Article Index

Symposium Programme

1:00pm – 1:15pm

Introductory Remarks

Mark Byron (University of Sydney) and Andrew Houwen (Tokyo Woman’s Christian University)

1:15pm – 1:45pm

'The Grit of East-West Aesthetics,' Mark Byron (University of Sydney)

The long history of East-West aesthetics has consistently rested upon various kinds of partial understanding and false assumptions, occasioning at different turns both affirmative and inhibitive effects on cultural exchange. As this discourse moved into its modern – and eventually modernist – phase in the West, the kinds of error at play became the focus of more sustained scholarly critique: Ernest Fenollosa’s view of Chinese writing in The Chinese Written Character; Ezra Pound’s translation choices in Cathay; and the Menglong shiren or Misty Poets’ partial comprehension of Transatlantic modernism as a poetics of liberation in their post-Mao cultural moment, to take just three prominent examples. The role of China and Japan, traditional and modern, in the modernist project has also shifted through various phases in scholarship, from orientalism to critique, to newer models that foreground the reciprocal flow of cultural influence, accommodating temporal disparities without reducing them to a poetics of belatedness. This talk will examine some of this history of error as a way to better understand how more recent phases of ‘creative misunderstanding’ have provided effective means to further certain aesthetic ends, and to glimpse at a history of East-West aesthetics as a peculiar kind of continuity, whereby error, rather than something to be avoided in all its forms, is the potentially productive grit by which pearls of cross-cultural recognition may come into being.

1:45pm – 2:15pm

'Influences of Japan on Contemporary Female Irish Poetry,' Penny Barraclough (University of Sydney)

The late nineteenth/early twentieth century saw the beginnings of a creative dialogue between Ireland and Japan: W.B. Yeats was one of the forerunners of Irish writers to draw inspiration from Japanese culture with his series of plays based on the Noh tradition of theatre. Since Yeats’ lifetime, a growing number of Irish poets have similarly been inspired by their own responses to the culture and aesthetic of Japan, whether by its visual arts, literature and poetic forms, or experiences gained whilst spending time in the country itself.

The Japanese Effect in Contemporary Irish Poetry (2012) by Irene De Angelis examines the work of a selection of contemporary Irish poets who have drawn on their own engagement with Japan. The analysis includes an exploration into the sources of the individual poems and reveals recurrent themes, such as the appeal of the short poem or haiku, the “clean line”, the feeling of “otherness”, ritualism, the power of the cityscape. 

My aim is to continue the journey started by De Angelis by examining the work of a few contemporary female Irish poets, including Sinéad Morrissey, Ruth Carr and Moyra Donaldson. However, I would like to take a different path than that taken by De Angelis (who has already covered some aspects of Morrissey’s work in her book) and am currently in the process of considering various areas of possible focus. My paper will therefore be a presentation of my current findings, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss the same with the expert members of the symposium. 

2:15pm – 2:30pm


2:30pm – 3:00pm

'Kenji Nakagami’s Adaptations of Faulkner and Nevsky,'  Ryoichi Imai (University of Tokyo)

In my presentation, I will analyze Kenji Nakagami’s works from the view point of comparative literature, focusing on his first novel Withered Tree Straits (『枯木灘』) and the short story “The Moon and Immortality” (「月と不死」) in Tales of Kumano (『熊野集』). Nakagami (1946-92) and Haruki Murakami (1949-) are often thought of as the two major post-1960s Japanese writers, and are also seen in clear contrast. (For example, Murakami’s works depict contemporary city life, while Nakagami mainly wrote about rural life; many readers feel that Murakami’s prose is easy to read but Nakagami’s is difficult and highly complex, etc.)

            In 1968, Nakagami met Kojin Karatani (1941-), a hugely influential Japanese philosopher and literary critic. When Karatani heard the author’s life story, he recommended Nakagami to read William Faulkner’s works and the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski’s books. Nakagami did read them, and was influenced by both of them, but while he publicly declared that he would become the “Japanese Faulkner” and adapted Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! for Withered Tree Straits, Nakagami wrote almost nothing about Malinowski except a brief essay entitled “The Matrilineal Society” (「母系社会」) as if repressing the anthropologist’s influence. After publishing Withered Tree Straits, however, he became interested in popular legends of his hometown, based on which the locale of the novel had been created, starting fieldwork as if he were an anthropologist, and began to self-criticize his former works by using the term “matrilineal society” as a key word. Tales of Kumano is one of the best results of these attempts, and the title “The Moon and Immortality” is borrowed from the linguist and folklorist Nikolai Nevsky’s essay with the same title. Through analyzing this phase in Nakagami’s career, I will consider how East and West merge in his works.

3:00pm – 3:30pm

'A (Not So) Personal Matter: Disability Ethics and Aesthetics in Kenzaburō Ōe’s Novels,' Liz Shek-Noble (NYU School of Professional Studies Tokyo)

Research on representations of disability in Kenzaburō Ōe’s novels has focused almost exclusively on the author’s relationship with his disabled son, Hikari. Taking their cue from Ōe, critics of A Personal MatterTeach Us to Outgrow Our Madness, and The Pinch Runner Memorandum have accepted the central problematic of these novels as (semi-) autobiographical; like Ōe, characters including ‘Bird’ and ‘the fat man’ become a father to a son with severe physical and intellectual disabilities, and each grapple with the ethical dilemma of using medical treatment to save a life typically regarded as ‘not worth living’. Yet such analyses overlook the connections between personal and public accounts of disability, a connection Ōe readily acknowledged in his collection of essays, A Healing Family: A Candid Account of Life with a Handicapped Son. According to Ōe, in writing about Hikari’s disabilities he was constructing a model not ‘confined to the handicapped person alone, but something that encompasses the world around him, and by extension, the world we live in.’ 

