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Book review: Ontology of Production: Three Essays, written by Nishida Kitarō

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This is a review-essay on William Haver’s recent translation of three essays by Nishida Kitarō in a volume entitled Ontologies of Production. Nishida is one of the founders of the famous Kyoto School of philosophy and, while his philosophy is not really Marxist, Haver attempts to bring Nishida into dialogue with Marx in his Introduction and through his selection of essays to translate. I attempt to situate Haver’s translation in a brief discussion of a recent debate on how to write modern Japanese intellectual history and, through this examination, I suggest a framework for analysing modern intellectual history drawing on the work of Harry Harootunian, Moishe Postone and Jacques Bidet. In short, this framework attempts to relate the production of ideas to the temporal dynamic associated with capital, the commodity-form and other related mediations that make up the modern global capitalist system. Then I turn to Haver’s Introduction and translations and both explain some of the key concepts of Nishida and show how, using the framework that I outlined, Nishida’s work can be conceived of as failing to understand its own conditions of possibility in the multiple mediations of capitalism. For this reason, Nishida’s work, like many other romantic critiques of capitalism, criticises the abstractions of modernity at an abstract level, failing to account for the mediations of capitalism such as class and the commodity.

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