Peripheries

28 May

It is as if the pre-contact time had been wrenched off and replaced by an unfamiliar temporal system that would efficiently dissolve the residual old. Peoples were also displaced from their sundry geographic centralities to the peripheral positions assigned by the Western metropolis: thus appelations like the Middle East and the Far East….A new history and [a] new geography combined to produce the magical peripheries of the primitive (1988, 388).

Masao Miyoshi and H.D. Harootunian, “Introduction”, South Atlantic Quarterly, 87(3): 387-401.

The West was not the only region to manifest new centres and peripheries. In “East Asia”, China’s cosmology of the region was highly influential in determining the names of the countries surrounding it. As Aston writes:
“Nihon, otherwise Nippon, the Niphon of our older maps, where it is wrongly limited to the main island of Japan. Japan is merely a Chinese pronunciation of this word, modified in the mouths of Europeans. Nihon, in Chinese 日本, means sun-origin, i.e. sunrise. The country received this name from its position to the east of the Asiatic continent. China being the Great Central Land, other countries were given names with reference to it. Corea, for example, is the Tong-Kuk or East-Country. These Chinese characters are sometimes used to represent Yamato, the true old Japanese name of the country, as in the name of the first Emperor, Kamu-yamato-ihare-biko-hoho-demi, better known as Jimmu Tenno. I have little doubt that Nihon, as a name for Japan, was first used by the Corean scholars who came over in numbers during the early part of the seventh century. Perhaps the earliest genuine use of this term occurs in the lament for the death of Shotoku Daishi by a Corean Buddhist priest in A.D. 620.

“In 670 it was formally notified to one of the Corean kingdoms that this would be the name of the country in future, and from about the same time the Chinese also began to use it officially.”

(W.G. Aston. Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697. Rutland, Vermont and Tokyo, Japan: Tuttle, 1972, 1.)

Richard Kearney reminds us that the very name “Europe” is itself “derived from a tradition lying somewhere between Africa and the Middle East” (Visions of Europe: Conversations on the Legacy and Future of Europe Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1992: 10) insofar as, in the legend, Europa was carried by her father across the Mediterranean to Greece, without ever abandoning her non-European origins.

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