On Friday, May 25th, a day in which a cool summer breeze was blowing, the 42nd session for Methods of East Asian Classical Studies was held at the University of Tokyo’s Komaba campus. Over thirty people attended this session.
Based on the theme, “Possibilities in classical studies for research that transcends disciplinary and linguistic boundaries: Current state of the field and future developments of research in ancient Japanese literature,” this session first had presentations by Professors David Lurie (Columbia University) and Torquil Duthie (UCLA), followed by commentary from Professors Kanazawa Hideyuki (Hokkaidō University), Shinada Yoshikazu (Tōkyō University), Tetsuno Masahiro (Tōkyō University), and Saitō Mareshi (Tōkyō University) who facilitated a lively discussion.
After Professor Saitō Mareshi, who was the moderator, introduced both the presenters and the commentators, Professor Lurie gave his lecture. The presentation was titled, “Divergences between Interpretations of Kojiki and Nihon shoki and Studies in Comparative Mythology.” After summarizing the conditions of the current state of the field in Comparative Mythology Studies research and creating several axes to illustrate this, Professor Lurie raised some questions that ought to be considered.
First is the divergence between Japanese research and research published in Europe and America. Giving examples of European and American studies that clearly make mistakes in regard to the content of Japanese myths, Professor Lurie argued that these kinds of mistakes arise through things such as making comparisons without reading the original text and only using a summary of the myth, trying to publish their research quickly rather than provide a reading of the text using interesting theories and guesswork, and making light of the text’s structure and unique characteristics.
The second point is the extraction of commonality/universality and the interpretation/analysis as text. Although such research is the basis for comparing myths from other cultures, it is also true that, from research that does simple comparisons between myths, easy understanding and interest decline. Based on these issues, Professor Lurie established a new third axis. That is, an axis that has conflicting vectors such as research for specialists and research directed at non-specialists. He pointed out that these three axes covered the space of mythology studies, that the current state of these studies is such where scholars only research within their spaces, and furthermore that this is an issue that ought to be resolved in the future.
Next was Professor Duthie’s lecture. Deciding on the title, “Authors in the Man’yōshū,” Professor Duthie presented a reexamination of the problem of the author in the Man’yōshū using Foucault’s theory. He pointed out that the origin of the word, “author,” (作者 sakusha) goes back to the Chinese classics. The Yamato Japanese court inherited the notion, which was established in Six Dynasties China, that songs and poetry are the superior form of literary expression for supporting the imperial realm. Furthermore, he argued that, within the Kojiki and the Nihon shoki, because the act of recording the sovereign’s poetry was the object in which the history centered on their figure was conveyed to posterity, the term “author” became something that constrained and managed the discursive realm.
On the other hand, in the case of the Man’yōshū, because there were many women who had close relationships with the sovereign among the Man’yō authors from the first period, it is possible to discuss the relationship between “author” and “royal authority.” And, giving Hitomaro as an example of an “author” who does not appear in historical records, Professor Duthie pointed out that figures such as him traveled the realm under the reign of the sovereign even if they held low social rank, leaving behind their feelings of sorrow within their poetry. Finally, he argued that in the case of Ōtomo no Yakamochi, who was removed from the center of politics even though he held an official rank, because he admired the low-ranking Hitomaro as an “author,” and created his own authorial figure through the compilation of the Man’yōshū, even if the poetic realm was built around the figure of the sovereign, those who were separated from the political center were also transmitted to later generations as “authors.”
After that, the discussion section began. In regards to the central problem in Professor Lurie’s presentation about how to fix the divergences in mythologies studies, Professor Kanazawa pointed out that the importance of confirming their characteristics through research methods extracted from the texts proposed by Professor Lurie, as well as thinking about the connection with the realm outside of mythology, that is, the realm of kanji. Furthermore, Professor Saitō stated that the essence of a language barrier is a problem of translation. He argued that fixing the divergences is not a job for one person, but that the possibility of conceiving a “meta” level can open up only when researchers gather together analyses of these various texts.
Next, in regards to the association between author and text, Professor Duthie stated that, besides a political realm centered on the sovereign, a cultural sphere was constructed using not only the sovereign but also legendary poets, in other words, a political center and its surrounding entities. Professor Shinada then explained the formation process of kokubungaku (国文学national literature) studies from the angle of modern scholarship’s establishment in the early twentieth century, with the impression that there were no questions about the nature of literature, and introduced the pre-Shōwa era research conditions where there was an accumulation of research based on the assumption that the figure of the “author” was self-evident. He argued that, by bringing Foucault’s theory to Japanese studies research, a new direction for research might come about as a result.
As for this, Professor Duthie also stated that the interpretation of a poem changes by the name of the author that appears in things that surround the text of the poem, such as the poetic topic heading or the notes that follow, and by making the author’s name itself the subject of interpretation, proposed a method of studying the function of the author. When Professor Tetsuno asked for further explanation on Foucault’s theory and definition of the author, Professor Duthie confirmed that the author is one of the elements that limit each song to their particular circumstances.
And, in regard to the subject of the various authors of both Chinese shi (詩) and waka (和歌) poetry who withdrew from the political center, Professor Saitō suggested the idea that the ruler is someone who exists as an intermediary between the producers and named authors. Their existence holds dual characteristics where they can become a producer, and function as something that connects the poets surrounding them. From this discussion, Professor Duthie pointed out that it was necessary to add one more vector between premodern and modern methods in the study of classical literature to the system created by Professor Lurie, thus revealing issue of how to use modern and contemporary theoretical methods in classical studies.
Lastly, a lively discussion ensued with a variety of questions and opinions from the audience. For example, on the topic of the difference between premodern annotative readings and readings based on modern comparative mythology studies, there was an argument that it is important to be aware of our own relative position as researchers and to not only include modern studies, but also premodern commentaries. Moreover, as to the significance of comparing myths, questions such as the danger of methods such as simply asking after their origins, and the possibility of deepening our understanding of myths by treating the texts flatly as analogies, were also discussed. Furthermore, there were questions about the kind of relationship between the topics of the Man’yōshū and the poems, and why authors with names hold historical significance whereas those with no names have close ties with the cultural sphere.
Finally, a spectator from Kokugakuin University spoke about the Center for Kojiki Studies’ plan to provide an annotated English translation of the Kojiki. This project was highly appreciated by the professors, as it is certainly an attempt to bridge the gap between mythology studies in Japan and those conducted abroad. After the disucssion ended, the two presenters and the four commentators concluded with a summary of the entireevent, and the new issues that emerged from this meeting.
We would like to express our gratitude toward the presenters who prepared stimulating arguments as well as those who participated in the discussion.
(PhD Student, Tōkyō University, Wu Xi)