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Lecture "Hegelian Master Narratives and Periodizing Japanese and Chinese Modernity" by Viren Murthy

Jul 11, 2023 | 04:00 PM - 06:00 PM
Viren Murthy at Göttingen University

Viren Murthy at Göttingen University

Scholars of Asian studies have something of a love-hate relationship with Hegel; they love to cite him as the epitome of Eurocentrism, modernization theory and the legitimation of colonialism. Despite their prevalence, such criticisms overlook both the complexities of Hegel’s philosophy and the different ways in which Asian intellectuals attempted to turn Hegel on his head or rescue the rational kernel of his thought in a non-Western context. Viren Murthy contends that for much of the twentieth century, especially in Japan, but also in China, scholars engaged Hegel by incorporating and transforming his ideas. Such incorporations enabled us to see that Hegel was not merely a theorist of modernization but one of its most incisive critics. Indeed, it was precisely because of Hegel’s critique of capitalist modernity that conservatives such as Inoue Tetsujirō found him interesting. In this presentation, Viren Murthy will examine three attempts to rethink Hegel, respectively by the pan-Asianist, Okakura Tenshin, the Kyoto school philosopher of world-history, Koyama Iwao and the Japanese sinologist, Mizoguchi Yūzō. Viren Murthy argues that each of these thinkers narrates the history of Asia, while implicitly or explicitly responding to Hegel’s idea of the Orient as not having subjectivity. Against this static vision of Asia, these figures reconfigure the historical trajectories of Japan, China and the world to reconfigure both universality and subjectivity beyond Eurocentrism. Towards the end of his talk, Viren Murthy suggests that the contemporary “new leftist” intellectual Wang Hui, continues elements of the various thinkers mentioned above. The contemporary rise of China makes such responses to Hegelian master narratives especially relevant for our contradictory present. Read the announcement


Viren Murthy (fellow in the project "A Translingual Conceptual History of Chinese Worlds") teaches transnational Asian History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and researches Chinese, Japanese and Indian intellectual history. He is interested in critics of modernity in Asia, specifically, China, Japan and India. He places the history of nationalism and transnationalism in the larger trajectory of global capitalism and examines how pan-Asianists, Third Worldists, Marxists and postcolonialists theorize resistance to imperialism and capitalism and posit a world beyond the present. Central to his work is the politics of the nation-form. Pan-Asianists and Third Worldists believed that the nation-form would be able to combine anti-imperialism with a politics of socialism. He inquires into the conditions for the possibility of such theories in the early postwar period and the ask whether their categories and politics continue to be germane to our neo-liberal present. He is the author of The Political Philosophy of Zhang Taiyan: The Resistance of Consciousness (Brill, 2011) and The Politics of Time in China and Japan, Routledge, 2022). He is co-editor with Prasenjit Duara and Andrew Sartori of A Companion to Global Historical Thought, (Blackwell, 2014), co-editor with Joyce Liu of East Asian Marxisms and Their Trajectories (Routledge, 2017) and co-editor with Max Ward and Fabian Schäfer of Confronting Capital and Empire: Rethinking Kyoto School Philosophy (Brill, 2017). He has published articles in Modern Intellectual HistoryModern ChinaFrontiers of History in China and Positions: Asia CritiqueJewish Social StudiesCritical Historical StudiesJournal of Labor and Society. His book, entitled: Pan-Asianism and the Legacy of the Chinese Revolution, is scheduled to appear in October, 2023 with University of Chicago Press.


University of Göttingen, Centre for Modern East Asian Studies, Platz der Göttinger Sieben 3, OEC 0.168

Please find all information about the event on the CEMEAS website of University of Göttingen.