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Persons and Personal Identity

The Space of the Self: An analysis of the notion of subjective spatiality in the philosophy of Watsuji Tetsuro

Erin McCarthy (Ph.D. Candidate)
University of Ottawa

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ABSTRACT: In this paper, I will first examine the spatial aspect of self as found in Watsuji Tetsuro’s Climate and Culture. My study will focus almost entirely on the first chapter of this work where Watsuji sets out his theory of climate. I will then turn to his recently translated Ethics and examine the spatiality of the self as ningen, concentrating mainly on Chapter Nine, "The Spatiality of a Human Being." I do not pretend to give a full account of Watsuji’s philosophy, but hope to raise questions in order to think of space and self in a different manner, recognizing space as an essential element in the constitution of a concept of self — one forgotten in Heidegger’s Being and Time and in many contemporary accounts of personal identity.

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It was after reading Heidegger’s Being and Time, that Watsuji Tetsuro became inspired to write Climate and Culture. He writes in the preface that "I found myself intrigued by the attempt to treat the structure of man’s existence in terms of time but I found it hard to see why, when time had thus been made to play a part in the structure of subjective existence, at the same juncture space also was not postulated as part of the basic structure of existence." (1) Indeed in Heidegger’s work, he goes on to say, space

tended to be almost obscured in the face of the strong glare to which time was exposed. I perceived that herein lay the limitations of Heidegger’s work, for time not linked with space is not time in the true sense and Heidegger stopped short at this point because his Dasein was the Dasein of the individual only. He treated human existence as being the existence of a man. From the standpoint of the dual structureboth individual and socialof human existence, he did not advance beyond an abstraction of a single aspect. But it is only when human existence is treated in terms of its concrete duality that time and space are linked. (2)

For Watsuji, self in its only meaningful sense always includes the individual and at the same time the social aspect of being in the world. This is the concept of human being as ningena term which Watsuji develops to its fullest extent in Ethics. By virtue of examining self in its dynamic dual structure, space becomes an irreducible, integral aspect of a concept of self and can potentially provide us with a fuller picture of who and how we are in the world than one that concentrates on time only. In examining self as purely individual, this aspect of implacement in the world brought out by recognition of the spatial, is lost; as it was in Heidegger and as it is, I believe, in the work of many of the modern day commentators on personal identity.

In what follows I will first examine the spatial aspect of self as found in Climate and Culture. My study will focus almost entirely on the first chapter of the work where Watsuji sets out his theory of climate. I will then turn to Watsuji’s recently translated Ethics and examine the spatiality of the self as ningen, concentrating mainly on Chapter Nine, "The spatiality of a human Being". I do not pretend here to give in any manner a full account of Watsuji’s philosophy, but hope to raise questions in order to think space and self in a different manner, recognizing space as an essential element in the constitution of a concept of selfone forgotten in Heidegger and many contemporary accounts of personal identity.

Let us begin then, with Climate and Culture. We heard a moment ago, that Watsuji was reacting against Heidegger and indeed the West’s individualism which ignored the spatial aspect of the human being. The space that Watsuji examines, however, is not an abstract notionnot the space studied by scientists, nor Euclidean, geometrical spacerather, it is subjective space. In the first paragraph of the preface to Climate and Culture, Watsuji introduces this notion in making an important distinction between climate and environment:

My purpose in this study is to clarify the function of climate as a factor within the structure of human existence. So my problem is not that of the ordering of man’s life by his natural environment. Natural environment is usually understood as an objective extension of ‘human climate’ regarded as a concrete basis. But when we come to consider the relationship between this and human life, the latter is already objectified, with the result that we find ourselves examining the relation between object and object, and there is no link with subjective human existence. It is the latter that is my concern here, for it is essential to my position that the phenomena of climate are treated as expressions of subjective human existence and not of natural environment. (3)

This distinction between climate and environment is key to understanding Watsuji’s approach to climate and his concept of spatiality, for, contra the normal concept of climate understood as natural environment, Watsuji’s notion of climate, we will see, cannot be pinned down as either subject or object. In fact, he tells us in Ethics, environmental space which comes merely from the individual is an abstraction and denies the true origins of spatiality:

