A Dialogue on Language
between a Japanese and an Inquirer
Kuki Shūzō’s Version
Michael F. Marra
The title of my essay obviously refers to the “Dialogue on Lan
guage Between a Japanese and an Inquirer” which the German philoso
pher Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) wrote in 1959, and which appears
in On the Way to Language (Unter wegs zur Sprache ). The dialogue is a
fictional reconstruction of an actual meeting that Heidegger had with
Tezuka Tomio (1903–1983), a Japanese scholar of German literature who
visited the philosopher in Freiburg at the end of March 1954. The dia
logue begins with a reference to the Japanese philosopher Kuki Shūzō
(1888–1941), who had met Heidegger in 1927 at the house of Heideg
ger’s teacher, Edmund Husserl. In November 1927 Kuki attended
Heidegger’s lectures on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, as well as his
seminar on Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom , at the
University of Marburg. In the spring of 1928 Kuki audited Heidegger’s
lectures on Leibniz’s Logic and his seminar on Aristotle’s Physics. The
Dialogue begins as follows:
Japanese: You know Count Shuzo Kuki. He studied with you for a number of years.
Inquirer: Count Kuki has a lasting place in my memor y.
michael f. m arra | 57
He died too early. His teacher Nishida wrote his epitaph—for over
a year he worked on this supreme tribute to his pupil.
I: I am happy to have photographs of Kuki’s grave and of the grove
in which it lies.
J: Yes, I know the temple garden in Kyoto. Many of my friends often
join me to visit the tomb there. The garden was established toward
the end of the twelfth centur y by the priest Hōnen, on the east
ern hill of what was then the Imperial city of Kyoto, as a place for
reflection and deep meditation.
I: And so, that temple grove remains the fitting place for him who
J: All his reflection was devoted to what the Japanese call iki. (Heideg
ger 1971, 1)
The dialogue presents a critique of Kuki, which is actually Heidegger’s
critique of aesthetics. Heidegger’s mistrust of aesthetics is well known:
with Kant the work of art had become autonomous but, as a result, it
had lost its cognitive power. No work of art could advance any claim
to truth once aesthetic judgment had been separated from a critique of
pure reason. Heidegger’s search for the Being of a work of art was an
attempt to give back to the work of art the truth of its existence, thus
reshaping the role that art plays in the formation of human existence,
or Dasein. According to Heidegger, with Kuki things got even more
complicated: as a Japanese, Kuki adopted Western categories in order to
talk about the Being (Sein) dwelling in a house of language which had
nothing to do with Western houses. Heidegger questions the validity of
Kuki’s method in ver y clear terms, as one can see from the Dialogue:
J: Later, after his return from Europe, Count Kuki gave lectures in
Kyoto on the aesthetics of Japanese art and poetr y. These lectures
have come out as a book. In the book, he attempts to consider the
nature of Japanese art with the help of European aesthetics.
I: The name “aesthetics” and what it names grow out of European
thinking, out of philosophy. Consequently, aesthetic consideration
must ultimately remain alien to Eastasian thinking.
58 | A Dialogue on Language
Aesthetics furnishes us with the concepts to grasp what is of con
cern to us as art and poetr y.
Here you are touching on a controversial question which I often
discussed with Count Kuki—the question whether it is necessar y
and rightful for Eastasians to chase after the European conceptual
systems. (Heidegger 1971, 2–3)
Kuki never had a chance to respond to Heidegger’s charge—he had
died eighteen years before the publication of the Dialogue. However,
I believe that it is possible to elicit Kuki’s critique of Heidegger from
Kuki’s writings, although he was too polite to confront the venerable
master in any direct way. In this paper I will tr y to elicit this critique
using the poetr y which Kuki wrote during his extensive stay in Europe
from fall 1921 until December 1928. To begin with the conclusion I
would argue that, had Kuki written a rebuttal to Heidegger’s Dialogue,
he would have probably stressed the fact that this is not a dialogue at all.
