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Writing the History of Japanese Literature

Colloquium | April 30 | 4 p.m. | Institute of East Asian Studies (2223 Fulton, 6th Floor), IEAS Conference Room


Alan Tansman, Professor, East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley

Dan O'Neill, Associate Professor, East Asian Languages and Cultures, UC Berkeley

Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS)


Three years ago Oxford University Press asked me to cram 1300 years of Japanese literary history into a one-hundred page book with no footnotes. At the time this seemed like a treat: liberation from the straightjacket of scholarly form and an invitation to go with the passion of taste over the policing of propriety. I could write about what I loved not what I knew the tradition valued. I could create my own tradition! But three years of reading through the tradition has left me internally conflicted, torn between love and responsibility, sifting among classics I have loved and classics I continue to fail to appreciate, and among the unsung works I can't imagine not putting front-and-center. Putting my map of Japanese literature on the page has been a humbling reminder of the man-made construction of tradition. This informal talk will be a presentation of my experience wrestling this book to the ground.

This talk is part of a series of presentations by IEAS Residential Research Fellows.


ieas@berkeley.edu, 510-642-2809