Environmental space arises when one eliminates the tension spread over subjective spatiality and then stands on the standpoint of the individual.... The negation of subjective spatiality,that is, the standpoint of the individual, established these sorts of space. In spite of this, the origin of space lies in the ‘betweenness’ of subjects, that contradicts the standpoint of the individual. (4)

We see the beginnings of what will become more clear as we explore the notion of subjective spatiality, that is, that if one is to give a complete account of human being in the world, wherein lies the concept of an implaced self, a concept in which there is a balance of the temporal and the spatial, one cannot focus merely on the individual but must recognize one’s inherent connection to others.

Climate, we saw a moment ago, is an ‘expression of subjective human existence’ in all of its aspects both individual and social. Even the statement ‘I feel cold’ is not an entirely subjective statement made by a purely individual consciousness. Watsuji maintains that ‘the cold’ and ‘I’ are not entirely independent of one another, that "When we feel cold, we ourselves are already in the coldness of the outside air. That we come into relation with the cold means that we are outside in the cold." (5) Furthermore, because we can use "the expression ‘we feel cold’ without any contradiction, it is ‘we’, not ‘I’ alone that experience the cold." He goes on to explain that this "is not an intentional relation but a ‘mutual relationship’ of existence. Thus it is primarily ‘we’ in this ‘mutual relationship’ that discover our selves in the cold." (6) In other words, we discover ourselves in all our aspects of being, in climate, for, he goes on, "in our relationship with the cold, we come to engage ourselves, individually and socially, in various measures for protecting ourselves from the cold... The apprehension of the self in climate is revealed as the discovery of such measures; it is not the recognition of the subject....We have discovered ourselves in climate, and in this self-apprehension we are directed to our free creation." (7) It is not the subject that has been recognized, rather the self, as social and individual in relationship with climate. The proper dimension of climate, until now, Watsuji maintains, misunderstood as natural environment, is neither object nor subject, rather a relationthe ground out of which man’s self-apprehension arises yet at the same time an expression of the self. It does make possible the subject/object relation but should not be seen exclusively as this structure. Indeed, it reflects the structure of human being as ningen in its dynamic natureits constant movement, a reciprocity that moves back and forth between social and individual, climate and history, space and time. Watsuji tells us that the "activity of man’s self-apprehension, man, that is, in his dual character of individual and social being, is at the same time of a historical nature. Therefore, climate does not exist apart from history, nor history apart from climate." (8) The two, then, are mutually determining . Watsuji then, does not want to eliminate temporality from a concept of self, in fact he would agree with the importance of the self’s historicity. What he would maintain over and above Heidegger is the importance of the recognition that the self’s temporality and spatiality are inextricably linked. Furthermore, in recognizing climate, rather than environment, we further see space as an expression of subjective human existence, for, understood in this way, climate it is not simply the natural environment, but the "geographical/cultural/social clustering of attitudes and expectations that relate to a specific region of the earth." (9)

The space, the climate one finds oneself in then, will be the very ground out of which a particular concept of self will arise and which in turn will be created by the very self it expresses. Once one admits the irreducible spatiality of human beings, the concept of self that will arise could never be that of the purely individual consciousness which arose out of Heidegger’s key error of ignoring this aspect of Dasein. For Dasein, at its most authentic moment, in its being-towards-death, is entirely alone, isolated. In examining climate, recognizing the spatial, the apprehension not only of the individual, but also of the social aspect of the same self will occur: : "From the standpoint of the individual, this becomes consciousness of the body, but in the context of the more concrete ground of human life, it reveals itself in the ways of creating communities, and thus in the ways of constructing speech, the methods of production, the styles of building, and so on." (10) The space of the self, the climate, will express the means of livelihood of a people, their arts, religion, styles of dress, architecture. In turn, the spaces created within the given climate will further determine a particular concept of self which will be yet further expressions of subjective human existence as climate.