It is a monologue in which, at the end, Heidegger only encounters him
self and no one else, as we can see from Heidegger’s use of Kuki’s key
aesthetic term, “iki,” which Kuki had discussed in his 1930 best seller Iki
「 い き 」の 構 造 [The Structure of Iki]. Kuki had defined iki—usually
translated as “chic,” or “refined”—as the Being of an ethnicity shaped
by Shinto rules of “allure” (bitai
媚態 ), Buddhist rules of “renunciation”
諦め ) and bushidō rules of “pride” (ikiji 意気地 ). The sum of
the three qualities is the equivalent of iki. On the other hand, for Heide
gger, iki is “the gracious, the breath of the stillness of luminous delight,
the appropriating occurrence of the lightening message of grace, the
coming of what has been, the emergence into openness in the sense of
unconcealedness, the reality of presence in its essential origin” (Heide
gger 1971, 44). In other words, iki is Heidegger’s philosophical house.
Does an encounter with the Other take place in Heidegger, and is
such an encounter possible? It seems to me that to these questions Kuki
gives negative answers. I will tr y to prove it by comparing Heidegger’s
reading of Hölderlin’s poem “The Ister” to the poetr y that Kuki wrote
in Paris in 1925–1926—poems which I recently translated in English
( Marra 2004 ). Heidegger dedicated the 1942 semester course to a
reading of “The Ister,” discussing the role that unhomeliness plays in the
michael f. m arra | 59
formation of one’s homeliness. By unhomeliness I mean the encounter
with something that is outside oneself (and, therefore, extremely diffi
cult to know), something other than oneself, foreign to oneself—in one
word, the Other. Poetr y is an eloquent example of what happens when
a poet encounters the Other—an exteriority which poetr y determines
whether it can be known or not, whether it can be penetrated or not.
Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin’s poem centered on the role that the
Other plays in the construction of homeliness, our feeling at home in
our natural surroundings. Basically, Heidegger posited the Ister (which
is the Greek name of the Donau River) as an enigma which, once it
is solved, discloses the truth that an encounter with the Other is pos
sible. My reading of Kuki’s poetr y leads me to draw exactly the opposite
conclusion—a meeting with the Other for Kuki was utterly impossible.
If Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin’s poetr y and my reading of Kuki’s
poetr y lead to the conclusion that their approach to the Other was dia
metrically opposed, this means that the two philosophers actually dealt
with different kinds of Others. Let us begin by reading Hölderlin’s hymn
Now come, fire!
We are impatient
To look upon Day,
And when the trial
Has passed through the knees
One may perceive the cries in the wood.
But, as for us, we sing from the Indus,
Arrived from afar, and
From the Alpheus, long we
Have sought what is fitting,
Not without wings may one
Reach out for that which is nearest
1 . I reached this conclusion by looking at Kuki’s poetr y, which reflects Kuki’s isola
tion in Paris—an isolation that led him to refine the issue in later works such as Iki no
kōzō and Gūzensei no mondai
偶然性の問題 [The Problem of Contingency, 1935]. In
these works, the meeting with the Other becomes the basic condition for the realiza
tion of a self which is free from the necessity of totality thanks to daily actualizations
of chance meetings. See Saitō 2007, 1–3 and chapters five and six of Mayeda 2006.
60 | A Dialogue on Language
And get to the other side.
But here we wish to build.
For rivers make arable
The land. For when herbs are growing
And to the same in summer
The animals go to drink,
There too will human kind go.
This one, however, is called the Ister.
