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Modern East Asia and the World: Translation and Intertextuality

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Organizer: Keru Cai

Co-Organizer: Matthew Mewhinney

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In his introduction to the recent New Literary History of Modern China (2017), David Der-wei Wang outlines the importance of global circulation, travel, and transculturation in the story of modern Chinese literature. Indra Levy (2006) and Chris Hill (2008) have made similar observations in the case of modern Japanese literature. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in East Asia saw a flurry of translation and imitation of Western literary, philosophical, and scientific writing. In nineteenth-century Japan, writers and intellectuals joined the national effort to translate ideas from Europe, including theories of literature and genres of literary expression. Chinese writers and intellectuals followed suit, prompted by military defeats at the hands of Western nations and Japan. For Chinese and Japanese luminaries of this period, rejuvenating cultural production according to Western models was a critical means of reinvigorating society and redefining national standing amongst hegemonic world powers. As a result, writing in East Asia became increasingly intertextual as literary language transformed to absorb, adopt, and innovate upon literary genres and styles from around the world. By the mid-twentieth century, new manifestations of ideological exchange and geopolitical conflict engendered new iterations in East Asian literary form; postwar and post-socialist modernity opened yet another chapter on East Asian literature, film, and media and their global underpinnings.

This seminar undertakes the crucial project of examining how the agents of modern literature in East Asia reached across borders for aesthetic raw material that they reshaped according to the literary or political demands of each new era. How did writers make use of translated texts and ideas to suit their own cultural purposes? What theories or case studies of translation arise from the global circulation of ideas and persons in this period? And how does intertextuality allow a text to make its entrance into world literature? We invite papers that raise similar questions while offering new ways to think about translation and intertextuality in a modern East Asian context.

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