the diff'erance of Derrida, like the 'suunyataa of Buddhism, represents a critical deconstruction of the principle of "selfidentity", i.e., what in Buddhist discourse takes the form of deconstituting all substantialist modes of "own-being" or "self-existe- nce" (svabhaava). Through deconstructive analysis all metaphysical centers understood as a mode of absolute self-identity are disseminated into a network of differential relationships in which there are no positive entities. Magliola goes on to assert that the differential Buddhism of Nagarjuna with its radical deconstruction of all fixed metaphysical centers reaches its culmination in the tradition of East Asian Zen (Chinese: Ch'an) Buddhism. In this context, he criticizes all forms of "centric Zen" wherein "the Buddha-nature thus understood becomes an infinite Center,"(16) arguing that "differential Zen, like Nagarjuna's Madhkyamika, disclaims 'centered' experience of any kind." (l7)

  However, the absolute negation of diff'erance also signals the em- ergence of nonsubstantial "trace" which is simultaneously absent yet present, present yet absent. In this context, Magliola argues that diff'erance as the interplay of identity and difference or presence and absence is equivalent to Nagarjuna's Buddhist notion of `Suunyataa; since it constitutes a Middle Way between the "it is" of eternalism and the "it is not" of nihilism.(18) He further asserts that this Middle Way between eternalism and nihilism is best seen in the aestheticism of Japanese Zen, whose various art forms have the status of Derrida's differential trace as the interplay between presence and absence:

Buddhists in the Nagarjunist tradtion can function as produc-



tive, often outstanding members of society.... They can savor and create the exquisitely esthetic (think of Zen painting, ceramics, gardens, poetry); yet, I argue, they are doing all this as trace, as indeed, Derridean trace!19

  As I have argued elsewhere, in contemporary Japanese philosophy the differential logic of acentric Zen Buddhism and its deconstructive strategy of critical decentering has itself been fully appropriated by Nishida Kitaroo (1870-1945) and the Kyoto School.(20)In the Postscript to his translation of Nishida Kitaroo's essay,'The Logic of the Place of Nothingness and the Religious Worldview," David A. Dilworth provides a detailed explanation of "Nishida's Logic of the East." Dilworth persuasively argues that Nishida's paradoxical logic of soku/hib or "is and yet is not" is structurally isomorphic with Derrida's deconstructive logic of diff'erance, which is described as operating through the adversative edge ofpresence and absence in the play of textual significations.(21) By this view,both Derrida's logic of diff'erance and Nishida's logic of soku/hi are cross-cultural variants of the paradoxical or agonistic paradigm of articulation.According to Nishida's paradoxical logic of soku/hi, God, the self and allthings both "are" and "are not," just as for Derrida's logic of diff'erance they have the status of differential "trace" which is simultaneously both absent and present, both present and absent. Hence, Nishida's 'logic of the East" (tooyooteki ronri), which assumes the form of a "self-identity of absolute contradictions" (zerroi mujunteki jiko dooitsu), can be said to have a deep structural proximity to Derrida's logic of diff'erance wherein all self-identity is constituted by a play ofirreducible differences.In the case of Derrida's logic of diff'erance. each fixed metaphysical center erroneously thought of as having self-identity is shown to involve an aporia (a contradiction or irreconscilable paradox in the form of is/is not)" which subverts its own grounds and disperses its seeming meanings into indeterminacy, thereby disseminating into a chain of differential traces and floating signifiers without end.

  Nishitani Keiji's Shuukyoo to wn nanika (What is Religion?),(23) recently translated into English under the title Religion and Norhingness,(24) fully incorporates the Zen Buddhist paradoxical soku/hi or "is and yet is



not" mode of discourse along with Nishida Kitaroo's differential logic of "the self-identity of absolute contradictions." The major problematic raised by Nishitani in this work is the overcoming of modern nihilism as described by Nietzsche. According to Nishitani, nihility (kyomu)(c) or relatve nothingness (sootaiteki mu)(d) can only be overcome by converting to true emptiness (ku) or absolute nothingness (zettai mu)(e) as described by Zen Buddhism. Hence, all substantial things in the realm of "being" (yu) which have been nullified in the abyss of nihility are now affirmed just as they are in their positive suchness at the standpoint of emptiness or absolute nothingness. In this way, Nishitani follows Nagarjuna's differential logic, which itself establishes a Middle Path between substantial being and nihilistic nothingness such as to avoid the philosophical extremes of "eternalism" on the one side and "annihilationism" on the other.