Watsuji’s study of ethics as ningen, he explains in Ethics, is to get "away from the misconception, prevalent in the modern world, that conceives of ethics as a problem of individual consciousness only."(9) (11) "The locus of ethical problems", he tells us, "lies not in the consciousness of the isolated individual, but precisely in the in-betweenness of person and person." (12) In other words, ethics is the study of human beings as ningen, as individual and as social in the betweenness among selves in the world. I’m going to take just a few minutes here to try to define Watsuji’s concept of ningen further. Watsuji tells us that

it refers not merely to and individual ‘human being’ nor merely to ‘society.’ What is recognizable here is a dialectical unity of those double characteristics that are inherent in a human being. In so far as it is a human being, ningen as an individual differs completely from society. Because it does not refer to society, it must refer to individuals alone. Hence, an individual is never communal with other individuals. Oneself and others are absolutely separate. Nevertheless, insofar as ningen also refers to the public, it is also through and through that community which exists between person and person, thus signifying society as well, and not just isolated human beings. Precisely because of its not being human beings in isolation, it is ningen. Hence, oneself and the other are absolutely separated from each other but, nevertheless, become one in communal existence. Individuals are basically different from society and yet dissolve themselves into society. Ningen denotes the unity of these contradictories.

We recognize here, I believe, the same sort of movement evident in climate. A constant dynamic motion back and forth, never static.

Watsuji demonstrates the intrinsic spatiality and the dynamic nature inherent in the concept of human being as ningen in his comparison of the German term Welt (world) with the Japanese terms yononaka and seken (the public).He argues that while the German term includes the significance of the world of nature and the notion of community, the Japanese terms have a ‘plus value’:

the term Welt signifies a generation, or a "group," a sum total of people or the place where people live. But as time went on, it came to lose this spatio-temporal significance, and finally came to mean one-sidedly the world as the sum total of objective natural things. On the other hand, so far as seken or yononaka are concerned, the meaning of something subjectively extended, which undergoes constant transformation, has been tenaciously preserved. Hence, the concept of seken already involves the historical, climatic, and social structure of human existence. (13)

We see here again the notion of a dynamic structure that I tried to elucidate in the discussion of Climate and Culture, the notion of a constant transformation, of the idea of being in relationship with the world instead of objectifying itit is, in fact, the notion of subjective spatiality.

In chapter 9 of Ethics, through discussion of the phenomena of publication and communication, ( I will concentrate here on the phenomena of communication), Watsuji develops the notion of subjective spatiality introduced in Climate and Culture: "This sort of spatiality is not the same as space in the world of nature. It is not a form of intuition, but rather the manner in which multiple subjects are related to one another. It is not a uniform extendedness, but a dialectical one, in which relations such as ‘far and near, wide and narrow’ are mutually transformed into one another. In a word, it is the betweenness itself of subjective human beings". (14) Because human beings as ningen are themselves in part betweenness, we see that this concept of self will always be spatial and as a being in the world, will always in some sense express itself spatially. Watsuji goes on to say that all

expressions that indicate the interconnection of the acts of human beingsfor example, intercourse, fellowship, transportation, communicationcan be understood only with a subjective spatiality of this sort. Spatial extendedness, as is evident in publication, communication, and so forth is an expression of this subjective spatiality.

I regard this subjective spatiality as the essential characteristic of human beings. Without it, the systematic relationships between personalities could not be understood. (15)

We see here that for Watsuji, the space in which we exist and the tools that arise in this space are expressions of betweenness, and are essential for understanding how we are in the world indeed necessary for being in the world in the fullest sense, that is to say, as ningen. This is in sharp contrast to Heidegger from whom he clearly borrows the notion of tools. As he explains, while Heidegger "set the pattern for explicating the subjective meaning of what is called the world...in his philosophy, the relation between person and person lies hidden behind the relation between person and tools". (16) This is, of course, because of Heidegger’s treatment of Dasein as that of individual consciousness only. By not admitting the spatial aspect of Dasein, rather than being grounds for betweenness and authenticity, space and tools get in the way of the authentic self. IN fact, in the detailed treatment of Zeuge in Being andTime, there is no mention of other Daseins. It is clear that there is a subject/object relation at work here and that it is what is most important. The notion of betweenness and relations with others is almost entirely absent from Heidegger’s discussion of authentic Dasein. For Watsuji, however, tools of communication such as the postal system for example, are expressions of our inherent subjective spatiality and serve to develop our selves to the fullest extent in our individuality and sociality. Watsuji gives quite a detailed analysis of how the postal system is an expression of subjective spatiality:

