Translating “Cultural Diplomacy” into the Classics MIT news

People often set national boundaries around the written word. If you read French poetry or Victorian novels, you are tempted to understand those texts strictly in the light of French or British history and culture. However, this often leads to a broader view of literary output.

Consider that for many centuries Chinese was the common elite language of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese literature. In the 19th century, writers throughout East Asia created their works in the classical Chinese language, an ancient form of writing in which each symbol represents a word rather than a sound.

Then, with the global wave of modern nationalism, many of those older works became marginalized in public space. However, in recent years, this trend has begun to change, says Wiebke Denecke, a professor at the MIT Literature Program and an expert on pre-modern East Asia. More scholars are once again diving into older works written in classical Chinese.

“Rehabilitation of the literary Chinese language has revealed a whole field, the paradigm of Japanese studies has changed [among others] now, ”says Denecke.

Of course, if Denecke has anything to do with it, the paradigm shift will continue. Her work analyzes these older periods in East Asian history, mostly from 1200 AD. pr. Kr. up to 1200 meme – and is very comparable. Denecke has published two books, many scholarly articles, edited many volumes, and worked actively as an editor to anthologize East Asian classical literature to make it more accessible to many readers.

“In many ways, my mission is that I hope that someday, perhaps in my life, when people hear, ‘Oh, that man is a classic,’ they won’t think of Homer or Ovid, but maybe they’ll think of Confucius.” they will think of the ‘Story of Genji’, a masterpiece of Japanese literature, or they may think of people like [Korean poet] Kim Si-seup, ”says Denecke.

Denecke worked full-time at MIT in 2021, having previously worked at Boston University and previously at Barnard College / Columbia University. It provides the Institute with research projects in line with MIT’s global perspective, with a clear goal of conveying its international, historically minded perspective to the Institute’s students and the general public.

“I came to MIT because it’s such a unique place in the humanities,” says Denecke.

Mastering the “Master’s Literature”

As a bachelor’s student in Denecke, he entered the University of Gottingen in his hometown of Germany and began studying medicine. However, the medical student’s longer trip to China and Japan helped her learn Chinese and Japanese and sparked change. Already interested in East Asia, Denecke has now become a major part of his studies.

Denecke also received a master’s degree in Göttingen in various disciplines – sinology, Japanese studies, philosophy and medical history – and later decided to pursue a doctorate in 2004. received his doctorate from the Department of East Asian Languages ​​and Civilizations at Harvard University. . He then worked at Denecke for two years as a Mellon Fellow at the Columbia University Society for the Humanities, and later held his first position at the faculty at Barnard.

Denecke was a very productive scientist. Her first book, Dynamics of Masterful Literature: Early Chinese Languages ​​from Confucius to Han Feizi, published by Harvard University Press, examines a rich collection of Chinese texts from the 5th to the 2nd century. misjudged these works as “philosophy” in a familiar Western sense. Instead, Denecke believes that these writings are better placed in the tradition of Chinese “literary masters” – the term is now commonly used – focused on the wisdom of one figure.

“It’s a form of literature that talks about … political philosophy and ethics, the good life, how to manage well, or how to get away from it, for a contemplative life,” says Denecke. “It simply came to our notice then [it is] very different [and] centered around the charismatic figure of the masters.

In addition, she adds: “Since Plato’s time, there has been a real struggle between philosophers and poets in the Greco-Roman and European traditions. Not so in China … as early Confucius says, learning poetry is the only way to get along in life. There are “philosophical” texts by these old masters that include poetry.

Soon in Denecke in 2014. published a book, Classical World Literature: Comparisons of Chinese and Japanese and Greek and Roman, published by Oxford University Press. This comparative work examines the staggering convergence of intellectual history between East and West: both Japanese and Roman literature developed under the shadow of an older “reference culture,” that is, Chinese writers in Japanese and Greek writers in the Roman world. That circumstance in many ways colors the content of the Japanese and Roman texts.

However, despite some parallels between Japanese and Roman cultural production, there are many differences. First: Rome conquered Greece in 146. Pr. me, and Japan has never gained control of China.

“That’s when you started to differentiate between political power, [of] young Romans and cultural power, ”says Denecke. “Because it was still the great Greeks, and the Romans had this inferiority complex, and you had this perplexing phenomenon. [in] that you had Greek slaves teaching the Roman elite. Now that has never been the case with China and Japan.

New Literature for All Library

In addition to his research, Denecke invests heavily in editing original text sets. She was the East Asian Editor of The Norton Anthology of World Literature and the Editor of The Norton Anthology of Western Literature.

Denecke is also the editor-in-chief of the new series Hsu-Tang Library of Classical Chinese Literature, published by Oxford University Press and courtesy of Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang. The series is similar to the Chinese literature version for the Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press series, whose Greek and Roman texts can be found in pocket editions for more than a century.

Denecke has worked extensively with the Hsu-Tang Library of Classical Chinese Literature, collaborating with translators to create a home-style that presents texts both scholarly and read well to a wide audience.

“Accessibility, the idea that it’s really literature for everyone around the world, and it’s nice, it’s important,” says Denecke.

Focused on the humanities

One of the advantages of Denecke’s work is that it brings together researchers from countries whose relations are sometimes cold, which it calls “cultural diplomacy” developed by the academic community. Together with a Japanese colleague, she convened dozens of scholars from Japan, Korea, and China to co-write the first history of East Asian literature.

Mobilizing people is very important on Denecke radar at MIT. Together with colleagues at MIT, other Boston-based institutions, and collaborators around the world, Denecke is currently leading MIT’s Comparative Global Humanities Initiative to establish a hub for researchers, students, experts, and the public to create works with historians. depth and global social issues and challenges. In the opening conferenceEnough worlds and time: Towards a comparative global humanities“Occurred in November 2021.

According to Denecke, this initiative would be a “catalyst for deep forms of cooperation in the humanities” with an international, interdisciplinary orientation. In Denecke, who also calls himself an “activist of human memory,” the inclusion of historically oriented projects in the centre’s activities is especially important at a time when nationalist movements are often distorting or erasing history by creating favorable political narratives.

At a time when many global crises call for a better understanding of our societies, with funding for the humanities declining in many places, Denecke believes MIT is a worthy ideal, adding the benefits of humanities and adapting the humanities to the challenges of our age.

“To create more egalitarian societies today, we need to create more equality for other places and other pasts – and learn from all the wealth and lessons they provide,” says Denecke.

“To hear an initiative for the future of the humanities in one of the most forward-looking and visionary institutions in the world, I think that’s why I came to MIT to give it a try,” says Denecke, adding, “The humanities are more important than ever.”

Godfrey Kemp

"Bacon fanatic. Social media enthusiast. Music practitioner. Internet scholar. Incurable travel advocate. Wannabe web junkie. Coffeeaholic. Alcohol fanatic."

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