  According to Nishitani, the locus of absolute nothingness is to be comprehended as an infinite openness devoid of all fixed metaphysical centers. In this context, Nishitani describes the kenotic self-emptying of both the "theocentric" (kami-chuushinteki)(g) and the "anthropocentric"(ningen-chuushinteki)h standpoints in the ultimate standpoint of `suunyataa oremptiness. He writes:

Thus it can be said that the theocentric standpoint, as represented by Christinaity, and the anthropocentric standpoint of secularism both find themselves currently at the brink of mutual elimination .... Nietzsche's philosophy could not have come to birth without such a brink. (E.228/J.250)

As is indicated in the passage above, Nishitani's use of a post- modernist language of "decentering" in order to express the standpoint of emptiness or absolute nothingness has been influenced not only by the deconstructive element of Zen thought in the East but also by the deconstructionism inherent in Nietzsche's positive nihilism in the West. In this context Nishitani emphasizes the total shattering of all "man- centered" (ningen-chuushinteki) and "God-centered" (Kami-chushinteki) orientations by Nietzsche's sledgehammer of Eternal Recurrence. He writes:



Not only the man-centered but also the Godcentered mode of being has to be smashed, Nietzsche would claim, by the sledge-hammer of the idea of Eternal Recurrence. Only when every sort of optical illusion has been demolished through this "transnihilism" does the standpoint of the Great Affirmation of the Great Life come to light.(25)

According to Nishitani, then, the smashing of all metaphysical centers with Nietzsche's sledgehammer of Eternal Recurrence culminates in the negation of both the transcendent Cod of theocentrism and the individual self of egocentrism. However, the negation of both God-centered and man-centered standpoints does not result in the nihilism of relative nothingness since all things are affirmed exactly as they are in their positive suchness on the field of absolute nothingness. Hence, following the direction of Nietzsche's positive nihilism or transnihilism, Nishitani deconstructs all substantial metaphysical centers in order to arrive at a standpoint of complete affirmation. Indeed, using Nistzschean terms Nishitani calls emptiness or absolute nothingness the "field of Great Affirmation" (kotei no ba)(i) where we can say Yes to all things.(26) For this reason Nishitani regards the negation of all transcendent and interior centers as well as the total affirmation of life in the Innocence of Becoming depicted by Nietzsche's vision of Eternal Recurrence as achieving a close structural proximity to the Mahayana Buddhist philosophy of `suunyataa or emptiness. Speaking of Nietzsche's philosophy, he thus writes: "It might also be interpreted as one of the currents of Western thought to come closest to the Buddhist standpoint of 'suunyataa."(27)

  Furthermore, it should be emphasized that for Nishitani, as for Nishida, the deconstruction of all fixed metaphysical centers having self-identity is in fact tantamount to a multicentering of the reality continuum wherein each and every event is now affirmed in its positive suchness as a unique center. That is to say, since the infinite openness of 'suunyataa or emptiness is devoid of all absolute centers, including both the God-centered standpoint of theocentrism and the human-centered standpoint of anthropocentrism, now all phenomena are affirmed as an individual center in the locus of absolute nothingness. For this reason, he writes:



"The field of 'suunyataa is a field whose center is everywhere." (164)

  Abe Masao also argues: that true 'suunyataa or emptiness is a boundless openness devoid of any metaphysical centers. Every metaphysical center, including the transcent center represented by theocentrism and the interior center represented by anthroporcentrism or egocentrism,must be dissolved and emptied out in the standpoint of 'suunyataa. In his essay 'Kenotic God and Dynamic 'Suunyataa " Abe writes that the "locus of 'Suunyataa.... is completely free from any centrism and is boundlessly "(28) Again,he asserts: .

`Suunyataa indicates boundless openness without any particular fixed center. `Suunyataa is free not only from egocentrism but also from anthropocentrism, cosmocentrism and theocentrism. It is not oriented by any kind of centrism. Only in this way, is "emptiness" possible.(29)

Moreover, just as Nagarjuna propounds that "emptiness must itself be emptied," Abe emphasizes that'suunyataa cannot be reified, absolutized or substantialized in any way whatsoever but is that which can never be objectified as some independently existing thing. For this reason,he states that "following Martin Heidegger, who put a cross mark X on the term Sein, rendering it instead as , in order to show the unobjectifiability ofwe should also put a cross mark X on the term and render it "(30) He adds:

`Suunyataa is fundamentally non-`Suunyataa with a cross mark, that is. That is the true and uliimate `Suunyataa. This means that true `Suunyataa empties not only everything else, but also empties itself. Through its selfemptying it makes everything to exist as it is and to work as it does. `Suunyataa should not be understood in its noun form but in its verbal from because it is a pure and dynamic function of all-emptying.(31)

Abe puts a cross mark on Emptiness or Nothingness just as Heidegger put a cross mark on Sein to effect the cancellation of Being, In such a



manner he employs the fundamental postmodernist strategy for avoiding every kind of ontological reification, which Derrida refers to as placing all signification "under erasure" (sous rature). By placing `suunyataa undererasure so as to render it non-`suunyataa with a cross mark X, it thereby takes on the ontological status of differential trace, understood as a dynamic interplay of presence and absence or identity and difference in the locus of absolute nothingness.




  Poststructuralist criticism has pointed to certain artistic/literary paradigms of the decentered Text. For instance, in her book The Decenrered Universe of Finnegans Wake Margot Norris suggests that the "chaosmos" of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake is the exemplar ofa multicentered Text devoid of any absolutes or ultimate reference points which might anchor the play of textual signification.(32) However, it was Empire of Signs (L'Empire des signes, 1970) by the literary critic Roland Barthes which first made famous the idea that traditional Japanese culture was itself a dislocated semiotic field illustrating the decentered or multicentered text described by poststructuralist discourse. Since then an ever-growing body of deconstructionist literature has emerged which attempts to read the Japanese text in light of postmodern semiotic theories abandoning all the "centrisms" of Western thought, including such works as To the Distant Observer by Noel Burch,(33) The Fracture of Meaning by David Pollack,(34) and Things Seen and Unseen by H.D. Harootunian.(35) This movement has recently been brought into sharper focus by a special issue of The South Atlantic Quarterly (Summer 1988) on "Postmodernism and Japan."

