As our world is getting more interconnected by the day, models for studying cultural phenomena in various places and periods on a global scale have rapidly multiplied over the past decade and resulted in a wealth of new scholarship of ambitious planetary scope. In the midst of sweeping new paradigms of “global history,” “world literature,” or “world philology,” what specifically can the study of the premodern world contribute to a deeper self-understanding and to meaningful action in our current historical moment? What kind of conceptual work needs to be done to make premodernities productively “comparable”? What are the academic challenges, but also ethical responsibilities that are at stake in this kind of work? And what sets of methods are most promising in enabling global comparisons? While exploring these general questions this lecture focuses in particular on how the conceptual study of premodern East Asia and the study of Western antiquity and European cultural history can mutually illuminate each other and open new paths of inquiry.
Wiebke Denecke is Associate 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 (2010), Classical World Literatures: Sino-Japanese and Greco-Roman Comparisons (2013), and co-editor of The Norton Anthology of World Literature (2012, 2018), The Oxford Handbook of Classical Chinese Literature (2017) and a three-volume literary history of Japan from an East Asian perspective (Nihon “bun”gakushi. A New History of Japanese “Letterature”) (2015-). She currently works on projects that situate early Japanese literature in relationship to Korea and on conceptual approaches to East Asia’s Sinographic Sphere.