The "Place of Nothing" in Nishida as Chiasma and Chōra

Diaphany 1 (1):203-240 (2015)
  Copy   BIBTEX


The paper will explicate the Sache or matter of the dialectic of the founder of Kyoto School philosophy, Nishida Kitarō (1870-1945), from the standpoint of his mature thought, especially from the 1930s and 40s. Rather than providing a simple exposition of his thought I will engage in a creative reading of his concept of basho (place) in terms of chiasma and chōra, or a chiasmatic chōra. I argue that Nishida’s appropriation of nineteenth century German, especially Hegelian, terminology was inadequate in expressing what he strove to say—for his concept of basho confounds traditional metaphysical discourse. Because of its chiasmatic and chōratic nature, the Sache he strove to capture and express through the language of dialectical philosophy, perpetually slips away from any systemic bounds. His “dialectic” (benshōhō) implies a chiasma or a criss-crossing of multiple factors on multi-dimensional levels that exceed in complexity simplistic binomial oppositions or the triadic formula of traditional dialectics. The complexity is one of over-determination that threatens to undermine the very language of such a dialectic. As the deep complexity of over-inter-determinations would deconstruct any notion of a substance, what Nishida offers—as opposed to an ousiology (or logic of substance)—is a chiasmology. I thus argue that his so-called dialectic is really an unfolding of that chiasma. And if chiasma expresses the over-determinate aspect of Nishida’s matter of thinking, chōra would express its under-determinate aspect. Nishida himself based his concept of basho or “place” on Plato’s notion of the chōra from the Timaeus. I take Nishida’s basho in its chōratic nature as what simultaneously unfolds and enfolds the chiasma. But in the case of the chōra it is its under-determinate nature that refuses reduction to any of the terms of opposition. In its self-withdrawal, it provides a clearing, a space, for the chiasmatic unraveling of the many. Like the chiasma it undermines any claim to a first substance or the hegemony of a universal First. For in its indeterminateness, it is “nothing” (mu). The unfolding it enfolds is, as Nishida states, “a determination without determiner.” In concrete terms, however, we might develop Nishida’s concept further by returning to the original pre-Platonic Greek meaning of chōra in the sense of “region” or “country,” to understand chōra or basho here as the very space of co-existence provided by this very earth. As a chiasmatic chōra irreducible, in its over- and under-determinations, to being or non-being, Nishida’s basho qua mu proves to be the an-ontological origin of both on and meon (being and non-being). Rejecting the culture-nature dichotomy this notion of our place of being as chiasma and chōra underscores our holistic symbiosis with the earth as the anontological (un)ground and clearing for our co-existence in a concrete milieau with one another and with nature. It is this earth as our ultimate contextual wherein that provides a clearing for co-dwelling and mutual encounter with one’s other, that we must acknowledge today if we are to co-exist authentically and freely vis-à-vis our global neighbors and vis-à-vis the surrounding nature.

Author's Profile

John Krummel
Hobart and William Smith Colleges


Added to PP

279 (#30,370)

6 months
26 (#40,261)

Historical graph of downloads since first upload
This graph includes both downloads from PhilArchive and clicks on external links on PhilPapers.
How can I increase my downloads?