The Limits of ma Retracing the Emergence of a “Japanese” Concept

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Michael Lucken
Miriam Rosen


Since the end of the 1970s, the Japanese concept of ma has often been used in the west to signify an aesthetics of distance. This paper is a reverse exploration whose aim is to understand how this term appeared in the critical discourse in Europe (Nitschke, Barthes, Berque), but also in Japan with philosopher Nakai Masakazu. It shows that this concept is a recent elaboration of Japanese thought, which emerged from a dialogue with German phenomenology and Heidegger in particular.

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Lucken, M., & Rosen, M. (2021). The Limits of ma: Retracing the Emergence of a “Japanese” Concept. Journal of World Philosophies, 6(1), 38–57. Retrieved from
Author Biography

Michael Lucken, Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales

Michael Lucken (born in 1969) is professor of Japanese studies at the French National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations (Inalco). He is teaching and studying intellectual history and visual culture. His main books are L’Art du Japon au vingtième siècle: pensées, formes, résistances (Twentieth Century Japanese Art: Thought, Forms and Resistances), 2001; Les Japonais et la guerre 1937–1952 (The Japanese and the War 1935–1952), 2013; Nakai Masakazu. Naissance de la théorie critique au Japon (Nakai Masakazu. The Birth of Critical Theory in Japan), 2015; Imitation and Creativity in Japanese Arts from Kishida Ryūsei to Miyazaki Hayao, 2016; and Le Japon grec. Culture et possession (Greek Japan. Culture and Possession), 2019. Some of his books are translated in English and Japanese. He has received several awards for his academic achievements, among which Konishi Translated Literature Prize (2012) and Académie française–Thiers Prize (2014).