1 August 2013
If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know me. However, in case you’re a stranger who has wound up here looking for information about studying/researching/living in Nagoya as an American research student or about Fulbright grants for Japan, I’ll go ahead and introduce myself and my Fulbright project. (Because it’s not as if I spent countless hours reading the blogs of past Fulbright fellows once I found out I’d received the grant or anything…)
I’m a recent graduate of William Jewell College, a small liberal arts college located in Liberty, Missouri. At Jewell, I was a member of the Oxbridge Honors Program, and I majored in Literature and Theory and minored in Japanese Area Studies. I spent my junior year studying literature as a visiting student at Oxford University (Mansfield College). When I return from Japan at the end of next summer, I plan to move to West Lafayette, Indiana to study literature as a graduate student at Purdue University.
About My Fulbright Project
From October 2013 until August 2014, I will be living in Nagoya, Japan, carrying out a self-designed research project on feminist literary criticism, made possible by the generous support of a Fulbright Fellow grant. I will be a research student at Nagoya University, Graduate Department of Languages and Cultures, where I will attend classes and continue my studies of Japanese while I pursue my project. I am extremely grateful for the kind support of the Fulbright Organization, the Japan-U.S. Educational Commission, and Nagoya University, Graduate Department of Languages and Cultures for enabling this research year.
In very broad terms, my research project will focus on analyzing contemporary trends in the use feminist literary criticism in Japan, both in institutional settings and in academic publications. By reading contemporary scholarly criticism, attending courses and lectures at Japanese universities, and interviewing graduate students and professors of literature, I hope to gain an understanding of the extent to which, and in what ways, feminist literary criticism is being utilized in Japan.
For a more detailed description of the sorts of issues my project hopes to address, here’s a portion of my statement of grant purpose:
In her 1997 book on Hayashi Fumiko and modern Japanese women’s literature, Joan E. Ericson asserts, “Until recently, discussion in English about gender in modern Japanese literature, or literary criticism of modern works by Japanese women, has been exceedingly rare.” Today this is no longer the case. In the fifteen years that have passed since Ericson’s statement the critical analysis of modern Japanese women’s literature has expanded in significant and exciting ways. Alongside English publications of never-before-translated works of Japanese women’s literature, there have appeared articles, anthologies, and book-length studies that critically examine gender and sexual relations in Japanese literature. As university departments of women’s and gender studies have sprouted up around Japan, producing publications such as the U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal, scholarship examining the development of feminism and the role of gender in Japanese society has become unprecedentedly accessible.
Yet while this growth of translation and scholarship on feminism and gender in Japan has brought Japanese women’s experiences and literary contributions into the spotlight, it also raises important questions about the relationship of Japanese literature to dominant feminist literary criticism that originated in Europe and the United States. Some literary critics eschew the application of Western feminism to Japanese works. Ericson, for example, asserts that she resists Western feminist theoretical discourses in order “to avoid the presumption that Western theories are the sole measure for any scholarly assessment of gendered literary categorization in Japan.” Her deliberate avoidance of Western theory reflects the frequent criticism that Western feminism lacks sensitivity to cultural differences and tends to universalize women’s experiences.
Other scholars of Japanese literature, however, unequivocally apply Western feminist theory to their analyses of Japanese texts. Julia Bullock’s The Other Woman’s Lib: Gender and Body in Japanese Women’s Fiction (2010) applies Western psychoanalytic feminist theory to the works of modern Japanese women writers, while Christine Marran’s Poison Woman: Figuring Female Transgression in Modern Japanese Culture (2007) draws upon the work of Western feminist critics such as Mary Poovey and Nancy Armstrong to discuss the dofuku (poison woman) narratives of the 1870s and their influence on notions of female sexuality in Japan. Nina Cornyetz defends this practice of utilizing Western feminist theory, asserting that the hesitation “to have any recourse to contemporary [Western] theory” in scholarship about Japanese literature “reflects what must be identified as a basically Orientalist insistence that Japan is not subject to similar terms and conventions of modernity that inform the West.” Ericson’s and Cornyetz’s conflicting positions reflect the growing debate about the appropriate place of Western feminist theory in studies of Japanese literature. In today’s context of increasing globalization, such contestations over Western theory are highly pertinent not only in Japan but all over the world.
To further complicate the debate, Rebecca Copeland calls for examination of how the application of Western feminism to Japanese literature is received in Japan. In Woman Critiqued: Translated Essays on Japanese Women’s Writing (2006), she asserts: “The work of Western-language scholars on Japanese women’s literature has provided those who do not read Japanese with an important window into an aspect of Japanese culture long ignored by mainstream media and academics…But what of the way women have been received and read in Japan?” Such recent scholarship demonstrates that there is not only a need to evaluate the use of Western literary and feminist theory in studies of Japanese literature outside of Japan, but also to examine the reception and use of such theories by literature scholars within Japan.
As a student of literary theory and Japanese area studies, I am interested in parsing out these arguments and moving the debate forward in new and constructive ways. I propose a Fulbright research project that will enable me to examine and evaluate trends in recent literary scholarship in Japan and its use of feminist theory and criticism that has arisen from Europe and the United States. Ultimately, I plan to write a scholarly paper addressing the following questions: Is it appropriate or productive to apply Western-based feminist theory to analysis of Japanese literature? If so, how, methodologically, should this be carried out? To what extent, and in what specific ways, are scholars and students of literature in Japan drawing upon, or rejecting, Western feminist theory and criticism in examining literature?
If you want even more information on the research that I’ll be doing for my Fulbright, feel free to e-mail me, and I’ll send you my complete grant statement of purpose and personal statement.