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ASCJ Executive Committee

Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181

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Summer 2000 ASCJ Conference Details

10.  Individual Paper Session:  Literary and Cultural Trends in Modern China and Japan  

Chair: Junko Koizumi, Tokyo University of  Foreign Studies

Paper 1)  Li Yinghong, International Christian University. "Nihilism of the Absurd:  Avant-garde Fiction by Can Xue"

 As the only female member in the so-called avant-garde group of writers of experimental fiction in China in the 1980s, Can deserves special attention. This paper intends to discuss her major works in light of their literary subversiveness and a closely related nihilist vision. Central to this vision is a persistent negativity directed toward certain Chinese cultural principles. In her fictive world, humans are doomed in a dehumanized state, suffering from endless miseries for no particular reasons, or purposes. Her characters stumble through life saturated with absurd incidents and strange encounters that ultimately deprive them of their identity and meaning of existence. Yet the moribund state of being is always presented without coherence or articulation in regard to causal connection. This typical avant-garde practice perhaps relates to a deep contempt of the realist mode of writing:  the only eproperf mode allowed by Maoist ideology. Thus, modernism, surrealism and post-modernism become the norm in Canfs writings, which can fit roughly in three groups. The first consists of narratives of the physical world inflicted with various symptoms of the nihilist disease. The second contains those moving toward a more metaphysical reality, a subjective reality that is equally irrational. In the third group she strives to transcend her nihilist vision through an androgynous and lyrical voice. In the end she fails to give her voice a concrete form.

Paper 2)  Tachibana Reiko, Pennsylvania State University. "Women in Two Cultures:  Transnational Writers of Japan"

      As globalization is an important phenomenon in the twentieth century, the presence of international writers has rapidly increased in the Japanese literary world in the 1990s. In this presentation, I will explore the work of three transnational women writers--Mizumura Minae, Tawada Yoko, and Yang Ji Lee--as representatives of different cultural situations:

1)  Mizumura (ca b. 1952), who was taken to the U.S. by her parents at the age of twelve, returned to Japan after twenty years' absence, and has chosen to write in Japanese;

2)      Tawada Yoko (b. 1960), who has been living in Germany since 1982, has chosen to write both in German and Japanese; 

 3)  Yang Ji Lee (1955-92), who was born of Korean parents and raised in

Japan, wrote in Japanese.

These women writers are what another multicultural writer, Levy Hideo, describes, "radical" or "revolutionary" in their own rights. Tawada is the first and only author from Japan who writes in German and Japanese. Her choice of the two languages not only breaks the illusion of homogeneity--one nation, one race, and one language--that has been a predominant ideology in both Japanese and German societies, but also demonstrates the potential for a writer to select language(s) of his/her choice without concern for borders. Mizumura too consciously chooses Japanese over English--the supposedly universal language for world literature at the millennium. Unlike Mizumura and Tawada, Lee has no "luxury" of choosing a language for her narrative. She speaks little of her mother tongue, Korean, but necessarily uses Japanese. Her fiction in Japanese represents voices of the "invisible" members of this "homogeneous" society.  For these transnational authors, writing is what Walter Benjamin called an act of translation. Their bi-cultural vision allows them to function as critics of their own writings. Characterized by heterogeneity, they challenge and make readers redefine the (political) concepts of a homogeneous nation, national culture, and identity, that still operate in many public contexts.

Paper 3)  John Timothy Wixted, Arizona State University/ University of Tokyo. "Mori Ogai's Sokkyo Shijin and Hans Christian Andersen's Improvisatore:  A Mode of Translation"  

The one book-length translation that Mon Ogai did was of Hans Christian Andersen's Improvisatore. He rendered the work into extraordinarily elegant Japanese from a German-language translation of the Danish-language original. Ogai's creation has been viewed as an example of a translation that is "better" than its original. Such a view has also been said to be intrinsically impossible--one compounded in Ogai's case by his work being a translation of a translation--not to mention the ways Sokkyo shijin differs from its source: colloquial dialogues rendered into classical Japanese, several excisions and elaborations, and certain distortions of understanding (e.g., about religion).

    This paper will examine these contrasting views, mostly by comparing Ogai's work with the German-language text he based his translation upon (with one or two references to the original Danish), examining the two in terms of polarities:  error/accuracy, literalness/freeness, barbarization/naturalization, and fidelity/invention; and by examining the assumptions behind the view that a copy is necessarily inferior to its original.

Paper 4)  Richard Reitan, University of Chicago "The Emergence of Ethics as an Academic Discipline in 1880s Japan"

    This paper explores the emergence of ethics as an academic discipline (rinrigaku) in the context of competing conceptions of the ethical (rinri shiso) in late 19th century Japan. While much has been written on the ethical thought of such early twentieth century philosophers as Watsuji Tatsuro and Nishida Kitaro, their academic predecessors (Inoue Tatsujiro, Kato Hiroyuki, Nakajima Rikizo, etc.,) have received much less attention.

    In the late 19th century Japan, admist intense social disruption and its attendant moral disorientation, academics, religious apologists, natural-right advocates, and others put forward a variety of ethical prescriptions for re-ordering society. Though diverse, these various social ethics drew upon a "description" (what "is") of human nature to the "prescription" (what "ought to be") ethical statement, i.e. concepts of the person, society, the state, nature, etc. informed the foundations by which ethical statement were justified. Further, social ethics of this time, produced within a social Darwinian "survival of the fittest" environment, emphasized the need for moral unity as a means to ensure natural survival. But the persuasiveness of these views—their capacity to produce unity and motivate particular social action—depended upon defensible truth-claim (e.g. "all are subject to the laws of evolution" or "all posses natural rights" or "all are provided with a direct knowledge of the truth of God, and can therefore recognize righteousness").

    An examination of this period, then, reveals not merely a debate over prescriptions for social order and unity, but a struggle to legitimize the truth-claims of competing knowledge structure. What constitute "truthful knowledge?"  How was knowledge in academic circles produced and legitimized?  What features distinguished the academic-scientific knowledge of Inoue, Kato and others from the knowledge of religious apologists and natural-right advocates?  Finally, what strategies did academics such as Inoue sue to undermine the truth-claims of thinkers associated with competing social ethics?  This paper suggests that in the early 1880s, Inoue and others in academic drew upon evolutionism (and more fundamental notions of nature as a purely objective reality independent of the subjectivity of one who perceives it) to legitimize the "truthful knowledge" upon which their prescriptive moral statements relied.

   Focusing on the academic writings of thinkers associated with Tokyo (Imperial) University, I argue that 1) through their objectification of ethics as an academic discipline, scholars like Inoue produced (rather than revealed) "ethical truth;"  2) epistemological preconceptions informed their ethical theories; and 3) their writings reflect attempts to establish ethics as an academic discipline, that is, to delineate the "appropriate" object, methods, rules, and questions of moral inquiry.

    Although this paper will focus on the late 19th century, it is important to point out that in the works of early 20th century philosophers (Watsuji, Nishida, etc.), views of person, society, and nature quite different from those of the late 19th century emerged to inform new conceptions of the ethical. This suggests that explaining the fundamental shift in ethics and the ethical between the late 19th and early 20th centuries requires a study of how these underlying concepts (person, society, state, nature) came to be questioned and reexamined.