  Barthes clarifies his own poststructuralist concept of textuality in his famous essay: "From the Work to the Text." Whereas a Work is a closed system with a fixed center of meaning, a Text is an open system with no fixed center. The Text is therefore a decentered or multicentered play of differential traces and floating signifiers with no positive entities which functions to generate an irreducible plurality of meanings. More-



over while a Work is simply "lisible" (readable), a decentered Text is 'scriptable" (writable), i.e,it induces a multiple interpret- ations. In Barthes'words.

In this way the Text is restored to language: like language,it is structured but decentered without closure .... The Text is plural. This does mean just that it has several meanings, but rather that it achieves plurality of meaning, an irreducible plurality.(36)

  In his book entitled Empire of Signs Barthes proceeds to argue that Japanese Zen Buddhist thought and culture is a kind of mirror which re- flects semiotic theories of the text formulated by contemporary pos- tmodernism. Accordng to the postmodernist theory of semiotics tracing back to the ideas of Saussure, language is a differential, or relational, system in which there are no positive entities. Each sign is a play of signifiers which empties out into the entire web of differential rel ationships. Moreover, as defined by Saussure, semiology is "a science that studies the life of signs within society."(37) Taking this approach, Barthes argues that Japan is an "empire of signs." Through this post- structuralist analysis of the Japanese "text" Barthes thereby endeavors to demonstrate how Japan is a wholly decentered semiotic field wherein the signs are all empty. The food, clothing, customs, rituals, games, sports, painting, poetry, drama, landscaping, interior decorating, city planning, and other "sign systems" of the Japanese text are all analyzed as differential networks of floating signifiers in which there is a complete absence of a fixed "center."

  In his discussion of Japanese aesthetics, Barthes argues that haiku poetry reveals a Zen Buddhist worldview of mu or nothingness which is itself free of all absolute metaphysical centers, including both the transcendent God of theocentrism and the individual subject of egoce- ntrism:

The haiku ... articulated around a metaphysics without subject and Without god, corresponds to the Buddhist Mu, to the Zen satori. which is not at all the illuminative descent of God, but




"awakening to the fact," apprehension of the thing as event and not as substance ... accordingto an image proposed by the Hua-yen doctrine, one might say that the collective body of all haikus is a network of jewels in which each jewel reflects all the others and so on, to infinity, without there ever being a center to grasp, a primary core of irr- adiation.(38)

  In his analysis of Japanese cuisine, he argues that the arrangement of food is completely decentered —no dish has a "center" as in Western meals since verything is fragmented and dispersed so as to serve as the ornament of another ornament. Barthes thus writes: "No Japanese dish is endowed with a center (the alimentary center implied in the West by the rite which consists of arranging the meal, or surrounding or covering the article of food).(39) Then in his disucssion of city planning he opposes the "concentric" structure of Western cities whereby "in accord with the very movement of Western metaphysics, for which every center is the site of truth, the center of our cities is always full."(40) He contrasts this to the "acentric" structure of Tokyo, the capitol of Japan, which instead has an"empty center" or "sacred nothing" - a vacent palace surrounded by moats and walls, inhabited by an emperor who is never seen: "The city I am talking about (Tokyo) offers this precious paradox: it does possess a center, but this center is empty."(41) Barthes proceeds to demonstrate the manner in which the interior decorating of a tradi tional Japanese room also reflects a completely decentered worldview:

In the Shikidai gallery, as in the ideal Japanese house, stripped of furniture ... the center is rejected (painful frustration for Western man, every- where "furnished" with his armchair, his bed, proprietor of a domestic location). Uncentered, space is also reversible ... there is nothing to grasp.(42)

In such a manner Barthes employs his postructuralist theory of semiotics in order to demonstrate how the freeplay of signifiers in the various sign systems of Japanese culture are to be comprehended as a radically dislocated and open-ended text devoid of any fixed center. Japan is thus an



empire of "empty" signs. Or in Barthes' own words: "Empire of signs? Yes, if it is understood that the signs are empty and that the ritual is without a god."(43)

  In a study entitled To the Distant Observer, Noel Burch has applied the semiotic theories of Saussure, Derrida and especially Barthes to the analysis of Japanese film aesthetics. Burch asserts that The Empire of Signs by Barthes "is the first attempt by any Western writer to read the Japanese 'text' in the light of contemporary semiotics, a reading informed by a rejection of ethnocentrism —and indeed of all the 'centrisms' whichhave anchored ideology in the West ...."(44) Burch goes on to assert that his own book is an effort to understand Japanese cinema as a decentered semiotic field in the manner suggested by Barthes' reading/writing of the Japanese text. He especially applies Barthes' analysis of Japanese Bunraku puppet theater to the Japanese film,arguing that both are decentered into multiple texts or codes. Barthes has stated that Bunraku puppet theater fractures into at least three independent sub-texts: He writes: "Bunraku thus practices three separate writings, which it offers to be read simultaneously in three sites of the spectacle: the puppet, the manipulator, the vociferant."(45) In this context, Burch asserts that the "golden age" of Japanese cinema as exemplified by the silent films of Mizoguchi and Ozu was also radically decentered insofar as it operated through independent but simultaneous texts,including the visual film presentation, the separate musical accompaniment, and the spontaneous narration / interpretation of the benshi or "narrator." Moreover, Burch argues that there is a decentering of Japanese cinema into multiple interpretations which results from the interpretive response of the benshi or live narrator to the silent film presentation, similar to the role of the gidayv bushi in Bunraku, Noh and Kabuki theater.(46) That is to say, both Japanese silent film and Japanese classical theater are to be understood, not as closed works with a fixed center of meaning, but open and decentered texts which induce a plurality of meanings through the cooperation of artist and interpreter.