In this presentation, I broaden the analysis of Ōe’s novels by politicising their discussions of euthanasia, family stigma, and the ‘monstrous’ aesthetics of the disabled body in the context of the disability rights movement in Japan during the 20th century. I do so in order to reframe Ōe’s novels through two lenses of disability interpretation broadly categorised as ‘East’ and ‘West’ in nature. I argue that we should read aesthetic revulsion towards the disabled body in Ōe’s novels alongside the historical perception of disability in Japan as both an individual and social malady. However, I claim Ōe’s novels also lend themselves to analysis using concepts from the social model of disability; charting the evolution of nondisabled and disabled characters in Ōe’s novels against the backdrop of disability legislation and activism in Japan demonstrates a ‘western’ approach to the analysis of literary disability. Ultimately, my presentation about Ōe’s novels operates at the nexus of ‘East’ and ‘West’ in its analysis of disability ethics and aesthetics, in order to show that such categories work best in productive tension and not isolation.

3:30pm – 3:45pm


3:45pm – 4:15pm

'French Poetry, Translations of ‘Haikai’/’Hokku’, and English Vers Libre, 1908-1913,' Andrew Houwen (Tokyo Woman’s Christian University)

Pound’s famous ‘In a Station of the Metro’ is often cited as a milestone in the development of Anglophone vers libre as well as the influence of the Japanese poetic form he always called ‘hokku’, despite the formal strictness of that form in its Japanese context until then. 

This paper does not seek to repeat the familiar chronology that runs from F. S. Flint’s 1908 article, with its free-verse translations of ‘haikai’, to Pound’s ‘hokku-like sentence’ published in April 1913. Instead, it explores how first Flint and then Pound interpreted this form through the lens of the latest developments in French poetry. In his advocacy of ‘individual rhythm’ rather than the ‘iambic barrel-organ’, Flint cites Stéphane Mallarmé’s 1897 essay ‘Crise de vers’: ‘In truth there is no prose’ but rather ‘verses more or less compact [...] Each time there is effort after style there is versification’. Paul-Louis Couchoud’s vers libre translations of ‘haïkaï’ in 1906 offered Flint an important model for a Mallarméan poetry of ‘individual rhythm’, which Flint developed in his own free-verse ‘haikai’ renderings of Buson and Moritake. This paper examines the relevance of Mallarmé’s poetics for Flint’s ‘haikai’ translations.

            Flint’s August 1912 essay, ‘Contemporary French Poetry’, introduced Pound to vers libre, particularly through the example of Ernest Florian-Parmentier’s ‘Impulsionnisme’, but also to Robert de Souza’s emphasis on accentual verse and assonant rhyme. This paper argues that ‘In a Station of the Metro’ only gradually moved towards vers libre through its multiple published versions: the first of these provides evidence of Pound’s interest in de Souza’s poetics as expressed in Flint’s essay. It also proposes that Pound fused these influences not only with Flint’s ‘haikai’ translations, but also with Basil Hall Chamberlain’s and F. V. Dickins’s two-line ‘hokku’ versions. Chamberlain’s, the source for most of Couchoud’s translations, are unrhymed, while Dickins’s, which Pound is known to have read, adapt some of Chamberlain’s versions by employing assonant rhyme, as ‘In a Station of the Metro’ does. Flint and Pound’s ignorance of the Japanese form’s rigidity thus enabled them to develop an English-language vers libre via translations of ‘haikai’/‘hokku’.

4:15pm – 4:45pm

'How Seriously Do We Need to Take Degrees?' Ryan Johnson (University of Sydney)

Most people working in comparative literature would probably concede that the languages, literatures, and nations we study are ill-defined and lack crisp boundaries. We often speak of degrees: degrees of identity, degrees of understanding. Invoking degrees can help us to explain difference in models that appear to require sameness, to soften forceful statements, or to suggest that the very material we study is indeterminate. Usually, what exactly these degrees are remains undefined. Yet in the past twenty years much work has been done in the burgeoning field of the philosophy of vagueness that provides a framework for studying terms that have no clear-cut application, and that uses probabilistic logic to speak intelligibly of degrees of identity and understanding. Taking as test cases two adaptations of the Noh Kantan, Yukio Mishima’s shinsaku nō Kantan and Journée III, Scene VIII of Paul Claudel’s Le Soulier de satin, I consider whether a more formal application of degrees inspired by work in the philosophy of vagueness could be beneficial to East-West comparison. 

4:45pm – 5:00pm


5:00pm – 5:30pm

'Between Photography and Literature: Franz Kafka and Kōbō Abe,' Mark Azzopardi (Temple University, Japan Campus)

This paper considers literature’s relations with photography using the work of Franz Kafka and Kōbō Abe. Abe's affinities with Kafka by now require no special demonstration, yet a somewhat different impression of both writers emerges by looking carefully at their respective engagement with the medium of photography. Reading Kafka's 1912-1917 letters to Felice Bauer alongside Abe’s 1973 novel The Box Man enhances our understanding of sight, the senses, language, and anonymity in both writers, and offers a suggestive model of relation between photography and literature.

5:30pm – 6:30pm

Roundtable Discussion: ‘On Degrees of Ignorance in East-West Aesthetics,’ Chair: Andrew Houwen (Tokyo Woman’s Christian University)

David Ewick (Tokyo Woman’s Christian University), Mark Byron (University of Sydney), Ryoichi Imai (Tokyo University), Liz Shek-Noble (NYU School of Professional Studies Tokyo)