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Oe Kenzaburo at the University of Chicago

Posted in Books,Japanese literature by bourdaghs on the February 13th, 2010

Below is the announcement for an event we’re pretty excited about here. The Independent newspaper (London) called Oe “the world’s greatest living novelist in any language.” I’ve just started reading his Suishi (Death by drowning, 2009)、which Oe says is likely to be his last full-length novel. It’s a compelling work in the vain of Natsukashii toshi e no tegami (Letters to a Sweet Bygone Year, 1987) or Jinsei no shinseki (An Echo of Heaven, 1989): an aging novelist travels back to his birthplace in rural Shikoku to confront his own familial and literary past, in this case in particular the life and death of his own father.

Here’s the announcement:

  • Kenzaburō Ōe, recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature,
    will return to the University of Chicago to deliver this
    year’s Tetsuo Najita Distinguished Lecture. Ōe’s talk, “A
    Novelist Re-Reads ‘Kaitokudō,’” will take place on Thursday,
    March 4 at 4:00 p.m. in the International House Assembly Hall.
    Ōe will speak in Japanese, with English translation provided
    by Norma Field, Robert S. Ingersoll Distinguished Service
    Professor in Japanese Studies.

    Born in 1935 in rural Shikoku, Ōe is one of modern Japan’s
    most respected novelists and public intellectuals. He began
    publishing fiction while still a university student and in
    1958 was awarded the Akutagawa Prize, Japan’s most prestigious
    literary award. Since, he has published many celebrated
    novels and stories, including A Personal Matter (1964), The
    Silent Cry (1967), Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness (1969), The
    Pinch Runner Memorandum (1976), and Somersault (1999). His
    most recent novel, Suishi (Death by Drowning), was published
    in Japan to great acclaim in late 2009. His works have been
    translated into many languages, and in 1994 he became the
    second Japanese writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

    In addition to his fiction, Ōe has throughout his career
    provided a model for the engaged intellectual. He has written
    widely on the dangers of nuclear proliferation, on Japan’s
    history of military aggression, and in defense of Article 9,
    the peace clause of Japan’s postwar constitution. Recently,
    Ōe successfully defended himself in a highly publicized libel
    case brought against him by the families of two Japanese
    wartime military officers who claimed that Ōe’s 1970 book
    Okinawa Notes had exaggerated the role of the military in mass
    civilian suicides in Okinawa during the closing months of
    World War Two, with the judges in the case declaring that his
    book had accurately depicted the events in question.

    Ōe previously visited the University of Chicago as a visiting
    scholar in the 1980s and the 1990s. During those earlier
    visits, he became acquainted with Tetsuo Najita, Robert S.
    Ingersoll Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of History
    and of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and Ōe has
    written recently about the impact that Najita’s writings have
    had on his own work. In his lecture, Ōe will discuss the
    contemporary relevance of Najita’s approach to intellectual
    history, including Najita’s Visions of Virtue in Tokugawa
    Japan: The Kaitokudō Merchant Academy of Osaka (1997), a
    landmark study of the rise of an independent school of
    economic and moral philosophy in eighteenth-century Japan.

    The Tetsuo Najita Distinguished Lecture series was launched in
    2007 by the University of Chicago Committee on Japanese
    Studies at the Center for East Asian Studies to honor the
    legacy of Najita’s contribution to the university during his
    long career.

    Ōe’s lecture is free and open to the public. It is sponsored
    by the Committee on Japanese Studies of the Center for East
    Asian Studies.

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