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Fumio Nagami

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Immersed in Rousseau

Fumio Nagami
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: 18th-Century French Literature and Intellectual History, Rousseau Research

Leaving the Maison du Japon

For 2 years from April 2006 to March 2008, I served as Director of the Maison du Japon at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. Construction for the Cité Internationale Universitaire began in 1926. Currently there are houses for nearly 40 different countries, serving as lodging and living space for more than 5,000 students and young researchers. The Maison du Japon was constructed in 1929. Today, the house is still in excellent condition at its location on a broad property of 40 hectares in southernmost Paris. The Maison du Japon accommodates about 70 students from Japan and other countries throughout the world. Chuo University kindly granted me a long-term business trip in order to take the position of Director at the house. In this article, I would like to reflect on my research activities during the 6 years since I finished the busy work as Director and returned to Japan to resume teaching at Chuo University.

Photograph 1.
Scent of Bodhi Trees—15 Months at the Maison du Japon

After returning to Japan, I wanted to introduce the Maison du Japon to the world and planned to publish a diary introducing my time spent as Director. I diligently kept a diary everyday from about 6 months after assuming the post of Director. Excerpts from this diary were published in November 2010 under the title of Scent of Bodhi Trees—15 Months at the Maison du Japon (Chuo University Press, 256 pages; Photograph 1). Along with horse chestnut and sycamore trees, bodhi trees can often be seen lining the streets of Paris. There were many large bodhi trees in the Cité Internationale Universitaire and the English-style gardens of Montsouris Park, which is located on the opposite side of the Cité Internationale Universitaire. In June, small yellow flowers bloom on the bodhi trees and a sweet aroma fills the air. I wrote the following introductory remarks for my diary: “There were times when I wandered with a tired heart while shuffling my legs. At those times, I was refreshed by the fragrant scent of bodhi tree flowers suddenly wafting down from above me. Without such good luck, I never would have been able to fulfill the busy duties of Director at the Maison du Japon.”

In fact, during the 2 years that I served as Director of the Maison du Japon, I was unable to engage in any studious activities, not to mention research on Rousseau. The only other task which I managed was to periodically submit articles to the Yomiuri Shimbun introducing newly-published French literature. My diary is filled with details on lectures and events held at the Maison du Japon, French society, and memories of films, opera, literature, concerts and travel which I enjoyed in my private time. Only after returning to Japan was I finally able to immerse myself in my specialty of French intellectual history, particularly the study of Rousseau.

Returning to Rousseau

2012 marked the 300th anniversary of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (born in Geneva), who is my area of expertise. In autumn of 2008, about 6 months after I had returned to Japan, my mentor Professor Yoshihiko Kobayashi proposed that I hold an event to celebrate the anniversary in Japan. I teamed up with Professor Nobutaka Miura (Department of French Literature in the Faculty of Letters), who is a respected friend of mine from when I studied abroad in Paris in my younger days. Together, we worked to realize our vision of a “Year of Rousseau.” Although Professor Miura does not specialize in Rousseau, he has the experience of organizing numerous symposiums as Senior Director of the Maison Franco-Japonaise. In particular, in 2005, he had just recently held a successful international symposium to commemorate the 200th anniversary for the birth of Tocqueville, who is known for his work Democracy in America. We decided to hold a similar international symposium for Rousseau in Tokyo. However, how should we hold the symposium and what content should be included?

There was much to be done. The first step was to gather information. For example, we analyzed the type of work done in recent years by researchers from French-speaking countries and other foreign countries. We also investigated the types of events which were being prepared throughout the world in 2012. Beginning from the summer of 2009, we gathered various kinds of information by speaking with young Japanese researchers who specialized in Rousseau and were studying abroad or had just returned to Japan. From September to October of 2009, we traveled to Paris and requested cooperation by meeting directly with prominent researchers in Rousseau and 18th-century history who were born in France or Geneva. We continued such networking right up until the symposium. In March 2011 (the time surrounding the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and the accompanying nuclear disaster), I was staying in Paris together with Professor Miura. From September 2011 to March 2012, Professor Miura was teaching at the University of Geneva. In his spare time, he actively gathered information in Geneva and other regions which were growing excited in anticipation of the anniversary of Rousseau’s birth. In February 2012, I also visited Geneva. Furthermore, in June, both Professor Miura and I participated in a large symposium held in Geneva and Ferney, which gave us the opportunity to speak with many researchers.

