Edges / Bridges of Coexistence 02: Another Asia

7 December, 2007 UCHINO Tadashi, Edges / Bridges

“Okakura Tenshin’s English is so exquisitely Edwardian, almost archaic, and I wonder how his subtly nuanced writing can be translated into Japanese,” commented Rustom Bharucha after a lecture given at the symposium entitled “Another Asia: Beyond Tenshin’s Love and Friendship,” held at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts on Nov. 10th.

The comment was addressed to the audience nonchalantly after the lecture, while in the lecture, Bharucha, as a radical postcolonialist scholar/activist, had carefully examined and, as expected, critiqued Tenshin’s unarmed ideological implications in Ideals of the East. At the same time, he did not fail to draw our attention to the fact that Tenshin had decided to write the volume in English in Calcutta during his eight-month visit to India in 1902. What made Tenshin write, quite famously, “Asia is One,” to begin his first English book in India?

To answer the question, Bharucha, who has recently published Another Asia: Rabindoranath Tagore and Okakura Tenshin from Oxford University Press, tries to go beyond the obvious. His interest is in contemplating the strange yet undeniable sense of friendship Okakura developed with Tagore, the poet laureate of India, despite the fact that the two met only twice. Thus in Another Asia, Bharucha, who was born in Calcutta and still lives there, literally goes deep into the forest of symbols, into all those posthumous idealizations and romaticizations of the two “national” figures that still haunt our imaginary. His historical and discursive journey of demystification was necessary to find a way of imagining an alternative site that can be called Asia, or more precisely, to ask the question if it is possible at all for us to grow out of the futile dichotomic battleground of “official,” politicized Asia and “real”—inhabited by “real” people—Asia.

Friendship may seem an overly romantic or humanistic answer to the above question. The notion, however, is indispensable to turn our attention from the political and the ideological to the personal and the emotive. As Bharucha says:

Most friendships occupy the delicate and tense interstice of the private and the public: While most friendships are recognized in the public domain, there is something “secretive” even about the most open of friendships, which is shared at intersubjective levels in intangible ways. (in manuscript)

It is within the intellectual and scholarly exploration of “something ‘secretive’ ” that we may find a clue, as Bharucha does, to discover a site where the ideological dichotomy starts dysfuctioning and we may begin to think about another Asia. Bharucha is not proposing to evade the political and the ideological; he urges us to go beyond, if that is possible at all. If not, all scholarly and critical projects inevitably remain political and we will never be able to imagine, let alone talk about, the notion of Asia.

UCHINO, Tadashi

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