Beautifully he dwells. The pillars’ foliage burns,
And stirs. Wildly they stand
Supporting one another; above,
A second measure, juts out
The roof of rocks. No wonder, therefore,
I say, this river
Distantly gleaming, down by Olympus,
When he, to look for shadows,
Came up from the sultr y isthmus,
For full of courage they were
In that place, but, because of the spirits,
There’s need of coolness too. That is why that hero
Preferred to come here to the wellsprings and yellow banks,
Highly fragrant on top, and black
With fir woods, in whose depths
A huntsman loves to amble
At noon, and growth is audible
In resinous trees of the Ister,
Yet almost this river seems
To travel backwards and
I think it must come from
Be said about this. And why does
It cling to the mountains, straight? The other,
The Rhine, has gone away
Sideways. Not for nothing rivers flow
michael f. m arra | 61
Through dr y land. But how? A sign is needed,
Nothing else, plain and honest, so that
Sun and moon it may bear in mind, inseparable,
And go away, day and night no less, and
The Heavenly feel warm one beside the other…. (Hölderlin
In his discussion of this poem Heidegger sees in the flow of the Donau
River an example of encounter with the foreign. Springing from the Swa
bian Alps the Donau has shaped the culture of the many countries it runs
through before entering the Black Sea. In Greece it takes the name of
Ister—the name that gives the title to Hölderlin’s poem. Together with
the Rhine, the Donau is a landmark of German culture, the provider of a
sense of ease and homeliness to the German people. What does homeli
ness mean? It means that one has reached what is nearest to him. How
ever, Heidegger reminds us that what is nearest to us is actually the most
remote from us. One needs wings in order to reach it. In other words,
our local prejudices hardly guarantee us a sense of homeliness unless
they are confronted by what discloses them as mere prejudices. Men are
thrown into a world, but this world is hardly homely unless it is con
fronted by what is foreign to it, what is unhomely. The foreign brings
to the notion of homeliness what is absent from the place in which we
have been thrown—an unhomeliness which is an original ingredient
of homeliness, and which will eventually make one feel at home. The
gods will finally live one beside the other in warmness. Stated differently,
homeliness cannot exist aside from unhomeliness and the foreign. The Ister is foreign to the Donau, although these two names refer to
the same river. The Ister flows in the land of the Indus, of the Alpheus,
and of Hercules who has been invited as guest to the coolness of the
Alps. The poem begins with an invitation to the fire of the sultr y isth
mus to find its way to the cool land of the Donau. Hercules brings to
Germany what Germany lacks: the fire of passion and inebriation, the
Dionysian moment that the German land of Apollo—the land of cold
rationality and planning—has forgotten. The Ister succeeds in bringing
to Germany this forgotten dimension since the calm waters of the river
look as if they travel backwards, back to their point of origin. The incor
62 | A Dialogue on Language
poration of fire into this cold rationality gives the German people an
ultimate sense of homeliness—a sense that could only be achieved with
an encounter with a foreign land. Homeliness is achieved only after pass
ing through the unhomeliness of a foreign Other. Once true homeliness
has been reclaimed, the Donau clings to the mountain, the regained
origin, rather than going sideways like the Rhine.For the time being I will leave aside the ominous tone of Heidegger’s
words which were pronounced one year before Germany would bring
its call to to the battlefields of southern, Mediterranean Europe. The
question that I want to raise in this essay is what happens when the for
eign unhomeliness is utterly Other and the Other is not the source of
one’s homeliness. Then, the encounter with the Other must be much
more dramatic than the one Heidegger described with the word Stoss
(shock). I will turn to Kuki’s poetic work—a work that clearly indicates
that Heidegger’s dialectics of “homeliness–unhomeliness” is based on a
homogeneous type of otherness. If so, how can the unhomely be truly
Other? As Kuki’s critique points out, Heidegger’s unhomeliness is not
the result of an encounter with the utterly Other; it is simply an incorpo
ration of the same into the concept of homeliness. Greece was much less
foreign to Germany than Germany and France were foreign to Japan. As
a matter of fact, Kuki spent nine years studying and writing in Germany
and France. His encounter with the Other was truly unhomely. In other
words, Kuki’s unhomeliness was truly foreign. His level of discomfort
in this encounter was much higher than Hercules’s discomfort when he
left the sultr y isthmus for the well springs and yellow banks of the land
of fir woods.
Kuki’s encounter with the other
How did Kuki experience his encounter with the Other? Kuki’s
encounter with Europe was quite br utal, although he did not suffer
from extended periods of discrimination, due to his aristocratic status
and great personal wealth. However, we can easily imagine the amount
of tension that Europe was producing with regard to racial matters. The
following is an account of Kuki’s arrival in Heidelberg in 1921 by Her
michael f. m arra | 63
mann Glockner, a student of Heinrich Rickert who used to live in his
One day Rickert surprised me with the news that he had just decided
to give private lessons to a Japanese, a fabulously wealthy samurai
who had asked him to read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason with him.
