Language at the Limits: The Global Situation of Japanese Modernist Poetry

by Assistant Professor of Japanese William Gardner

"In my lecture, I discuss the global context for the emergence of modernism in Japan in the 1920's and 1930's, as well as the ways in which Japanese modernist poetry deployed the distinctive qualities of the Japanese written language," Gardner says. "Although the prewar Japanese state could be characterized as both authoritarian and imperialist, the 1920's were a time of relative political liberalism and cosmopolitanism. This was also a period of rapid urban growth, as well as the rise of communications and transportation technologies such as radio, cinema, and aviation that seemed to shrink the size of the globe. Among the dizzying cultural developments of this period was the emergence of new types of literature in Japanese that we can identify as modernist and avant-garde, inspired in part by such European avant-garde movements as Futurism, Dadaism, and Surrealism. In my talk I will look at the work of four modernist poets, and show how each of them positions his work in terms of Japanese literary tradition, Western cultural hegemony, and Japan's expanding empire in East Asia."