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“What if We Took Japanese Literature as World Heritage? – Classics, Memory, and Identity as a Link from the Present Back to the Past”

“What if We Took Japanese Literature as World Heritage? – Classics, Memory, and Identity as a Link from the Present Back to the Past”

On April 6, 2019, Dr. Edoardo Gerlini presented a lecture titled “What if We Took Japanese Literature as World Heritage? – Classics, Memory, and Identity as a Link from the Present Back to the Past.” The event involved the aforementioned lecture by Dr. Gerlini, whose affiliation with the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences (FLAS) is funded by the Marie Curie Fellowship of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program, remarks by commentators, and a discussion. Dr. Gerlini began his tenure as a two-year visiting researcher at FLAS in June 2018. His lecture was on the topic of his research, “World Heritage and East Asian Literature—Japanese Kanbun as Literary Heritage.” The aim of the overall event was to open an interdisciplinary dialog between literature and the study of cultural heritage. More than 60 people—both affiliated with Waseda University and otherwise—attended the lecture.

Dr. Gerlini began by describing how his research is a necessary response to the “crisis of the humanities” that has been the topic of much discussion recently—and, in particular, a response to the “crisis of the classics.” He then discussed his two approaches to research methods: a theoretical approach and a practical approach. In relation to his theoretical approach, Dr. Gerlini said that his goal was to provide both a new understanding of classical literature as constituting literary heritage and a new definition of the concept of “heritage.” Dr. Gerlini then lectured in detail on four topics: “Heritage Studies and Literary Studies,” “Classical Literature as Cultural Heritage,” “Research Developments: Three Hypotheses,” and “A Summary and Outlook.”

Dr. Edoardo Gerlini

During the Heritage Studies and Literary Studies section of his lecture, Dr. Gerlini used specific examples to demonstrate the variety of interdisciplinary research that will be made possible by bringing together literary studies and heritage studies. Just a small selection of the broad array of fields for which Dr. Gerlini proposed joint research included linguistics, architectural studies, tourism studies, museum studies, modern history, law, and business, thus demonstrating the depth of the research that might develop in those disciplines. In the Classical Literature as Cultural Heritage part of his lecture, Dr. Gerlini argued that, if classical literature is considered cultural heritage, definitions of a more precise “literary heritage” and of a broader “textual heritage” will be required. He proposed that—rather than merely in terms of specific works—literature should be considered in terms of both literacy, encompassing knowledge and action, and the process of transmitting that literacy down to succeeding generations. In the Research Developments: Three Hypotheses part of his lecture, Dr. Gerlini raised three problems to ponder based on a consideration of prior research concerning cultural heritage and literature: (1) the literary canon, (2) ownership, and (3) authorship and authenticity. Concerning problem (1), Dr. Gerlini proposed that perhaps the concept of “the Canon” as used in literary studies and that of “heritage” in the study of cultural heritage refer to one and the same thing. Concerning problem (2), he argued that both cultural heritage and literature have been subject to the same kinds of claims concerning ownership, as well as that translation is a means of appropriation and has implications for the character of, and rights attendant with, ownership. Concerning problem (3), Dr. Gerlini touched upon conditions concerning classical literature, an area where in the vast majority of cases the original texts are no longer extant, and proposed that it may be necessary to consider together the issues of authenticity, original texts, the formation of the canon, and authority. Finally, in the Summary and Outlook section of this lecture, Dr. Gerlini summarized his talk, while touching on issues of cultural identity, by noting that he expected that this research, through the key word of “heritage,” would offer a positive stimulus for the traditional, conservative academic field of classical literature.

After the lecture, there were remarks from three commentators. First, Professor Hiroshi Araki of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies discussed three points from the perspective of classical literary studies: Point one was the issue of whether there might be a category error regarding how the term “the classics” is considered. Point two was a proposal that perhaps future studies of the classics could be considered from a perspective of “projection,” rather than of passive “reception.” Point three was another proposal that, in considering classical works, perhaps a distinction must now be made between their universality and their locality. Next, Associate Professor Akira Matsuda of the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology and Faculty of Letters commented from the perspective of cultural heritage studies. Dr. Matsuda began by noting that the phrase “world heritage” tends to bring to mind heritage that has been recognized by the system organized by UNESCO but that the phrase, as used by Dr. Gerlini, seemed most aptly to refer to a heritage common to all of humanity that has not been brought under such a system. However, Dr. Matsuda considered at length that Dr. Gerlini may have had no choice but to mention “world heritage” because he alluded to geography at different times throughout his lecture and any discussion of geography in this context necessarily entailed the concept of world heritage. Dr. Matsuda also proposed that the two concepts of a global heritage and local heritages may provide hints as to how to think about classical literature. The final comments were provided by Yukio Rimbara, former Vice Chair of the Japanese National Commission for UNESCO. Adding to the points made by Dr. Matsuda, the former vice chair noted that one of UNESCO’s goals is to pursue sustainable peace and that, because of the restrictions imposed by such goals, there are aspects that make it difficult to understand world heritage as such a broad concept. Additionally, when literature is brought under the framework of UNESCO, it falls under the rubric of the organization’s Memory of the World Programme (also known in Japan as “memory heritage”). However, because issues of documents’ existence, authenticity, global universality, and so forth, there are currently very few items registered under the program as works of literature.

After the commentary, there was an active question and answer session and discussion that involved the audiences. Because of the broadness of themes discussed, hands were raised by a wide variety of attendees, including undergraduate students and young researchers. Although there was not enough time allotted for the event to exhaust all the topics of discussion raised, the event nonetheless concluded as a rousing success.

Event Summary

“What if We Took Japanese Literature as World Heritage? – Classics, Memory, and Identity as a Link from the Present Back to the Past”

◆Date and time: April 6, 2019 (Sat.) 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm

◆Location: Meeting Room 10, 16th floor of Building 33, Toyama Campus, Waseda University

◆Sponsored by:

Waseda University Global Japanese Studies Model Unit, Top Global University Project

Waseda University Research Institute for Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Ryusaku Tsunoda Center of Japanese Culture

◆Cosponsored by: Waseda University Research Institute of Japanese Classical Books

◆Support provided by: The European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme MSCA grant agreement No. 792809

◆Lecture by:

Edoardo Gerlini (Marie Cure Fellow, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice; Visiting Research Fellow, Waseda University Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences)

◆Moderated by:

Kimiko Kono (Professor, Waseda University Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences)


Hiroshi Araki (Professor, International Research Center for Japanese Studies)

Akira Matsuda (Associate Professor, University of Tokyo Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology and Faculty of Letters)

Yukio Rimbara (Former Vice Chair of the Japanese National Commission for UNESCO; Chair of the Steering Committee of the Commission to Promote the Registration of the Tale of Genji in the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme)

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