This unusually distinguished gentleman looked totally different from
the rest of his countr ymen. He was tall and slender, with a relatively
narrow face, a nose almost like that of Europeans, and unusually deli
cate hands. His name was Kuki, which meant something like “Nine
Devils” (as he himself told us). (quoted in Marra 2004, 15)
Kuki produced a critique of racism which is humorous and quite inci
sive in a poem titled “Yellow Face” (Kiiroi kao )—a dialogue between a
European who presents a racist argument based on the notion of sick
ness, an Asian positivist thinker who introduces an argument based on
the notion of cause and effect, an Asian metaphysician whose argument
is based on the notion of God, and a European critical thinker whose
argument is based on the notion of value. They all challenge each other
in finding the best explanation for the existence of different skin pig
mentation. The poem is included in a collection titled Sleep Talking in
Paris ( Parī no negoto), and was originally published in the journal Myōjō
(Morning Star) in October 1926:
Your face is so yellow
Inhabitants of the southern countries of Spain
Unable to stand strong sunlight,
Have a brown face but
It might be rude to say but
The Chinese and the Japanese have contracted
Something like a chronic jaundice….
This is what we Europeans
This seems a little harsh.
64 | A Dialogue on Language
The place where we find skin pigments and
The layer where the yellow color of jaundice
Is present are different.
It seems that our ancestors
Pumpkins and tangerines.
Maybe they also drank too much
Of the Yellow River and Yellow Sea.
The distinction between races is inborn.
In a former life we committed mischief,
The gods got terribly upset,
Then the demons came upon us,
Caught us while we were running away,
Forced on our heads the filth of urine and feces.
Our yellow face
Stands as eternal memorial
To the merciless curse
Of just gods.
The Kritik Philosopher:
I am not going to mimic the arguments
Of the birdcatcher in the Magic Flute, but
There are yellow persons
As there are yellow birds.
The issue of becoming is a different complexity,
Reality is given as reality.
In short, we should establish appropriate categories
For the concept of yellow race
And look at it from the standpoint of value.
Well, how can a yellow face become white?
Let’s turn this problem from pure reason
To the realm of the practical. (Marra 2004, 55–57)
How did Kuki explain the issue of different skin pigmentation? He did
it by developing a philosophy of contingency—the race is determined by
the rolling of the dice, a purely contingent act which breaks the chain of
necessity. There are three levels in Kuki’s structure of contingency:
michael f. m arra | 65
Categorical contingency (teigenteki gūzensei 定言的偶然性 ), which
explains the individuality of race over the generality of being born as a
human being rather than as an animal or a tree. However, this contin
gency is predicated on what Kuki calls “hypothetical necessity,” which
is the result of a cause and an effect. I was born Japanese because my
parents were Japanese. And yet, this necessity is predicated on a sec
ond type of contingency:
Hypothetical contingency (kasetsuteki gūzen
仮説的偶然 ). The encoun
遭遇 ) between the Japanese parents happened by chance; it
was a chance encounter ( kaikō
邂逅 ). Again, this is not a pure con
tingency, since it is based on what Kuki calls “disjunctive necessity.”
Although the Japanese parents met by chance, they worked in the
same factor y. This necessity is, once again, predicated on a third type
Disjunctive contingency (risetsuteki gūzen
離接的偶然 ). Although the
parents worked in the same factor y, they happened to be alive, a fact
which includes the possibility of the necessity of death and an open
ing to the ultimate reality of nothingness.
In other words, human existence is a reality created by a series of con
tingencies: an individual is characterized by its difference from another
for no necessar y reason (categorical contingency); it meets by chance
with another for no necessar y reason (hypothetical contingency); and
it eventually fades into nothingness for no necessar y reason (disjunctive
contingency). Kuki discussed the issue of contingency in a poem titled
“ Gūzensei” (Contingency), which we find in the collection Fragments
from Paris (Hahen, Parī yori, 1925).
Could you find a proof to the design
Of parallel straight lines?
That was your aim:
Did you withdraw your fundamental claim?
Did the central issue become
That to the angles of a triangle’s sum
Two right angles are equal?
Or was it less than a 180–degree sequel?
In Alexandria the old book was found,
66 | A Dialogue on Language
Principles of Geometr y two thousand years ago bound,
No matter whether the worms ate it or not,
Euclid is a great man, never forgot,
Who with lines and points the shape of the universe drew!