  In his important paper on "Ma: A Cultural Paradigm," Richard B. pilgrim has shown the extent to which the art,literature and other sign systems in the decentered text of Japanese culture are totally fractured or



displaced in terms of the aesthetic principle of ma,j a rich, multi-nuanced term indicating "space, spacing, interval, gap,blank, room,pause, rest, time, timing, or opening."(47) The religio-aesthetic principle of ma refers to the opening of a space-time interval whereby each object has a relatedness or betweenness with its surrounding context. For instance, the spacing and timing of ma is seen in the intervals of non-action in Noh drama, the empty spaces in haiku poetry, and the silent pauses in the films of Ozu, as well as the blank or negative spaces in Japanese inkwash painting, architecutre, and sand gardening. In the artistic and literary forms of the ma aesthetic, "the intervals or gaps serve as an empty space within which the forms of the art function."(48) Pilgrim contends that "a ma aesthetic or ma paradigm ... simultaneously locates and dislocates the world of form and order."(49) Ma is an "open-ended aesthetic" which underscores "the unfixed, dislocated sense of space or place" without being anchored in any kind of "fixed center."(50) In the uncentered sign systems of Japanese discourse, the "negative, imaginative, open moments of space-time are as important as what is objectively there."(51) He moreover states that "Ma resides in that betweenness which is continuallym breaking open the literal, descriptive world and inviting direct experience of the inarticulate, deconstructed, 'empty' reality of immediate experience.(52) The characteristic voids of the ma. aesthetic thereby "function to dislocate that world of meaning and action, emptying yet opening it to another level of experience and reality.(53)

  This traditional Japanese ma paradigm of artistic/literary discourse at once bears a deep structural proximity to Derrida's notion of diff'erance. which the latter has explicitly defined throughout Positions in such terms as "spacing," "temporalizing," "opening," as well as "blank," void" and "nothing." To repeat Derrida's definition of diff'erance cited above: " Diff'erance is the systematic play of differences .... of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other." Derrida's concept of diff'erance. the interval of spacing and temporalizing by means of which elements are interrelated in the differential web of textual significations, is thus profoundly brought to light through the radically dislocated ma aesthetic operative in the non-centered "empire of signs" constituting the Japanese cultural text.





  In his essay on "Decentering the Image," Joseph Riddel has argued that the Imagist movement of Ezra Pound develops a radically decentered concept of the poetic image based on the seminal text of Ernest Fenollosa,entitled The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry (compiled and edited by Ezra Pound). In this context Riddel cites a significant passage From Derrida's Of Grammatology, wherein the latter makes direct reference to the work of Pound and Fenollosa.(54) According to Derrida, the work of Pound and Fenollosa based on the Chinese and Japanese writing system functioned to effect a critical decentering of the Western metaphysics of presence, i.e., what Derrida calls the tradition of logocentrism. (90) Concerning the Chinese and Japanese ideogrammic writing system, Derrida remarks: "But we have known for a long time that largely nonphonentic scripts like Chinese or Japanese ... remained structurally dominated by the ideogram or algebra and we thus have the testimony of a powerful movement of civilization developing outside of all logocentrism.(55) Derride then cites Pound and Fenollosa because of their "irreducibly graphic poetics [which] was with that of Mallarme, the first break in the most entrenched Western tradition. The fascination that the Chinese ideogram exercised on Pound's writing may thus be given all its historical significance."(56) Like Nietzsche, he adds, Pound and Fenollosa "at first destroyed and caused to vacillate the transcendental authority and dominant category of the episteme: being."(57) In his analysis of Derrida's discussion of Fenollosa and Pound,Riddel states: "if the 'graphic symbol' is Fenollosa's 'centre,' then it is a noncentered noncentering center, irreducibly multiple. And nature is not an agent, but already a play of forces, a constellated and constellating field."(58)

  The means by which Pound arrived at his notion of a decentered Image on the basis of the Chinese and Japanese ideogrammic writing system is clarified by Riddel with a reference to Fenollosa's concluding example of the triumph of ideographic precision in the graph for the English sentence,"The sun rises in the east."(59) Fenollosa explains it as follows: "The [ideograph of the] sun, on one side, on the other the sign of the east, which is the sun entangled in the branches oF a tree."(60)




Hence, in the Chinese and Japanese writing system, the character for "east" (東), is itself a complex ideogram composed of a two simpler pictographs, that of "sun" (日), and "tree" (木), which when juxtaposed together show the sun rising in the east behind the trees. The written character of the Chinese/Japanese script is thereby wholly displaced and decentered into a freeplay of images, a complex ideogram which disseminates into a play of pictographs.

