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The past in the present: War in narratives of modernity in the 1920s and 1930s

Wilson, S. (2000) The past in the present: War in narratives of modernity in the 1920s and 1930s. In: Tipton, E.K. and Clark, J., (eds.) Being Modern in Japan: Culture and Society from the 1910s to the 1930s. Fine Arts Press Ltd, Sydney, Australia, pp. 170-184.

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If modernity is characterized by economic, political, and social transformation, it is equally a matter of beliefs, values, and human consciousness. One of the features of modernity may well be a pronounced emphasis on the future as "a primary orientation for both imagination and activity." It is also true, however, that a public consciousness of the past is essential to modernity - that is, there must be a shared story or stories about how we came to be the way we are, and hence how we came to be modern.

This necessarily produces a paradox, since modernity is a relative concept, implying a time when we were not modern, as well as perhaps the parallel existence of others who are not modern even now. It therefore implies a rupture with and indeed a repudiation of the past, as was often seen in the Japanese context in a blank rejection of anything which could be labeled "feudal," or an "evil custom of the past," in the words of the Emperor's Charter Oath of 1868. At the same time, the modern requires a usable past, or a sort of pedigree, to legitimate and explain it. It is this pedigree of modernity in the case of Japan in the 1920s and 1930s that will be discussed here, and in particular, the function of the wars fought by Japan after 1868 in the construction of the narrative of modernity.

Publication Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Publisher: Fine Arts Press Ltd
Copyright: 2000 Elise K. Tipton and John Clark
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