Literature and Thought in Transwar Japan(04/18)

How do we read an idea when it appears in the literary form of a novel, poem, or translation, rather than in the expository form of philosophy per se?  My 2022 book Confluence and Conflict: Reading Transwar Japanese Literature and Thought thinks through this question by tracing the connections between the realms of literature and thought in 20th century Japan that have more often been held apart by the disciplinary divisions of our academy today.

The book puts the sensuous realm of literature into dialogue with the cerebral realm of thought in contexts ranging from the middlebrow novelist Tanizaki Jun’cihirō’s modern translation of The Tale of Genji (Genji monogatari) and the avant-garde modernist Yokomitsu Riichi’s legendary novel of ideas The Melancholy of Travel (Ryoshū) to the poet Nakano Shigeharu’s Marxist interpretation of everyday language and the culture of postwar liberalism that surrounded the scholar Edwin McClellan as he translated Natsume Sōseki’s classic novel Kokoro in 1950s America. Through these studies, the book constructs a framework for connecting prewar and postwar history by reading Japan’s turn to nationalism and fascism during the interwar years in transwar conversation with the reconstruction of liberal sentiments in the postwar period that followed.

As this book talk outlines the structure and content of Confluence and Conflict, it will also point to how writing the book planted the seeds that have grown into more recent projects related to literature and thought in other contexts.  These projects include studies of the literary dimension of the conservative mind, the aesthetic critique of Cold War capitalism, and the transpacific life of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ iconic literary hero Tarzan during World War II.


Speaker Bio

Brian Hurley is Assistant Professor in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.  His book Confluence and Conflict: Reading Transwar Japanese Literature and Thought (Harvard University Asia Center, 2022) received honorable mention in the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Book Prize for East Asian Studies presented by the Modern Language Association. It was also named a finalist in the Modern Japan History Association’s Book Prize competition.  His most recent scholarship appears in articles to be published in 2024 in Comparative Literature Studies, The Journal of Asian Studies, Japanese Language and Literature, and positions: asia critique.



Thursday April 18, 2024 at 5pm


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