“Reflections Upon My Conference Presentation at ACAH/LibrAsia 2014” by James Au

My presentation topic during the Osaka Asian Conference on Arts and Humanities (ACAH) 2014 was “Comparative Studies: Europe Dada Poetry, Guo Moruo’s “The Goddesses” and Takahashi Shinkichi’s Poetry”. As the topic suggests, this paper compares “The Goddesses” written by Guo Moruo (郭沬若), a Chinese literary poet renowned for his new poetry, European Dada poetry and the works of the Japanese poet Takahashi Shinkichi’s (高橋新吉) from the late 1910s till the early 1930s. However, due to limited time, I only briefly described the idea of Dada/Dadaism and identified six major characteristics in Dada poetry, and then followed this with arguments about a couple of issues, chiefly the significance of reading Guo’s poems in a new Dadaist perspective that is different from other literary critics, and to what extent Guo’s “The Goddesses” can be read as Dada poetry.

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I was rather nervous while giving my speech because this was my first time presenting in front of professors and intellectuals from across the globe. However, the members of the audience were all very kind and they asked me a number of questions, thus providing chances for me to clarify and elucidate my points. Indeed, my exchanges with foreign scholars were extremely meaningful as they provoked further thoughts about strengthening the arguments in my conference paper and conducting more research in some specific areas. Metaphorically, this exchange was like a series of magical chemical reactions which opened up more possibilities and allowed me to brainstorm fruitful ideas for my paper’s refinement. For instance, one researcher provided me with some suggestions about 18th and 19th century erotic literature, thus motivating me to collect more information about that topic. As a result of this research, I ended up amending some terms originally employed in my conference presentation.

Before my presentation, I also listened to lectures given by different intellectuals, allowing me to open up more insights into fields like Malaysian poetry, Swedish haiku, Spanish literature, graphic novels, Macanese ceramics, female travel writing, Polish literature, and Mexican literature. While I was auditing their speeches, I was like an innocent child encountering various scholars with great wisdom, each of whom inspired me to think more about the feasibility of comparing literature by transcending national boundaries and thus see different aspects in my own work. For example, upon hearing a Polish post-graduate student presenting on the idea of “the aesthetics of death” in Polish and Japanese war literature, I came up almost instantaneously with a question about further comparisons that could be drawn between Japanese and Chinese literature as well.

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Among all the speeches I heard, I particularly liked Anna Maris’s way of presenting her work on Swedish haiku (her paper topic was “Swedish Haiku – From Conflict Resolution to Inner Transition”) by using various photos of Swedish landscapes. Mainly focusing upon the historical period from the late 19th century till the late 20th century, she attempted to summarize the history of Swedish haiku’s development by first giving a brief history of the origin of the Swedish as “Viking”, followed by a discussion on the unique conciseness of the Swedish language that enabled the introduction of Japanese haiku into the Swedish.  Since Japanese haiku is a relatively short poetic form and follows the form of 5-7-5 characters, it could be effectively rendered in Sweden’s concise language. She then explained that, similar to Japanese haiku, Swedish haiku also includes seasonal words, but also that Swedes actually have words for eight different seasons — spring-winter, spring, pre-summer, summer, pre-autumn, autumn, pre-winter and winter. She also read a number of interesting, humorous and beautiful haikus during her lecture. I felt quite surprised that she had read over six-thousand Swedish haikus over the past few years of her research. Her research spirit is indeed very impressive to me.

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Overall, the conference trip was, to me, a valuable experience and has encouraged me to attend, should there be any chances, similar large-scale conferences so that I need not constrain myself to narrow-mindedness but should always be ready instead to open up to new ideas and new thoughts. This will help me learn to embrace the wider intellectual environment, while at the same time, overcome challenges and difficulties that comparative literary studies are currently facing.

Ultimately, to create a never setting sun for the discipline requires support over the years and months!

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James_AuJames Au was an MALCS (MA in Literary and Comparative Studies) student (2013-2014) at the Department of English. Spending a few years learning Japanese, French and German, he developed his research interest in comparative literature, particularly between East and West. His MA project focused on how European Dada poetry affects Chinese and Japanese poetry.  [Click here to read all entries by James.]

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