Research

My research interests encompass the middle of the eighteenth century through the end of the 1930s. This is a period of immense upheaval in Japan, one that witnesses the rise of a commercial economy, the encounter with the West, the audacious program of modernization implemented in the wake of the Meiji Restoration of 1868, and the transformation of the country by the forces of industrialization, urbanization, and nationalism. My research in this period follows three broad lines of inquiry: the memory of the past in a new age as a way to understand change and continuity; the ways in which literature reflects and responds to forces changing society; developing theoretical approaches that remove literature from isolation, putting it in contact with other arts and with the larger social world more generally. Focusing on the mid-Meiji period, my early research centered on understanding the neoclassical style utilized by the pioneering woman writer Higuchi Ichiyo, which resulted in the monograph The Uses of Memory: The Critique of Modernity in the Fiction of Higuchi Ichiyo (Harvard Universtiy Asia Center, 2006).  My second book, Struggling Upward: Worldly Success and the Japanese Novel (Harvard University Asia Center, 2016), took up the role played by new discourses on social mobility in the formation of the spatial imagination of the modern novel. I have also written on the artist Kobayashi Kiyochika in early Meiji and the writer Tamura Toshiko at the end of that era. Shiftting forward in time, my current book project, tentatively titled Celluloid Metaphors: Literary-Cinematic Interchanges in Interwar Japan, explores the connections between literature and new technological cultural forms, especially the cinema, during the 1920s and 30s.

Teaching

I teach courses on the whole range of expressive culture in Japan.  I also have interests in language pedagogy, stemming from my experience teaching the Japanese language for almost a decade before coming to Amherst about fifteen years ago.  In the past, I tended to teach discrete topics (cinema, literature) and discrete time periods (premodern, modern).  In recent years, however, my emphasis has shifted to encompass the transnational, the interdisciplinary, and media hybridity.  Team-teaching allows me to explore comparative frameworks between countries with my colleagues in other departments and interdisciplinary topics within my own department.  Most of my courses are still taught solo, and in these I emphasize the way different media tend to meet and hybridize each other, what many now call intermediality.  It is becoming increasingly clear that a liberal arts education must include intermedial literacy, and my courses aim to cultivate that skill in students.  At the forefront of all my teaching is the interpretation of the cultural artifact, with due attention paid to its formal properties, to its participation in larger social and aesthetic contexts and media environments, and to its reinterpretation in later ages. Ultimately I view the engagement with the artistic text as a training of the imagination and not as the search for a single, correct answer.  I always try to illustrate how there can be a multitude of compelling and competing interpretations and how a rhetorically sophisticated text sparks interpretation as a creative activity in itself.  For these reasons, most of my courses are discussion intensive.