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Chōkōdō Shujin talks about the meaning of history in relation to the present and the future.

It must be said that these are the people who can understand the scheme of fate better than ordinary people. If they possess a greater understanding, they must be more obedient to their fate. There must come a calm and stoical resignation. And so the so-called ordinary man – the ordinary man who does not have the understanding to give up – must most strongly and powerfully rebel against his fate. He must assert the absolute right to life.

– Takeo Arishima

A peculiar essay written by the philosopher Takeo Arishima, “Fate and Man,” composed in 1918, describes the interplay between fate and human instinct. Arishima explores how fate is tied to death and the eventual end of all phenomena. Despite the knowledge of mortality, humans instinctively seek life. The piece emphasizes the importance of living in the present moment and the inherent human fear of death. This is inextricably linked to time, history, and to action. He contrasts those who fear death and seek stability with those who understand fate’s workings and aim to triumph over death. He discusses historical and philosophical perspectives, highlighting the common theme of moving from conflict to stability, in line with fate. Ultimately, the essay encourages living without fear, even in an unstable world, and striving to conquer death through various means. It suggests that regardless of fate’s nature, the path to triumphing over it involves cultivating an attachment to life and hastening one’s “great death.”

As Arishima wrote in a separate, untitled piece, history as a fact is considered to be about action. Man makes history. Thus, the very act of making history is history as a fact, while history made in response to this is history as existence. In this sense, history as a fact precedes history as existence, since making is more fundamental than being made, and without making, there would be no made thing. And indeed, making and being made are opposed. The made, by taking a fixed and limited form, becomes the other to the making as soon as it is made. In his journals, Arishima wrote, “As soon as the soul speaks, it no longer speaks.” History as existence is the actualization of history as a fact, and the negation of history as a fact. What is history as an act? The act is also the basis of historical cognition, because in order for historical cognition to be established, it is necessary to be aware of the fact of the existence of the historical. For historical cognition to be established, a totality must be given, and this totality can only be formed by decision, by cutting off the constantly shifting process of history, and this decision, by making up one’s mind, is necessary. He who desires to recognize cannot avoid making up his mind. By the way, every action contains freedom. Where there is no freedom, there is nothing that can be called action. In that sense, history as a fact is free.

However, when we speak of action, we are thinking of the “thing” that is being acted upon. Unless we take a position of contemplation, Arishima wrote, we cannot think about what we do apart from the “thing” to be done. In philosophical terms, what is this “thing”? It is doubtful this problem can be solved by thinking of this “thing” as “existence.” Not only in the case of recognition, but also in the case of object-perception, we generally cannot avoid the concept of “subject-object” in some sense, and the two are always differentiated from each other. As epistemologists say, that what cannot be objectified in any way is subjectivity; the true nature of the subject must be sought in what cannot be subordinated to the order of the object in any way. We can take our own existence as an object of our action. This is not to say that the subject or the subject-view is the pure ego, or even consciousness. We can regard the existence of our consciousness as the object of our action. Therefore, we cannot call the subject a being in the same sense as the object. It may be true that the subject is at the same time the object, and that we are the unity of subject and object, but such a unity must always be distinguished between the subject and object. We call the “thing that does” the actual thing. In this case, since the act and the thing are not two, it is called a “thing.” The subject can only be an object of existence after assuming the subject as a fact. The fact and existence are not completely independent of each other. The reality of a thing cannot be recognized objectively unless it exists.

Arishima distinguished between history as logos and history as existence. However, from the superior perspective of history as fact, history as logos can also be seen as being related to history as existence. History is a form of culture, along with art, law, etc., and as such is included in history as an entity. Historical writing is a kind of made history, and is a product of history insofar as it is seen as an act of making. Just as making art is sometimes called practicing art, writing history can be considered practicing history. This does not, of course, eliminate the distinction between history as logos and history as existence. Just as there is a distinction between the art itself and the history of the art, which is the historical description of the art, there can also be a historical description of the historical description, i.e. the history of historiography, which is distinct from the historical description itself, even if the historical description is seen as a history of existence, as a part of culture. In fact, writing history is one of the most fundamental human activities. The most ancient legends and myths of mankind were already in their own way a history of history. Even the earliest myths contained political truths and thus expressed the history of the ancients. Aristotle said that the lover of myths was in some sense a lover of wisdom, that is, a philosopher, but we could transfer this term and say that a lover of myth is in some sense a historian. By the way, the question is why one of the most characteristic and fundamental human activities is to write history, and why human activities are already historical in this very simple sense. If we can argue that writing history is a recognition and not an act, then we can say that the recognition of history itself presupposes an act as described above, and furthermore, writing history is not a pure recognition but an act that requires a pen and paper. In addition, it can be said that humans often recognize history for practical purposes, as in Japan history has been called Kagami, or “mirror,” since ancient times. We link our present actions to the past history. All of this must be based on the fundamental rules of human conduct itself, which must manifest the historicity of that conduct. The question is what this historicity is, or in other words, why the action must be called history as a fact.