  As Riddel shows in his essay, Pound's idea of the Image based on the Chinese and Japanese ideogram is itself fully dislocated into a play of forces. He cites Pound's famous definition of the Image as "an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time."(61) He adds: "In Pound's definitions, the Image (that is the whole Poem) is always a 'node' or 'cluster' of' figures, a constellation of radical differences ... that Image, is a'field' —in short,'originally' a Text."(62) As a "cluster," a "complex," a "vortex," or a "field," the self-identity of the Image is thereby wholly decentered into an irreducible play of differences/defferals. As Riddel states: "The visual is reinscribed as a play of differences (that is in writing), which decenters any imagistic representation."(63) Riddel concludes that the project of the Imagist-Vorticism movement in America was to develop " a poetry of uprootedness, of radical innocence, of the radical origin, of the radical as origin - the 'decentered' Image,' "(64)

  The concept of the "decentered Image" as outlined above provides the theoretical foundations for a wholly postmodern interpretation of Japanese aesthetics which articulates the dislocaled structure of art,literature and cinema in Japan. The literary and artistic tradition of Japan is commonly analyzed by scholars of Oriental aesthetics in terms of Images whch have come to be standardized in the Japanese canons of beauty: for instance, Images of awar'e (pathos), Images of yuugen (profound mystery) and Images of sabi/wabi (rustic poverty). Against the radically dislocated worldview of acentric Zen Buddhism it can be demonstrated that the aesthetic Images of traditional Japanese art and literature are completely decentered or multicentered in structure. For purposes of analysis I will especially focus on yuugen as a paradigm of the decentered Image in Japanese aesthetics.

  As an illustration of a dislocated Japanese art form expressed




through the decentered Image one can point to the celebrated film entitled Rashomon (1950) directed by Akira Kurosawa. This film presents the successive testimonials of witnesses to what is thought by police to be a rape and murder case. However, each testimonial is so divergent from the others that what gradually emergges is a total displacement of the event into a bewildering multiplicity of perspectival interpretations, an irreducible plurality of meanings. The nature of the film brings into question the possibility of absolute truth and suggests the relativity of all knowledge. Perhaps this poststructuralist view has been given its most famous exepr- ession by Nietzsche's "Perspectivism" as expounded in The Will to Power:

Against positivism, which halts at phenomena —'There are only facts" - I would say: No, facts is precisely what there is not, only interpretations ... In so far as the word "knowledge" has any meaning, the world is knowable; but it is interpretable otherwise, it has no meaning behind it, but countless meaning —"Perspectivism."(65)

In the case of Rashomon the event described is presented, not as a closed work with a fixed center of meaning, but an open text which is completely multicentered in structure so as to generate an irreducible plurality of interpretations. and meanings.

  The film Roshomon is itself based on two short stories by Akutagawa Ryunosuke entitled "Rashomon" (Rashomon) and "In a Grove" (Yabu no maka). (66) Rashomonan ancient gate in Kyoto destroyed by fires and earth- quakes-evokes the dark and mysterious twilight world of yuugen and prov- ides the atmosphere in which the murder plot of "In a Grove" unfolds. In this case, the "abiguity" or 'mystery and depth" of this story is not conveyed simply by its atmosphere of darkness and shadows, but also by the radically deccntered nature of the yuugen-lmage as its plot and characters are displaced into a multiplicity of interpreta-tions and meanings.

  In an aphorism entitled "Interpretation" (Kaishaku), Akutagawa presents the literary theory underlying his approach to literature, a theory




which at once calls to mind the poststructuralist criticism of Roland Barthes developed several decades later:

Any interpretation of a work of art presupposes a degree of cooperation between artist and interpreter. In a sense, the interpreter is an artist who, using another artist's work for his theme, creates his own work of art. Hence, every famous work of art that has withstood the test of time is characterized by its capacity to induce multiple interpretations. But, as Anatole France has pointed out, the fact that a literary work has the capacity to induce multiple interpretations does not make it ambiguous in the sense that the reader can easily give it any interpretation he likes. Rather it means that a good work is like Mount Lu; it is many-sided and therefore encourages viewing from many agles.(67)

As emphasized by Akutagawa in this remarkable passage, a great work of art functions "to induce multiple interpretations." He relates this idea to Anatole France's The Garden of Epicurus, wherein it is stated that the words in a book are magic fingers that play on the harp strings of the reader's brain, and that the sounds thus evoked depend on the quality of the strings within each individual reader. Akutagawa further illustrates this idea with reference to Mount Lu, a famous mountain located near the Yangtze River in China. Because of its scenic beauty and its close association with Buddhism, it has provided fitting material for poetry and the arts through the centuries. In particular, he argues that great art, like Mount Lu, is many-sided and therefore generates a plurality of meanings. For this reason, it is often emphasized that sumie monochrome inkwash landscape paintings in the yuugen style which depict mountains fading out into the unfathomable mystery and darkness of the surrounding void are characterized by their many-sidedness or their capacity to induce multiple interpretations.