The next step was to decide on a theme and framework for the symposium. Why was Rousseau important now? What aspects of Rousseau’s philosophy need to be examined? Although many themes were proposed, we eventually focused on examining Rousseau’s contributions to the mechanisms and establishment of modern society. It was then that we devised 3 pillars for the symposium: Rousseau in literature, Rousseau in political philosophy, and reception of Rousseau.

Preparing for the international symposium

We began by setting the symposium period for 3 days in mid-September, 2012. We also decided that about 12 to 15 Japanese and foreign speakers would speak (although the actual number of speakers turned out to be much greater). Next, the Chuo University Institute of Cultural Science played a leading role in organizing the Research Society on Rousseau and the Modern Age. The society actively held study meetings to prepare for the symposium. However, we were faced with the problem of finding sponsors and funding. Eventually, we settled on the 3 sponsors of Chuo University, the Maison Franco-Japonaise and the French Office at the Maison Franco-Japonaise. We also set the 3 cooperating groups of the Ishibashi Foundation, the Embassy of Switzerland in Japan, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Now, where would we find the 4.5 million yen needed to hold the symposium? Fortunately, funds were provided by the organizations listed above, including Chuo University approving the issuance of funds for holding an international academic conference. Inviting researchers from Europe to stay in Japan for a 1-week period would cost around 350 thousand yen per person, depending on the period. Ultimately, we decided to invite a total of 9 researchers from France and Switzerland, which alone resulted in expenses of more than 3 million yen.

Beginning from January 2010, we held a total of 11 study meetings. In addition to researchers from Japan, we also invited French instructors from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, the Université Paris Diderot, and other institutions. An academic symposium entitled “A Comparative Intellectual History of Rousseau and Chomin” was held by the Chou University Graduate School of Letters as an important pre-event. We made reservations for the venue and purchased hotel/airline tickets. Preparations were proceeding steadily.

For the 3 days from September 14 to 16, 2012, an international symposium to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Rousseau’s birth was held at the Chuo University Surugadai Memorial Hall and at the Maison Franco-Japonaise Hall in Ebisu. All 3 days were a great success thanks to presentations by a total of 26 speakers, including 17 Japanese researchers and 9 researchers from French-speaking countries. President Fukuhara gave an opening address at the reception held on the first day, while the final day of the academic event was concluded with a performance of Rousseau’s opera Le devin du village. We received many messages of warm thanks from foreign researchers who we invited from France and Switzerland. Indeed, as an academic gathering related to the French language, the symposium surpassed other recent events in terms of both quality and quantity. Special thanks must be given to the outstanding contributions made to the symposium by Chuo University. Nearly 4 years of work had ended in great success.

Summarizing Rousseau’s theory

Photograph 2.
The Government of Poland

At the same time that I was preparing for the symposium, I was also working on other personal projects. One project was a new translation of Rousseau’s The Government of Poland, which was included in the book Politics of the Rousseau Collection (Hakusuisha Publishing, February 2012; 138 pages, Photograph 2). My book was a total revision of the older translation which I had done for The Complete Rousseau, which was published by Hakusuisha Publishing in the 1980s to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Rousseau’s death.

Photograph 3.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau—Philosophy of Self-Sufficiency

Another project was to summarize analysis on Rousseau which I had written in the past. For me, this book contained a radical new idea. By establishing the concept of self-sufficiency as the theme, I attempted to gain new insight on interpretations of Rousseau’s total body of work. In particular, I wanted to bridge the gap between literature and political philosophy. Human beings are not gods; as such, we are inscribed by our non-sufficiency. We cannot live without others. I summarized Rousseau’s philosophy using the concept that Rousseau portrayed a two-fold fate (fate in reality and inherent fate) for non-self-sufficient human beings. I also included a detailed discussion on Rousseau’s life and works. The result was the voluminous book Jean-Jacques Rousseau—Philosophy of Self-Sufficiency (Keiso Shobo, September 2012; 632 pages, Photograph 3). Perhaps it would have been more indicative of the contents if I had used the subtitle “Philosophy of Non-Sufficiency” instead of the existing “Philosophy of Self-Sufficiency.” In any case, I am overjoyed that the 2 books were published in conjunction with the symposium commemorating the 300th anniversary of Rousseau’s birth.