the development of postal organizations shows an increase in the extent and intensity of human relationships in a society. Under circumstances in which a response to a letter is delivered after a month’s interval, we cannot be said to be engaging in a conversation in an active manner. If we receive a response at a time when we have almost detached ourselves from the state of mind we were in while writing the letter, then we are unlikely to share the same state of mind. On the other hand, if and when postal services spare no time in delivering words from one person to another both quickly and frequently, then we shall be able to share pleasures as well as pains. A community of beings would thus be realized. A telephone is designed to strengthen this tendency even further. (17)

Watsuji would scarcely have been able to imagine the great leaps our tools of communication have made since he wrote those words and it brings to light some interesting questions. If tools of communication show an increase ‘in the extent and intensity of human relationships in a society’ what does the advent of communication technologies such as e-mail, the internet, the world-wide-web tell us about our society today? Would one say that human relationships are more intense?they are certainly more extensiveand in one sense the technology available has intensified relationships, allowing us to share pleasures and pains with friends across the ocean in a matter of seconds. However, there has been another interesting side effect, that of the idea of anonymity. It seems that in ‘chat rooms’ on the internet for example, the point is to be anonymous, to put on another identity. Indeed, it is now entirely possible to stay inside one’s home for days and be able to communicate, and work, eat, all without any direct human contact. This sort of technology presents a problem for Watsuji, because he also wants to argue that as ningen, the spatial extendedness of one’s body and its betweenness with other bodies is central to the concept of an authentic or whole self. Yuasa Yasuo in his book The Body, tells us that "Watsuji’s concept of betweenness, the subjective interconnection of meanings, must be grasped as a carnal interconnection. Moreover, this interconnection must not be thought of as either a psychological or physical relatedness, nor even their conjunction." (18) As the best example to illustrate this notion, Yuasa points to the following example in Ethics

So far as physiological bodies are concerned, they can be spoken of as easily as individual trees. But this is not the case with bodies viewed as expressions of the subjective or as persons in their concrete qualities. A mother and her baby can never be conceived of as merely two independent individuals. A baby wishes for it’s mother’s body, and the mother offers her breast to the baby. If they are separated from each other, both look for each other with all the more intensity. Since ancient times in Japan, any attempt to isolate two bodies such as these from each other has been described by the aphorism ‘to wrench green wood.’ As is evident, a mother’s body and her baby’s are somehow connected as though one. ...This power of attraction, even though not physical attraction alone, is yet a real attraction connecting the two as though one. If it is thinkable that a nucleus, with its electrons circulating around it, constitutes one atom and not just separate individuals, then it is equally permissible to think that a mother’s body and her child’s are also combined as one. (19)

And it is not only this unique sort of relation that Watsuji means about the betweenness of bodies, he states that "Bodily connections are always visible wherever betweenness prevails." (20) As ningen, then, as betweenness, an important aspect of self is not only its subjective spatiality, but also the spatiality evident through the embodiment of the self. How full then, an expression of self is something like communication on the interneteven, or perhaps especially communication between friends, for Watsuji maintains that an important aspect of friendship is at least the potential for bodily connection and attraction. We could not of course, expect Watsuji to have predicted the sort of communication technologies available to us today, but they do present an area for further investigation. The technologies which blur spatial distances and bring people closer in one sense, are the very same tools which provide the means for avoiding ‘real’ contact with other human beingsa central aspect of betweenness. The danger is a loss of the sense of our place in the world.

