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Wiebke Denecke (Boston University): Writing National Literary Histories in Transnational Times: What can We Learn from the First Century of Japanese Literary Historiography?

07.02.2018 | 16:00 c.t.

Though accepted as pedagogical expedient means, literary historiography has been thoroughly criticized as a handmaiden to the interests of the nation state. But it has recently become a vibrant venue for probing alternative categories to national literary histories of the 19th century, with their evolutionary master narratives of genre, style, and genius authors. In contrast, new Harvard histories of various literatures capture literary history as a rich tapestry of inflection points in cultural history that underscore the power of historical coincidence. Histories of East Asian literatures face a yet greater challenge:  since the turn of the twentieth century, “national literature studies” have strategically downplayed the role of literature produced in Literary Chinese (漢文) in East Asia’s Sinographic Sphere.

This lecture proposes strategies to overcome the vernacular bias that has plagued East Asian literary historiography over the past century, introducing first, a three-volume revisionary history of Japanese literature (A New History of Japanese “Letterature” 日本「文」学史., which recaptures the traditional world of “Letters” (文) that preceded the adoption of Western concepts of literature; and, second, showing how long-overdue comparisons with Korean literary culture can help us create a more integrated vision of Japanese literature.

Ultimately, I argue that national literary historiography of Japan and East Asia, when practiced from a transcultural perspective, can provide corrective models for Western literary histories, which are plagued by comparable vernacular biases against the role of Latin literature in European cultural history.


Wiebke Denecke is Associate Professor of East Asian Literatures & Comparative Literature at Boston University. Her research encompasses the literary and intellectual history of premodern China, Japan and Korea, comparative studies of East Asia and the premodern world, and world literature. She is the author of The Dynamics of Masters Literature: Early Chinese Thought from Confucius to Han Feizi (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010), Classical World Literatures: Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Comparisons (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), and co-editor of The Norton Anthology of World Literature (2012, 2018), The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) and a three-volume literary history of Japan from an East Asian perspective (Nihon “bun”gakushi. A New History of Japanese “Letterature”) (2015-). With Zhang Longxi she co-edits the book series East Asian Comparative Literature and Culture (Brill publishers). She currently works on projects situating early Japanese literature in relationship to Korea, on theoretical comparative approaches to East Asia’s Sinographic Sphere, and on a book project on the global, comparative study of human memory.

Zeit & Ort

07.02.2018 | 16:00 c.t.

Hittorfstr. 18 (Neubau)
Raum 1.36
14195 Berlin

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Prof. Dr. Irmela Hijiya-Kirschnereit i.hijiya@fu-berlin.de