A new book, “Place and Dialectic: Two Essays by Nishida Kitaro,” presents two essays by early 20th-century Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro, translated into English for the first time by Assistant Professor of Religion John Krummel and Shigenori Nagatomo.
“Many of his essays, and these two essays in particular, have not previously been translated because the language is very complex,” explains Krummel, who is a native speaker of Japanese, having grown up in Japan and completed high school there.
Nishida, whose extensive body of works is largely untranslated due to the complex and terse Japanese in which it is written, is widely regarded as one of the father figures of modern Japanese philosophy and as the founder of the first distinctly Japanese school of philosophy, the Kyoto school, known for its synthesis of western philosophy, Christian theology, and Buddhist thought.
The book, which will be released in December by Oxford University Press, also features a substantial introduction to Nishida by Krummel. “I wanted to present an introduction to these two essays and the thinking of Nishida as a whole, and specifically how these two essays fit into his larger career as a writer. I also tried to provide an introduction for anyone who doesn’t know anything about Nishida,” explains Krummel. “But also, for scholars who know something about Nishida, I tried to point out things that were interesting or unique about these two essays that people haven’t really talked about in articles about Nishida, like his connections and responses to western philosophy.”
The two essays included in the book are ”Basho” from 1926/27 and ”Logic and Life” from 1936/37. Both essays are divided into several sections, where each section is preceded by a synopsis added by the translators.
Krummel, who was first exposed to Nishida in the late 1990s, was drawn to the philosopher’s concept of basho, literally meaning ”place,” which is first systematically articulated in the opening essay presented in “Place and Dialectic.” “I was also drawn to Nishida because the Kyoto school is known for working towards a synthesis of Eastern and Western ideas, and that was really interesting to me,” explains Krummel.
In the second essay, “Logic and Life,” Nishida inquires after the pre-logical origin of what we call logic, which he suggests is to be found within the dialectical unfoldings of world-history and human society.
The project, which was started around 2003, took more than four years to complete. “Even after we had finished the translation, I went over it several times, smoothing out the English,” says Krummel. “Only then did I write the introduction.”
Nagatomo, Krummel’s co-translator, has been a professor at Temple University for 18 years. The two had previously worked together to translate Japanese philosopher Yasuo Yuasa in “Overcoming Modernity: Synchronicity and Image-Thinking” released by State University of New York Press in 2008.
Prior to working at the Colleges, Krummel worked for seven years at Temple University after serving short tenures at several different colleges and universities.
Krummel received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the New School for Social Research in 1999 and received an additional Ph.D. in religion at Temple University. His writings have been published in Auslegung, PoMo Magazine, Dao, and International Philosophical Quarterly, Existentia, Research in Phenomenology and Philosophy Today. He has also written an entry for the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and has translated works from Japanese and from German into English for publication.