Let us return now to the notion of subjective spatiality, expressed through the phenomenon of communication. Subjective spatiality reflects the movement, the dialectical characteristic, of ningen. Watsuji states that only

because the subject that was originally one, tries to regain this oneness in and through its disruption into many subjects does there arise a movement among these subjects. This practical interconnection of acts establishes ningen sonzai. From this standpoint, we can say that subjective spatiality is, in the final analysis, the basic structure of ningen sonzai. Our endeavor to grasp ningen not only as a human being but also as possessing the dual structure of individuality and at the same time sociality leads us of necessity to this idea of spatial extendedness. (21)

He goes on to say that "It is not so much that ningen sonzai is constructed in space as that space comes to be found in the field of subjective ningen sonzai. From this viewpoint we can argue that subjective extendedness constitutes basic space." (22) Self as ningen, then, in all its aspects it is self as individual and as social creates space in a most basic way. Let me quote another passage where Watusji expresses his notion of space:

Space is not a merely theoretical or contemplative issue, but must be comprehended in connection with the individual subject. It is called into question in subjective practice, yet not in individual practice such as the concern with tools [which was Heidegger’s point of view and resulting limitation] , but rather in those practical activities inherent in human relationships. Subjective extendedness, which is inherent in the activities of ningen, is exactly the characteristic of spatiality of ningen sonzai from which originates all other kinds of space. (23)

Subjective extendedness then, always a part of how we are in the world as ningen,. Any form of space then, a house, a garden, a shape, a road, is an expression of selfboth as social and as individual. The various expressions may be from the standpoint of the individual or the social, and in most cases seem to be abstracted form the individual standpoint, but are only possible because self is always already both in its contradictory dialectical unity.

Without recognizing this essential spatiality, an account of self remains unsatisfying. As with Heidegger’s portrayal of Dasein in Being and Time, and similarly with contemporary attempts at accounts of self as found in the work of such philosophers as Derek Parfit, where even the very spatiality of our embodiment is imagined away, the account of self given is one sided at best. When our spatiality is forgotten, when, to use the words of Paul Ricoeur, our "human rootedness on this earth" is violated, as seems to occur in most of the current accounts of self in the Anglo-American tradition, we do not have a full picture of human being in the world. A concept of self that recognizes spatiality as well as temporality, implaces the self and provides the way for opening elements for a new philosophical discourse, amalgamating rather than separating issues of time and space.

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(1) Watsuji Tetsuro, Climate and Culture, trans. Geoffrey Bownas. (Greenwood Press, Inc. in cooperation with Yushodo Co., Ltd.: New York, 1988) v.

(2) Watsuji, v-vi.

(3) Watsuji, v.

(4) Watsuji, Tetsuro. Watsuji Tetsuro’s Rinrigaku: Ethics in Japan Yamamoto Seisaku and Robert E. Carter, trans. (SUNY Press: Albany, 1996.), 178. Hereafter referred to as Ethics.

(5) Watsuji, Climate and Culture, 3.

(6) Watsuji, Climate and Culture, 4.

(7) Watsuji, Climate and Culture, 5-6.

(8) Watsuji, Climate and Culture, 8.

(9) Robert E. Carter, "Intrepretive Essay: Strands of Influence", in Watsuji Tetsuro, . Watsuji Tetsuro’s Rinrigaku: Ethics in Japan Yamamoto Seisaku and Robert E. Carter, trans. (SUNY Press: Albany, 1996.), 336.

(10) Watsuji, Climate and Culture, 12.

(11) Watsuji, Ethics, 9.

(12) Watsuji, Ethics, 10.

(13) Watsuji, Ethics, 18-19.

(14) Watsuji, Ethics, 156.

(15) Watsuji, Ethics, 157.

(16) Watsuji, Ethics, 17.

(17) Watsuji, Ethics, 164.

(18) Yuasa Yasuo, The Body:Toward an Eastern Mind-Body Theory. Thomas P. Kasulis, Ed., Nagatamo Shigenori, Thomas P. Kasulis, Trans. (SUNY Press: Albany, 1987) 47.

(19) Watsuji, Ethics, 62.

(20) Watusji, Ethics, 62.

(21) Watsuji, Ethics, 165, my emphasis.

(22) Watsuji, Ethics, 166.

(23) Watsuji, Ethics, 177.

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