We have come to call history as a fact the present. “We must look at our history. Look at our predecessors. And look at our own hearts. All good things and good thoughts are always moving in the same direction. From conflict to stability, to the Fixing Eyes of Fate,” writes Arishima. However, he continues, our concept of action is always linked to the concept of time, which is the future. Our actions always include a connection to the future. Because the present contains a relation to the future, for us the present is not “eternal” but rather “instantaneous.” Eternity is not time, but the supra-temporal. Where the present is the moment, there is time. Therefore, the most important occasion of time is the future. In this sense, the characteristic of time is anticipation. Since the present is a moment, our actions can be considered historical. On the contrary, eternity is transhistorical, not historical. And because the present is a moment, what we do actually involves “making up our minds.” We said above that history is written from the present, but now we must go further and say that history is written from the future. The reason why the present is not eternal but momentary is because it contains the negative. The present is the moment because the future contained in the present has a negative meaning in relation to the present. The most special concept of time, which is called the moment, is not free from negativity, and the present is not the moment simply because we have an idea of the future. What we do is realized in the future. However, the present is not an instant simply because of the relation of actuality, but the present is an instant because such actuality is at the same time a negation. History as a fact contains the necessity of becoming history as existence. To be so is, in part, the meaning of actuality. But history as fact and history as existence, as previously mentioned, are opposed to each other, and the latter is in other respects the negation of the former. Since the future is the negation or death of the present, the present, which is the future, is the very moment. In this sense, the nature of time is eschatological time. That is why human beings decide what they are going to do. As I have said before, such a moment is completely different from the minimum of metrological time, as common sense would have us believe. It has been said that the present moment not only includes the future, but can also encompass the past, and that the present encompasses and utilizes past history. In fact, as such, the moment is in time, but it is also the eternal. Arishima writes of this in “Fate and Man,” “I say that we are to live essentially in each present moment. The momentary present is at least the realm of life, the momentary future notwithstanding. As long as we are conscious of our existence there, there is no need to consider what fate is to come after all eternity. At least, some people may say so.” He continues, somewhat sardonically, “But this is after all a kind of deception and a kind of idealism.”

However, if the future that the present imagines has a negative aspect in relation to the present, this must prove that the present itself has a negative aspect as its impetus. “In desperation, we hesitate to go where our fate takes us,” writes Arishima. “As soon as man, or any other living being, begins to live on earth, there is nothing that is not threatened with death. All the philosophies fermented among us, whether they take the form of beliefs, ideas or demonstrations, are merely reactions of the human mind to death.” Since the present itself already contains a negative opportunity, it must also contain a future with a negative aspect. In other words, the action is historical because the action is not free and inevitable. History, as Arishima argued, cannot be established neither by absolute freedom nor by absolute necessity, but only by the combination of the two. Such a principle of necessity is called nature. It is not nature as an existence, but something natural that is contained in a thing. Now such a natural thing can be regarded as a sensible thing, especially a physical thing, which is inevitably connected to our actions. Arishima was especially familiar with the works of Immanuel Kant and Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Arishima defined things as non-territorial, but in the history of philosophy it was Kant who discovered the non-territorial. This is the ego. With it, he destroyed the old ontology and metaphysics. Kant’s “ego” became Fichte’s so-called “action” by being thoroughly practiced in a purely practical way. History as a fact, however, is not equal to Kant’s ego, nor to Fichte’s action. It is not a pure act, as in the case of Fichte, but rather a practice connected to the sensible and the physical. It is not action, but fact. The reason why the action has the meaning of a thing is because it is corporeal and sensual. If history as a fact is understood simply as an action, then the question arises as to what is the subject matter of this action? The subject of this action is some kind of “existence,” and we cannot think of it as something that is imagined prior to the action. This does not mean that Arishima can fully accept Fichte’s position. Rather, in what we do, he writes, which is the basis of history, what we do immediately has the meaning of a thing, and what we do immediately is a fact. The thing must also have the meaning of a thing, otherwise it cannot be called a thing. The thing does not presuppose the action, nor does the action presuppose the thing, but the action and the thing are one. Sensitivity is not simply receptive as a physical thing, but rather it is practiced. It was Marx who recognized this practicing nature of the senses and emphasized it, Arishima wrote. Because of this physical and sensible nature, man’s actions are inevitably connected to the existence of nature or nature as an existence. The body is not simply the existence of nature; it can therefore be called internal nature or human nature, as opposed to external nature. The body is at the same time a real natural thing. We are connected to external nature through our bodies. Any action that is not connected to some natural entity cannot be called historical. History is never separate from the existence of nature, but develops in the closest connection with it.

It is Arishima’s contention that we must go “from the confusion of the flesh to the alignment of the truth, from the confusion of the temporary to the unity of the real, from the disturbance of material life to the solemnity of spiritual life, from ugliness to beauty, from chaos to order, from hatred to love, from confusion to enlightenment… from rivalry to stability.”

 

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Chōkōdō Shujin

Chōkōdō Shujin is an artist in the tradition of the Shirakaba-ha,or White Birch School, of Japanese literature. As such, his work is strongly grounded in aesthetics, pessimism, and a strong skepticism towards modernity and technological “advancements.” A believer in art for art’s sake, Shujin is a poet, essayist, novelist, and hack writer of short stories. His translations of Japanese literature into English can be found on his substack: https://teikokubungaku.substack.com, and Twitter account: @CShujin. His hobbies include smoking cigarettes and thinking unpleasant thoughts. He resides in Aomori, Japan.

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