You and I, I and you,
The secret of a chance encounter I saw,
Of love the antilaw.
This is the geometr y of life’s retribution,
Won’t you bring it for me to some solution?
At the straight line of cause and effect A we look!
The straight line of cause and effect B we took!
The principle that two parallel lines do not intersect,
To the intersection of parallel lines don’t you object?
With this, contingency is fulfilled,
With chaos Venus is filled,
Two people a string of pearls detect
Brought by the waves of cause and effect. (Marra 2004, 51–52)
Kuki’s critique of western philosophies
The challenge that Kuki’s thought presented to the homogene
ity of Western constructions of the Other was actually based on a series
of deconstructions which were quite in tune with Heidegger’s project
of dismantling metaphysics. It is paradoxical to notice that, while Kuki
was learning from Heidegger the need to deconstruct two thousand
years of Western philosophy, he was actually pointing out the limitations
of Heidegger’s philosophy by critiquing the homogeneous nature of
Heidegger’s Other. Kuki challenged all the major ingredients of Western
metaphysics—notions such as necessity, causality, the primacy of iden
tity, sameness, completion, and the law of non contradiction. We find
in his poem “The Dialectical Method” (Benshōronteki hōhō ) a sarcas
tic attack on the Hegelian dialectics of thesis, synthesis, and antithesis.
(Kuki wrote two versions of this poem, the second of which was com
posed in rhyming verse.)
michael f. m arra | 67
Sobbing out a counterpoint.
Glaring at each other are clouds of rain,
Not even a canon
Living in a field at dawn
Hornets and red starlilies
Entwine to make honey,
Who can explain this?
God and witch
Plight their promise and give birth to humanity.
These are the rules of life,
Thesis, antithesis, synthesis,
The tone of logos,
The singer a priest,
How good, a triple time
Dancing the waltz.
Hell, paradise—they disappoint,
Sobbing out a counterpoint,
A journey is a fellow traveler’s grime,
Glaring at each other are clouds of rain,
Even a canon in vain
Misses the time.
Hornets and starlilies
Entwining to make honey with smiles,
Bless the fields in early summer wild,
Benevolent god and witch,
Embrace each other, become one twitch,
Give birth to a human child!
The tone of life,
Thesis, antithesis, synthesis’ strife,
Well now, call the tune,
How grand, a triple feast,
Dance the waltz soon! (Marra 2004, 52–53 and 118)
68 | A Dialogue on Language
Basically, Kuki asked the question, how could the contingency of
human life be reduced to a mathematical formula? How could the expe
rience of existence be described by any model of pure rationality? The
poem “The Geometr y of Gray” (Haiiro no kika) is an eloquent witness
to the futility of such attempts.
A perfect circle wrapping a dream’s tips,
How many days going round and round,
The orbit an ellipse,
A fire burning in the focal point is found.
Waking up a triangle,
A theor y born of the angle,
The chart a rectangle,
How many names for stars dangle?
A round square
The awakening of the soul’s glare?
∞ opposition’s fiction.
The geometr y of gray,
Is that the spirit solving human play? (Marra 2006, 114)
Human life is much too complex to be reduced to a law, a method,
whether Hegelian dialectics or Kantian categories. The following is a
short poem (#128) from the collection Sonnets from Paris (Parī shōkyoku):
Hanchū ni How many years have I spent
Toraegatakaru Lamenting to myself
Onogami o This body of mine—
Ware to nagekite As difficult to grasp
Hetsuru ikutose As a categor y?
(Marra 2006, 92)
Rationalism by itself does not explain human life, at least not the
rationalism on which logic is based. The un named, un articulated, un
expressed are as powerful tools to make sense of life as any fully articu
lated techniques based on purely technical/technological terms. The
negative is as powerful as the positive once it comes to tr ying to grasp
the unnameable reality of existence. This is Kuki’s message in the poem
michael f. m arra | 69
“The Negative Dimension” (Fugōryō, the Japanese translation of Kant’s
In a shadow there is the blessing of a shadow,
It is not just that the shadow is not exposed to sunlight.
Ice has the taste of ice,
It is not the same as cooled hot water.
You can pull out your white hair,
Black hair won’t grow.