Gains from the symposium

Photograph 4.
Political Philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau—General Will, Sovereignty of the People and Republics

I did not want the focus on Rousseau to stop once the September 2012 symposium had ended and the “Year of Rousseau” has passed. Indeed, thanks to the symposium, I was able to establish conditions for continually promoting research on Rousseau. After the symposium, presentations were given by many researchers from the Rousseau Research Society, a joint research team at the Chuo University Institute of Cultural Science. Also, in 2013, I used a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research to invite 2 prominent scholars from France. One of these scholars was Bruno Bernardi, a leading researcher on the political philosophy of Rousseau. Bernardi came to Japan in January and gave 6 lectures over an 8-day period in Tokyo and Kyoto. I have especially fond memories of his presentation given around a kotatsu table at the Chuo University Hayama House. The presentations given by Bernardi in Japan were published as Political Philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau—General Will, Sovereignty of the People and Republics (Keiso Shobo, February 2014; 230 pages, Photograph 4).

The second scholar was Bruno Viard, who is also a native of Marseille. Viard came to Japan in November for 10 days, giving a total of 5 lectures in Kyoto, Tokyo and Beppu. In addition to Rousseau, Viard’s presentations covered a wide range of themes including 19th-century philosopher Pierre Leroux and author George Sand, as well as prominent sociologist Marcel Mauss, who is famous for his work The Gift. Viard’s presentations have yet to be translated.

Photograph 5.
Rousseau and the Modern Age—Recurrence of Rousseau & Recurrence to Rousseau

However, the most noteworthy writing published after the symposium is a collection of recorded theses. The collection contains the essays of 25 speakers (1 speaker withdrew from the project), 9 of which came from French-speaking countries. Editing such an inclusive work was no easy task. Since the collection was to be published in Japanese, it was necessary to translate the 9 theses written in French. We also encountered difficulties when searching for a publishing company and raising funds. Fortunately, a publisher specializing in political science agreed to publish the book at an exceptionally low production price. Subsidies were also received from Chuo University, the Chuo University Research Association on French Language and Literature, the French Embassy to Japan, and the Seki Memorial Foundation for Science. Thanks to all the support, the book was successfully published at the end of April 2014, about 1 year and 7 months after the symposium ended (Rousseau and the Modern Age—Recurrence of Rousseau & Recurrence to Rousseau (Fuko Publishing, April 2014; 426 pages, Photograph 5).

There is truly no end to Rousseau. After publishing the collection of documented essays, we invited Céline Spector from Bordeaux for a 9-day period in mid-June. We held a series of 4 lectures featuring a critical introduction of Rousseau interpretations by the modern political philosophers Charles Taylor, Jürgen Habermas, and John Rawls. Even after the “Year of Rousseau,” it seems that my days will continue to revolve around Rousseau.

Fumio Nagami
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: 18th-Century French Literature and Intellectual History, Rousseau Research
Professor Nagami was born in Tottori Prefecture in 1947. In 1972, he graduated from the French course of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences in the University of Tokyo College of Arts and Sciences. He studied at Paris-Sorbonne University (Paris IV) through a foreign study grant by the French government (1974 to 1977). In 1978, he left the University of Tokyo Graduate School of Humanities without obtaining the Doctoral degree in French literature. Nagami served as a research assistant in the University of Tokyo Faculty of Letters and full-time instructor/Assistant Professor in the Chuo University Faculty of Letters before assuming his current position in 1990. He served as Director of the Maison du Japon of the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. (2006 to 2008), and was awarded the Chevalier dans l’ordre des palmes académiques (Order of the Academic Palms) by the French Republic. His major publications include Scent of Bodhi Trees—15 Months at the Maison du Japon (Chuo University Press, 2010), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau—Philosophy of Self-Sufficiency (Keiso Shobo, 2012). His co-edited works include Rousseau and the Modern Age—Recurrence of Rousseau & Recurrence to Rousseau (Fuko Publishing, 2014). His translated works include The Government of Poland (originally written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Hakusuisha Publishing, 1979) and A Journey into Siberia (originally written by Jean-Baptiste Chappe d'Auteroche; Iwanami Shoten, Publishers, 1991), and more.