George Steiner Lecture 2018
Professor Wiebke Denecke
"World Literature, Premodern Comparisons and Global Cultural Memory in Action"
As our world is getting more globally interconnected by the day, models for studying cultural phenomena in various places and periods on a global scale have rapidly multiplied and have over the past decade resulted in a wealth of new scholarship of ambitious scope. Yet, many of our global paradigms are still overwhelmingly parochial in disciplinary terms, off-shoots of particular disciplines such as "literature," "history," or "religious studies," with largely streamlined research communities, audiences and institutional infrastructure that make ground-breaking interdisciplinarity challenging. The "world literature" paradigm has over the past decade opened an academic field to new players, new audiences, new questions, and new—literatures. This lecture situates world literature studies within the most recent global paradigms in various fields of the humanities, in particular the emerging movement of "comparative studies of the premodern world" (preceding the pervasive impact of Western colonisation and modernisation). What kind of new methodologies and concepts does this comparative approach to the premodern world inspire; what ultimate purposes does it serve? This lecture demonstrates how the emerging field of comparative premodern studies can benefit from embracing the study of global human memory to help protect and utilise the historical experience of humanity in ethically responsible ways to face the challenges of today's world, in particular those of inequality and fundamentalist nationalisms.Wiebke Denecke is Professor of East Asian Literatures & Comparative Literature at Boston University. Her research encompasses the literary and intellectual history of premodern China, Japan and Korea, comparative studies of East Asia and the premodern world, and world literature. She is the author of The Dynamics of Masters Literature: Early Chinese Thought from Confucius to Han Feizi (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010), Classical World Literatures: Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Comparisons (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), and co-editor of The Norton Anthology of World Literature (2012, 2018), The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) and a three-volume literary history of Japan from an East Asian perspective (Nihon "bun" gakushi. A New History of Japanese "Letterature") (2015-). With Zhang Longxi she co-edits the book series East Asian Comparative Literature and Culture (Brill). She currently works on projects situating early Japanese literature in relationship to Korea, on theoretical comparative approaches to East Asia's Sinographic Sphere, and on a book project on the global, comparative study of human memory.