Cannot become a ladyinwaiting.
Plus and minus—both extremes
Are affirmations second to none.
The law of contradiction regrettably
Is an odd pair, a oneeyed man, a man with one arm.
Glor y to yin!
Glor y to yang!
Smell the fragrance!
Let the flower bloom! (Marra 2004, 51)
As several Western thinkers had already pointed out—the Frenchman
Henri Bergson (1859–1941) first among all—the inability to fully articu
late a philosophy of existence was due to the tendency of reducing it
to quantitative time (temps-quantité), the measurable fixed time of the
clock, rather than explaining it in terms of qualitative time (temps-qual-
ité) of pure duration that no clock can catch. The latter is heterogeneous,
dynamic, and creative. Only the time of pure duration can explain the
heterogeneity of human life, catching what falls in the cracks of the time
of the clock. Pure duration is the flowing of inner life that no formula
can catch. As Kuki argues in the poem “Pure Duration” (Junsui jizoku ,
the Japanese translation of Bergson’s “dureé pure”), quantitative time is
nothing but the reduction of human life to the homogeneity of space.
Falling in love with space
Time, what a shabby illegitimate child!
To give birth was a mistake in the first place,
70 | A Dialogue on Language
To repent for it, a goodfornothing goblin,
The cause of your worries night in and night out.
Hello tortoise, dear tortoise!
To lose to a rabbit in a race, isn’t that a victor y?
A gull floating on the water says,
I will not be outrun by a duck!
You are thirty something,
Still studying 31–syllable poems?
You say it is a 5/7/5/7/7 syllable poem?
That two stanzas 17/14 is the norm?
That three stanzas 12/12/7 is the poem’s original form?
Aren’t you rewriting the poem since the caesura splitting verses is bad?
Don’t mistake “line” for “nine”!
A stanza is not made of numbers.
Since homogeneity is the foundation of compromise,
Respect the tune of pure heterogeneity!
Recollection of the past as well
Depends on time:
To curl your fingers around moldy possibilities
Is the habit of the loser.
Shout in your heart!
A flash of lightning
A color. (Marra 2004, 53)
Kuki’s other: the allure of the fem ale
All the poems we have examined to this point are mark
ers of Kuki’s attacks on homogeneous time, homogeneous space, and
the homogeneity of the dialectical method. Kuki clearly indicates that
homogeneity is not the right path to follow when we want to talk about
human life. Then, the big question remains, how do we talk about het
erogeneity? Is there a way to deal with heterogeneity? Or is heteroge
neity just too much to handle? The latter seems to be the conclusion
michael f. m arra | 71
that one must reach looking at the unsuccessful attempts in Western
philosophy to do so. Maybe there is no way to deal with the Other, for
the simple reason that the Other is utterly foreign. Maybe the encounter
with the Other is just too brutal for man to be able to sur vive it and talk
about it. When one looks at Kuki’s poetr y, one notices the repeated use
of two metaphors indicating the heterogeneity of the Other and, at the
same time, the desire that this Other produces: women and food—actu
ally, French women and French food. The topic is appetizing; the con
clusion is not. Kuki’s obsession for women includes dancers, high class
entertainers, as well as ver y plain streetwalkers. Thanks to his poetr y we
know all the women’s names. We find Yvonne, Denise, Rina, Marianne,
Louise, Henriette, Jeannine, Renée, Yvette, and Suzanne.
Tomoshibi no The smiling profile
Moto ni Ivonnu ga Of Yvonne
Emu yokogao wa Under the light
Doga no e yori ya Seems to come out more starkly
Idete kiniken Than from a painting by Degas!
(Marra 2004, 67)
Yamite yaya Having fallen ill
Hō no hosoriken Her cheeks will be slightly thinner—
Donīzu ga When Denise
Emeba koyoi wa Smiles, how charming
Namamekashikere This evening will be!
(Marra 2004, 69)
Koyoi shi mo Saying,
Roshia no kouta Let’s sing the little Russian song
Shiyo mōshite This evening,
Rina ga nuretaru If only Rina would live
Me ni zo ikimashi In the damp pupils of my eyes!