  As Ueda Makoto has pointed out, in Aukutagawa's short story entitled 'The Painting of an Autumn Mountain" multiplicity of



interpretation is itself the main theme. In this story the famed Chinese inkwash landscape painting called "Autumn Mountain" gives such different impressions at different times that the onlookers are not sure if they have viewed the same painting.(68) The dark spaces and black voids of the sumie picture conveyed through a decentered Image of yuugen functions to dislocate reality into multiple perspectives. The inkwash landscape painting in Akutagawa's story is thus not a 'lisible"(readable) work with a single meaning put a "scriptible" (writable) text which generates a plurality of meanings through the cooperation between artist and interpreter.

  D. Andrew's discussion of the film "Miss Oyu" directed by Mizo- guchi Kazuo further clarifies the structure and dynamics of the decentered Image in Japanese aesthetics. Mizoguchi's film "Miss Ozu" is itself based on a novella by Tanizaki Junichiro entitled Ashikari. As Tanizaki explains in his essay on literary aesthetics entitled In Praise of Shadows, he regards the function of literature as preserving the dark and mysterious twilight world of yuugen which is rapidly disappearing through modernization. Yet, in Tanizaki's novella Ashikari, as in Mizoguchi's film 'Miss Oyu," the Image of yuugen is wholly decentered. In this story, a tourist encounters a traveler on the evening of the traditional moon-viewing ceremony by the River Yoda. The depiction of a full moon half-veiled by mist and clouds in the darkness of night is itself a classic Image of yuugen in Japanese literature. On this misty moonlit eve the tourist is told a story which the traveller heard from his father about the tragic romance of Miss Oyu. However, throughout this story we never gaze upon Miss Oyu directly; we instead observe her from afar through a multiplicity of perspectives such that she appears to be a completely decentered self with no fixed core. The mystery of Miss Oyu conjured through the shadowy darkness of yuugen imagery is further enhanced by this dislocation of self into multiple interpretations. As Andrews writes:

And so we approach the tableau of the revered figure, Miss Oyu, through Tanizaki, through the tourist, through the traveler he meets, and that tratraveler's memory of his father's tale. Oyu is indeed a hazy moon of a lady casting her glow




coolly and from afar.(69)

  This decentering effect of yuugen imagery in traditional Japanese aesthetics can also be seen in Soseki Natsume's novel Kusamakura (Grass Pillow, 1906),(70) which has appeared in English translation as The Three Cornered World.(71) In this novel an unnamed painter and poet from Tokyo ventures on a poetic journey into the depths of nature in order to realize enlightenment through the detached contemplation of beauty. Through the exercise of aesthetic distance he endeavors to transform every natural event into a scene from a sumie inkwash landscape painting, a Noh drama or a haiku poem —art forms characterized by the Image of yuugen. As the subject for his work the artist-hero sets out to paint a woman called Nami, as well as to capture her through a series of haiku poems.

  However, the decentered or multicentered structure of yuugen imagery as it functions in Soseki's novel becomes evident through the montage construction of his text. Throughout the novel the unity of Nami's self-image is shattered into a multiplicity of viewpoints. The artisthero views Nami from a plurality of perspectives so that she becomes as many-sided as a sumie inkwash painting. In his autocommentary entitled Yo ga kusamkura (My Grass Pillow, 1906) Soseki describes the basic idea of his novel as follows:

In Kusamakura there is a painter who observes things in a peculiar way. He meets a beautiful woman by chance and observes her, and she becomes the heroine of the work. She is always standing in the same place and does not move at all. The painter observes her from the front or from the back or from the left or from the right. He observes her from various directions - only that.(72)

Through this multiperspectival depiction of Nami the painter builds up a complex montage - a sequence of juxtaposed images derived by means of observing her from many angles as well as front gossip, a rumor, a legend. a story, a painting, a poem, and a drama. Masao Miyoshi




summarizes this decentering of Nami's self-image into a multiple pers- pectives in his book Accomplices of Silence: The Modern Japanese Novel:

Here is, then, the every expanding (living) series of images —some gossip, a haiku image, an oil painting, a Man 'yoshu poem; each one is taken up at a different angle and from a different context, a different tradition.... But there is even further ampl- ification. Wakeful into the night,he keeps seeing a shadowy figure flitting about in the moonlit garden, and he tries again to arrest the vision in a series of haiku .... As the artist comes to know her better, Nami continues to appear from all sorts of unexpected angles: as a dancer-performer, a sharp wit, an eccentric. Her montage, too, becomes more complex:besides the Shakespearean Ophelia, the Pre-Raphae lite Ophelia, and the legendary maiden, we now have her own ancestor who drowned herself, and the generations of crazy women in her family. As each adds her own peculiarities to the composite, Nami takes on more and more the aspects of a generalized woman figure ...(73)

Hence, again it can be observed how the dark voids and black spaces of the yuugen-lmage functions to dislocate the subject into a plurality of viewpoints devoid of any fixed center or core. The unity of the fictive self disintegrates; it is multiple. Like "Miss Oyu" in Mizoguchi's film by that name, Nami is a misty moonlit woman, whose elusive, ambiguous,and mysterious nature results from the acentric structure of the yuugen- Image, in such a manner, Sooseki's novel employs the decentered Image to deconstruct and disseminate the self-identity of Nami into an irreducible chain of differences/deferrals, which in contemporary poststructuralist discourse is named: the play of diff'erance.


