Ideas about how to study and understand cultural history—particularly literature—are rapidly changing as new digital archives and tools for searching them become available. This is not the first information age, however, to challenge ideas about how and why we value literature and the role numbers might play in this process. The Values in Numbers tells the longer history of this evolving global conversation from the perspective of Japan and maps its potential futures for the study of Japanese literature and world literature more broadly.
The Story of the Stone (also known as Dream of the Red Chamber) is widely held to be the greatest work of Chinese literature, beloved by readers ever since it was first published in 1791. The story revolves around the young scion of a mighty clan who, instead of studying for the civil service examinations, frolics with his maidservants and girl cousins. The narrative is cast within a mythic framework in which the protagonist’s rebellion against Confucian strictures is guided by a Buddhist monk and a Taoist priest. Embedded in the novel is a biting critique of imperial China’s political and social system.
Serendipity, we may say, is a wonderful thing sometimes. Here are both a newly expanded edition of Hinton’s translation of Tu Fu’s poems, and at the same time his book about Tu Fu’s life as exemplified in an examination of some of these poems as they relate to the poet’s precipitous journey through life.
The classic Chinese novel The Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan) tells the story of a band of outlaws in 12th-century China and their insurrection against the corrupt imperial court. Imported into Japan in the early 17th century, it became a ubiquitous source of inspiration for translations, adaptations, parodies, and illustrated woodblock prints. There is no work of Chinese fiction more important to both the development of early modern Japanese literature and the Japanese imagination of China than The Water Margin.
The diva is a nearly universal phenomenon. When Tosca sings in Giacomo Puccini’s opera of devoting her life to art and love, she speaks not just for herself but for a tradition of divas connecting Rome’s Teatro Argentina to Shiraz’s mystical soirées, to the pleasure pavilions of Delhi, to the entertainment quarter of Yangzhou.
The diva is a nearly universal phenomenon. Wherever poetry, music and mime have been practised with virtuosity, great women performers always take centre stage. Traditional Asian divas are however less well known and understood among English language readers than the great divas of Mozart and Puccini. Whether from Shiraz at the court of the Injuids, from Delhi during the twilight of the Moghuls, or from Yangzhou under the last Ming emperors, these Asian divas constitute the first identifiably modern women.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, as it’s usually titled by scholars and translators, may in fact not be an epic at all. It’s not even a single poem, but “a confusion of stories”, a number of reassembled fragments and tablets in more than one ancient language plus an “edition” assembled and organised out of scattered bits by one Sin-leqi-unninni, who between 1300 and 1000 BCE made what we would now call a “standardized text” out of it, adding, as Schmidt tells us, “prefatory lines … and a reprise that echoes the opening but in a darker tone.”