(Marra 2004, 72)
Torikago ni A goldfish
Kingyo no oyogi Swims in the birdcage;
Minazoko ni A canar y chirps
Kanaria no naku Under water—
Mariannu ka na It must be Marianne!
(Marra 2004, 73)
72 | A Dialogue on Language
Ruīzu ga Louise
Ware o mukaete Welcomes me
Yorokobase And makes me happy—
Nihon no nui no She leaves wearing
Kinu tsukete izu A garment of Japanese embroider y.
(Marra 2004, 74)
Pansuchiu to How hard to forget even
Anrietto ga Henriette’s
Iitsuru kuse mo Habit of speaking
Wasuregatakari When she says, “Pensestu?”
(Marra 2004, 74)
Janīnu ga Faintly a light rain
Mune naru bara no Fall dampening
Kurenai o The crimson
Kosame honoka ni Of the rose
Nurashitsutsu furu On Jeannine’s chest.
(Marra 2004, 80)
Furusato no My heart smells
“Iki” ni niru ka o A fragrance similar to
Haru no yo no The “stylishness” of my homeland
Rune ga sugata ni In the figure of Renée
Kagu kokoro ka na On a spring night.
(Marra 2004, 83)
Ivetto ga Feigning not to know,
Mi no uebanashi I listen
Ōuso to To Yvette
Shiredo soshiranu Boasting about herself,
Kao o shite kiku Though I know it’s a big lie.
(Marra 2004, 90)
Yakiguri ga An evening
Parī no tsuji ni When roasted chestnuts perfume
Kaoru yoi The street corners of Paris—
Tachite kuri hamu Yvonne, Suzanne
Ivonnu, Suzannu Stand and eat chestnuts.
(Marra 2004, 78)
michael f. m arra | 73
(There is no doubt as to the profession of these women standing in a street
corner of Paris, warming themselves up while waiting for customers).These are all difficult encounters with the foreign Other—over
reaching, impossible to grasp, superficial, unfulfilling encounters. This
obsessive search for the alluring West results in painful disillusions—the
realization that no encounter will ever take place with the Other. In
other words, the encounter with the Other is utterly impossible. Any
naïve attempts to believe other wise would be like throwing pearls to
pigs, as Kuki says quoting from the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not
give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do,
they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to
pieces” (Matthew 7:6). The encounter with the Other could turn fatally
smelly and unpleasant to witness, as we see in the poem “Pig” (Buta).
I remember giving the pig the pearls
Of the fruit of the pearl oyster shell.
The pig swallows the pearls,
Grumbling with her muffled
Creak, squeak, creak,
And trots along here and there
In the mud.
Look in the ordure she dropped!
The pearl as well is the color of dirt.
I remember giving the pig the pearls
Of the fruit of the pearl oyster shell. (Marra 2004, 60)
It goes without saying that a feminist reading of this poem would turn
the tables on Kuki by positing the man as the squeaking pig.
Kuki’s other: craving for foreign food
Food is the other example in which the desire for the Other
turns into gourmandism with unpleasant consequences. We find many
poems on food in Kuki’s collections, starting with the long poem “Sea
food Restaurant” (Sakana ryōriya) from Paris Mindscapes (Parī Shinkei,
74 | A Dialogue on Language
Oh, the sea, the sea
Born in an island countr y in the Far East
I pine for the blue sea,
The shore scattered with seashells,
White sand bathing in the morning sun,
The smell of seaweed, the sound of waves,
I wonder, you who grew up in Paris,
Do you understand my feelings?
Tonight let us go to Prunier
On Victor Hugo Avenue.
Pillars designed with the pattern of scallops,
Lamps shaped as sea crabs,
Water y foam on the walls,
Fish on the counters,
The ceiling a light turquoise,
The rug the crimson color of seaweed,
A faint floating light,
A scent more fleeting than a dream,
Like breathing at the bottom of the sea,
My favorite seafood restaurant.
What was your favorite dish?
Salmon roe sandwich,
Sea urchin in its shell
Sprinkled with lemon juice,
The chowder bouillabaisse
A specialty from Marseilles,
Lobsters the thermidor style
Not the American style,
I too like
The steamed flatfish Paris style.
For a dress I will choose clothes of black silk.
