Transwar Japanese Reading of Sima Qian’s Record of the Grand Historian: Reconsidering the Verum/Factum Principle

Presented by: Satoru Hashimoto

When: 10:45 – 11:45 am Section 2: Regions & Functions of Texts; Panel 3, 3C

Abstract: In my paper, I intend to reassess one of the foundational principles of humanistic sciences that human beings can understand what they made. Vico’s thesis, “The true [verum] and the made [factum] are convertible,” informed Auerbach’s conception of comparative literature, and Said grafted onto this tradition his rebuke of Eurocentrism and calls for expanding humanistic inquiry into the postcolonial worlds. The verum-factum principle continues to be instrumental in distinguishing the humanities from other sciences by demarcating their realm of study as the historical world created by the humans; or, the “civil world,” whose phenomena from ritual to law, religion to philosophy, mythology to literature, cinema, and manga are being studied by the humanists.

My paper intends to delve into the interpretation of Sima Qian’s Shiji (The Records of the Grand Historian) by Takeda Taijun (1912-76) in transwar Japan as a case in which engagement with an Chinese classic inspired a serious interrogation of the intelligibility of the historical world and the envisioning of new ethics of human self-knowledge. Takeda’s Shiba sen (Sima Qian), first published in 1943 and reprinted several times with radically revised prefaces in the postwar period, contemplates on Sima Qian’s conception of the historical world, and considers the deep doubts that haunt it on the very legitimacy of the heavenly Way. The ancient historiography, rather than serving as a mere case for a particular understanding of human civilization, indicates to Takeda an exemplar of a comprehension that was yet to be devised of the world, human agency, and history at the tumultuous juncture of civilizational “annihilations” in transwar East Asia. Takeda’s idiosyncratic reconstruction foregrounds the historian’s ultimate agency in “creating” a totality of the historical world that he argues Sima Qian affirmed through surviving imperial punishment. It therefore conceives of Shiji’s “anthropo-cosmology” as fundamentally contingent on the historian’s autobiographical, personal existence in history, undercutting the idea of the totality of the historical world preempted by the possibility in general of its being understood by human mind. Quite contrary to an expression of nihilism or cynicism, I want to consider the repeated publications of Shiba sen in transwar Japan as the search of an understanding of the world that breaks away from an anthropocentric capitalization of knowledge about it.

Through my reading of Takeda’s account on Shiji, I hope to argue for the necessity to reinterrogate the theoretical construct of the centuries-old verum-factum doctrine as we envision “comparative global humanities.” For today that doctrine seems to have to be critically problematized, as nature itself is being “made” by the humans in the Anthropocene, as if that catastrophic process had been driven by the human desire for an intelligible world.