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Research Seminar: "Beyond-East-West Comparisons: Thinking Through Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman L...
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Topic:  Research Seminar: "Beyond-East-West Comparisons: Thinking Through Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Literary Cultures"
posted itemPosted - 17/02/2010 :  16:26:26


Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics

Research Seminar


 Beyond-East-West Comparisons: Thinking Through Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Literary Cultures 


Presented by


Dr. Wiebke Denecke

Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures, Barnard College/Columbia University




26 February 2010 (Friday)


11:00am - 12:30pm


B7603 (Lift 3, Blue Zone), Academic Building, CityU





This lecture introduces the outlines of a book project that explores what one might call the “drama of the relative age of cultures.” It examines how writers of younger cultures are affected by the presence of an older “reference culture.” Focusing on the example of Ancient Japan during the Nara (710-784) and Heian Periods (794-1185) and on Ancient Rome from the Middle Republic of the third century BCE to the Late Roman Empire of the fifth century CE, the book examines how Early Japanese and Latin writers engaged the literary cultures of China and the Greek world, respectively. How did Latin and Early Japanese authors write their own literature through and against the literary precedents of China and Greece? How did authors of the younger cultures respond to the challenge of appropriating the reference culture’s genres and literary forms, rhetorical sophistication and poetological reflection, conceptual vocabulary and lexical imagination for their writing in a different language and within new political and cultural contexts? How did they navigate between the attractions of cultural self-colonization, which promised access to a realm of venerable refinement and sophistication of the older reference culture, and the desire for self-assertion fueled by cultural pride and anxious competition for recognition?


To showcase my approach to these questions the lecture will specifically explore the ways in which Early Japanese and Latin writers dealt with their awareness that they were “latecomers.” They could build on the sophisticated repertoire of Chinese, respectively Greek, literary genres and diction. Yet, they also desired to lay claim to literary merits of their own. Notions about simplicity, ornateness, and decline, which could be blamed on foreign influence, became one of the arenas in which this ambiguous psychology of the younger literary cultures unfolded. What is the relation between ornamentation and simplicity in early Japanese and Latin texts and how do practice of and debates about ornate style play out differently in Japanese and Latin literary cultures? This talk argues that Latin writers had good reasons to be both more aggressive, more diplomatic, and more embarrassed vis-à-vis Greek precedent than their Japanese colleagues vis-à-vis the Chinese tradition.





Wiebke Denecke 魏樸和  is Assistant Professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures at Barnard College/Columbia University. She received her MA from the University of Göttingen, Germany, and her PhD from Harvard University. She has been a Member of the Society of Fellows of Columbia University, a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and is currently a Japan Foundation Fellow at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, Japan.

Her research focuses on the thought and literature of premodern China and Japan, and on comparative studies of the ancient world. She has published articles on Chinese intellectual history, medieval Chinese poetry, Nara and Heian literature and Latin literature. Her forthcoming book The Dynamics of Masters Literature: Early Chinese Thought from Confucius to Han Feizi (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, Asia Center, 2010) recaptures the development of early Chinese philosophy as a history of the traditional genre of "Masters Literature" (zishu 子書). She is currently completing her second book, In the Footprints of Others: Latin and Early Japanese Writers and Their Own Literature, which examines how early Japanese and Latin authors wrote their literature through and against Chinese and Greek literary precedents. Denecke is the East Asia editor of the Norton Anthology of World Literature (Third edition; under contract to W. W. Norton & Company for publication in 2011).


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