Don’t you like the way my figure looms over the silver wall,
One snowy white rose on my breast,
Pearls for necklace,
michael f. m arra | 75
A platinum watch on my wrist,
A white diamond ring,
A hat the green color of laver
I will pull down over my eyes coquettishly?
Let me please make my lipstick heavy.
Do you still insist I am princess of the sea? (Marra 2004, 46–47)
Several tanka also deal with food:
Toki to shite Since, at times,
Koki irodori no I pine for
Itaria ga The intense colors
Koishiki yue ni Of Italy,
Ichijiku o hamu I end up eating a fig.
(Marra 2004, 70)
Zensai no Vinegar dishes
Sunomono mo yoshi Are good appetizers, too,
Komayaka ni The finger’s gesture
Fōku o toreru In taking the fork delicately
Yubitsuki mo yoshi Also is good.
(Marra 2004, 74)
Maruseru to Won’t I find consolation
Aniesu to kuu In the seafood
Puriunie no Of Prunier,
Sakana ryōri ni mo Where I eat
Nagusamanu ka na With Marcel and Agnès?
(Marra 2004, 84)
Or, the first verse of the rhyming poem “Cointreau” (Koantorō):
To the streets of Paris I cling,
A restaurant late at night,
Small bottle of Cointreau, a bite,
The blessing of a fleeting spring. (Marra 2004, 113)
The outcome of the consumption of so much foreign food is quite
predictable—an indigestion of unhomeliness that makes the poet vomit,
76 | A Dialogue on Language
as we see from Kuki’s poem “Vomiting” (Hedo) from the collection Win-
dows of Paris ( Parī no Mado, 1925).
At times I vomit.
Sitting in a chair in my study,
Suddenly nausea comes.
I bolt up without knowing what I am doing,
Poke my head out the window onto the street,
Vomit driven by distress:
Entrails of crabs, jellyfish,
Rabbit’s testicles, pigeon’s liver.
Divine wrath of gourmandism!
Proof of indigestion!
It also smells of wine.
Formal wear, pleated skirt, don’t get close,
Surplice and priestly robe stay away,
School cap don’t come near,
Women, children run!
At times I vomit.
Not a case of appendicitis!
Not a pregnancy!
I must be possessed by an annoying fox. (Marra 2004, 65)
This poem confirms once again that the encounter with the
Other is nothing but a simple illusion, or better to say, a painful delu
sion. What conclusions can we draw from the reading of Kuki’s poetr y?
Kuki points at three dif ferent solutions of the enigma of the Other:
michael f. m arra | 77
the Hegelian approach, the Heideggerian approach, and Kuki’s own
approach. The annoying fox makes the Hegelian synthesis impossible.
Hegel was able to digest the Other after mercilessly feeding on it in a
process in which the Other was completely digested, obliterated, and
expunged from the body. With Heidegger, the Other is recuperated (the
Ister flows back into the Donau), but, as we saw from Kuki’s critique, it
turned out that Heidegger’s Other was not totally other; it was simply
the other side of sameness, Germany’s local Orient—Greece. This Other
turned out to be a homogeneous Other, against Heidegger’s own inten
tion to overturn metaphysics and the principle of self sameness. What we
learn from Kuki is that the true Other can only be vomited. It is a rich
food, an appetizing food, a tempting food, but it is just too much food
to handle. We are back to square one: how do we deal with the truly
Other? How does the truly Other inform our feeling of homeliness? This
certainly requires some further thought. For the time being, I hope the
reader enjoyed at least the poetr y.
R eference s
1971 On the Way to Language, trans. Peter D. Hertz. San Francisco: Harper
1998 Selected Poems and Fragments, trans. Michael Hamburger. London:
Marra , Michael F.
2004 Kuki Shūzō: A Philosopher’s Poetry and Poetics. Honolulu: University of
2006 Time, Space and Ethics in the Philosophy of Watsuji Tetsurō, Kuki Shūzō,
and Martin Heidegger. New York: Routledge.
2007 La question de l’Autre chez Kuki Shūzō. Revue d’ Études Japonaises du
Centre Européen d’ Études Japonaises d’Alsace, Benkyōkai 2: 1–13. Auril
lac: Publications Orientalistes de France.
A Dialogue on Language between a Japanese and an Inquirer
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