  Throughout this essay it has been emphasized that Derrida's project




of deconstructionism involves a critical strategy of decentering i.e., what he describes as "the stated abandonment of all reference to a center, to a subject, to a privileged reference, to an origin, or to an absolute archia." As shown by Magliola, the theoretical basis for the convergence of Weatern deconstructionism and Japanese Zen can be seen in the stru- ctural proximity between Buddhist 'suunyataa and Derrida's diff'erance-both of which function to place "under erasure" (sous rature) and thereby to disseminate all fixed metaphysical centers having "self-identity" or "self-presence" into a chain of differential relationships with no positive entities. Moreover, it has been seen that the dislocated worldview of acentric Zen Buddhism as well as the differential logic of Western deconstructive thaught have both been appropriated into the contemporary Japanese philosophy of Nishida, Nishitani and Abe of the Kyoto School. According to the Kyoto School, emptiness or absolute nothingness is a boundless openness devoid of all fixed metaphysical centers, including the God-centered standpoint of theocentrism and the man-centered standpoint of anthropocentrism or egocentrism.

  After Barthes' Empire of Signs Japan has come to be read in light of a postmodern semiotics as a radically dislocatcd and uncentered text constituted by "empty" signs wherein the meaning of the signified is always infinitely deferred through a freeplay of signifiers. Against the background of the differential logic of acentric Zen Buddhism, the art, literature, cinema and other sign systems in the Japanese text have been analyzed as a fractured semiotic field with no fixed center. In Japanese aesthetics, this radically disruptive freeplay of textual signifiers is depicted through the gaps and fissures of the decentered Image, which displaces all self-identity into multiple perspectives and accomplishes the irreducible plural of meaning. it is in this way that we have arrived at a fully postmodern vision of Japan as a decentered text wherein each sign is emptied into a chain of differential traces and floating sign ifier-without closure, without origin,and without a privileged center.





1. Jacques Derrida, Positions, tr. Alan Bass (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 27

2. Jacques Derrida, "Diff'erance" in Margins of Philosophy, tr. Alan Pass (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1982), pp. 10-11. Also, see Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, tr. Wade Baskin (New York: Mc-Graw-Hill, 1959), p.


3. Jacques Derrida, Writing and differance, tr. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), p. 286.

4. Ibid, p. 279.

5. Ibid, p. 280.

6. Ibid, p. 297. Derrida's suggestive notion concerning a deconstructive atheology devoid of an absolute Center has been systematically developed by Mark C. Taylor in his book Erring: A Postmodern A/theology (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984). Taylor uses Derrida's principle of differance to formulate a portmodern atheology based on the Christian idea of Kenoosis (self-emptying) wherein all fixed metaphysical centers including the transcendent God of theocentrism and the independent sell of egocentrism are completely emptied out into a network of differential relationships.

7. Jacques Derrida, On Grammatology ,tr. G. C. spivak (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1974), pp. 60-61.

8. Asada Akira ,Koozoo to chikara: Kigoron o koete (Tokyo: 1983)

9. See Marilyn Ivy, "Critical Texts, Mass Artifacts: The Consumption of Know ledge in Postmodern Japan" in South Atlantic Quarterly (Summer 1988; special issue on "Postmodernism and Japan"), p. 424.

10. Transcribed discussion of Asada Akira, Jacques Derrida, Karatani Koojin, "Choohoohi shakai to chishikijin no yakuwari" (The Ultra- Consumer Society and the Role of the Intellectual), Asahi jaanaru (Asahi Journal) (25 May 1984). Also, see Marilyn Ivy, ibid., p. 438.

11. Karatani Koojin, "Ri no hihan: shisho ni okeru puremodan to postomodan" (The Critique of Confucian Principle: Premodern and Postmodern in Philosophy) in Gendaishi techo (May 1985):,p. 40. Cited by J. Victor Koschmann, "Maruyama Masao and the Incomplete Project of Modernity" in South Atlantic Quarterly (Summer 1988), p. 506.

12. Ibid. 13. Marilyn Ivy, op cit., p. 438. 14. Transcribed discussion of Asada Akira, Jacques Derrida, Karatani Koojin. "Chooshoohi shakai to chishikijin no yakuwari' op cit., p.8-9. Cited by Marilyn Ivy, op cit., p.439

15. Robert Magliola, Derrida on the Mend (Indiana: Purdue University Press,




1984), p. 89. While arguing for the analogy between Buddhist 'suunyataa and Derrida's diff'erance. Magliola argues for not only a "Buddhist differentialism" but also for what he calls a "Christian differentialism" based on trinitarian notions of God. He relates "Christian differentialism" to keenosis (Self-emptying) theology bared on Philippians 2: 5-11. In the Kyoto School of Japanese philosophy, Nishida Kitaroo, Nishitani Keiji and Abe Masao have also developed a Christian/Buddhist differentialism bared on the kenosis/'suunyataa motif. See my article on "Kenosis as a Foundation for BuddhistChristian Dialogue" in The Eastert Buddhist (Spring 1987).

16. Ibid.,p. 103

17. Ibid.,p. 104.

18. Ibid.,p. 88.

19. 1bid.,p. 89.

