Work in progress: a history of modern and contemporary Ainu thought
I identify the 'lived experience' of being 'Ainu' in modern and contemporary Japan as something irrevocably bound to the temporal structure of modernity, and that structure in turn as something bound to both a metaphysical and eschatological notion of the finite and fragile 'human' as the ultimate plenitude of national and humanist politics. In accordance with this, to be 'Ainu' has meant to be constantly 'not yet' quite equal or modern enough. Modernity can only operate by constantly re-presenting to itself those mechanisms it is thought to have overcome by its own genesis. Because of this, 'Ainu', who from the Meiji era onwards were re-presented as 'natives' or 'former natives', found themselves inevitably bound to the time-structure of the 'not yet', or even the 'no longer not yet', and produced at crucial points in the nexus of modern power. In this sense, even an insistence on the coevalness of 'Ainu' existence often takes the temporal structure of modernity as given.
This project will show how 'Ainu' writers and intellectuals remarked upon their sense of embeddedness in the modern and contemporary world and it examines a syncretic connection between 'Ainu' and other intellectual traditions within modernity. Within 'Ainu' intellectual history there are moments of a kind of political redemption through which, divided from themselves and the contemporaneous unfolding of a history that would constantly interpellate them thus, people have attempted to suspend the historicist premises for 'Ainu' salvation and strive for a kind of politics that might finally place us in direct contact with the primal history of capitalist modernity (Walter Benjamin) - a history that demands being 'Ainu' to mean so much more than just that.
This politics has been overlooked in previous narratives of Ainu history. In order to highlight just how repressive the incorporation of Ainu into the Japanese state was, Ainu history writing has tended to focus upon the early-modern and previous eras in which it is understood that Ainu society had a relatively autonomous existence. In contrast to this, this project, far from attributing total coercive power to the 'modern lived experience of being Ainu,' pays attention to what that experience has enabled. Edward Said once said about 'Orientalism' that it was not finally an annihilating system: "in a boomerang effect, it equips its subjects with a critical repertoire that ultimately is used, ironically, to contest Orientalism's power and reach" (Gauri Viswanathan 'Introduction,' Power, politics, and culture: interviews with Edward W. Said, New York: Vintage Books, pp. xi-xxi, p. xv). The modern experience of 'Ainu' should be viewed in a similar light as a significant legacy for thought and part of world history. The politics outlined above also place modern and contemporary Ainu intellectual history into close proximity with black and Jewish, and other indigenous intellectual traditions, and has ramifications for new directions in what has nominally been called the question of the post-colonial.