20. Steve Odin, "Kenosis as a Foundation for Christian-Buddhist Dialogue" in The Eastern Buddhist (Spring 1987). See especially pp. 51-54, wherein I articulate the kenosis/'suunyataa motif in relation to postmodern strategies of "decentering" as developed by Nishida, Nirhitani and Abe of the Kyoto School

21. Nishida Kitaroo, Last Writings: Nothingness and the Religious Worldview, tr. David A. Dilworth (Honolulu: University of Haw- aii Press, 1987). See translator's Postscript On "Nishida's Logic of the East," p. 137.

22. Jacquer Derrida, 0n Grammatology, , op cit. See G. C. Spivak's Translator's Preface, which discusses Derrida's idea of aporia (a contradiction, an irreconcilable paradox) as having the logic form of 'both is and is not."

23. Nishitani Keiji, Shukyo to wa naniko(Tokyo: Sobunsha,1961;2nd edition 1984).


25. Nishitani Keiji, ibid., E. 233/J. 256.

26. Ibid., E. 124/j.140.

27. Nishitani Keiji, E. 215/J.256.

28. Abe Masao, "Kenotic God and Dynamic 'suunyataa"(delivered at the Second Conference on East-West Religious Encounter, "Paradigm Shifts in Buddhism and Christianity" held in Honolulu, Hawaii, January 3-11, 1984: expanded and revised version), p. 45.

29. Ibid., p. 45.

30. Ibid., p. 41.

31. Ibid., p. 50.

32. Margot Norris, The Decentered Universe of Finnegans Wake (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1974).

33. Noel Burch, To the Dislant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979)..



34. David Pollack, The Fracture of Meaning Japan's Synthesis of China from the Eighth through the Eighteenth Centuries (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1986). Pollack argues that the.diff'erance or "fracture of meaning" in the dislocated Japanese text is located in the unique wakan or "Japanese/ Chinese" dialectic between the antitheses of alien form and native content.

35. H. D. Harootunian, Things Seen and Unseen: Discourse and Ideology in Tokugawo Nativism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 988). This work analyzes Tokugawa "nativism" (kokugaku) as a form of discourse from the standpoint of postmodern semiotic theories of textuality.

36. Roland Barthes, "From the Work to the Text," in Textual Strategies, ed. J. H. Harari (Ithica, New York: Cornell University Press, 1979), pp. 75-76.

37. Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, op cit., p.16.

38. Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs, tr. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982),p. 78.

39. Ibid.,p.22.

40. Lbid.,p.

41. Ibid .,p.30.

42. Ibid., p. l09.

43. Ibid., p. 108.

44. Noel Burch, To the Distant Observer, op cit., p. 15.

45. Roland Barthes,Empire of Signs. op cit.,p.49.

46. Noel Burch, To the Distant Observer, op cit.,p. 72.

47. Richard B. Pilgrim, "Ma:A Cultural Paradigm" in Chanoyu Quarterly:Tea and the Arts of Japan (No. 45, 1986), p. 32.

48. Ibid, p.39.

49. Ibid., p.47.

50. lbid., p.45.

51. Ibid., p.48.

52. Ibid., p.44.

53. Ibid., p.43.

54. Joseph Riddel, "Decentering the Image," in Textual Strategies (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1979) p. 332.

55. Jacques Derrida,On Grammatology, p.90.

56. 1bid., p.92.

57. Ibid., p.92.

58. Joseph Riddel, "Decentering the Image," op cit., p. 339

59. Ibid., p.339.

60. Ibid., p339.

61. 1bid., p.341.

62. Ibid.

63. lbid.. 344.






64. Ibid.,p. 358.

65. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, tr. W.Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Beaks, 1968),p. 267.

66. Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Rashomon and Other Stories, tr. Takashi Kojima (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle. 1952. See "In a Grave" pp. 13-25;and "Rarhomon"pp: 26-34.

67. Cited by Makoto Ueda, Modern Japanese Writers. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976),p. 129.

68 Ibid, p. 130. Also, see Akutagawa Ryunonuke, "Autumn Mountain," tr. Ivan Morris in Modern Japanes Stories: An Anthology, ed. Ivan Morris (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, 1962) pp. 173-184

69. Dudley Andrew, Film in the Aura of Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984. See Chapter 10 on "The Passion of Identification in the Late Films of Kenji Mizoguchi," pp. 186- 7.

70. Sooseki Natsume, Kusamakuro (Grass Pillow, 1906) in Sooseki Zenshu (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1925), Vol. 2. For a recent paperback edition see Kusamakura (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1972):

71. Natsume Sooseki, The Three-Cornered World. tr. Alan Turney (Tokyo: Charles E.Tuttle, 1984)

72. Soseki Natsume, Yo ga Kusamakura (My Grass Pillow) in Sooseki Zenshuu: Besatsu (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1925), Vol. 14. pp 565-568. See page 567. Soseki's essay first appeared in Bunsho sekai, November 1906.

73. Masao Miyoshi, Accomplices of Silence: The Modern Japanese Novel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974).


         a 空                       f 有

         b 即非                     g 神中心的

         c 虛無                     h 人間中心的

         d 相對的無                 i 肯定場
         e 絕對的無                 j 間