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Jour Fixe by Ivo Smits: Emblem as Episteme

Nov 10, 2016

The Cluster held its first Jour Fixe in the winter term on November 17, 2016, at 4 pm at Karl Jaspers Centre. Prof. Ivo Smits (Leiden) gave a talk on the topic “Emblem as Episteme: Decoding the European Image in Early Modern Japan”.

Histories of early modern Japan (1600-1868) that deal with Japan’s contact with the rest of the world will mention that one result of the contact with the Netherlands was the creation of the Japanese discipline of “Hollandology” (rangaku), and that ‘Holland’ was a heteronym for ‘Europe.’ Studies of rangaku as one manifestation of Japan’s intellectual and cultural interest in ‘Holland’ focus on the transfer of empirical knowledge. The book that represents this idea of Europe is the eighteenth-century encyclopaedia.

Yet there is a different type of book that represents a very different ‘Europe’ and that was just as present in early modern Japan: the emblem book. Around 1800, European emblematic images and texts confronted Japanese scholars with a wholly different category of images from the West. These images were not invariably ‘realistic’ and had instead to be understood symbolically.

Prof. Smits’ presentation has addressed the emblem book as a major representative of Renaissance and later European worldviews and its reception in early modern Japan. Specifically, it asked how early modern Japanese intellectuals negotiated their confrontation with two European worldviews at the same time; in other words, how they combined reading the encyclopaedia and the emblem book. Finally, the lecture introduced a Japanese emblem book from the early nineteenth century as an instance of active application of Japanese interpretations of the concept of the emblem.

Before Prof. Smits’ presentation, an introduction was given by Prof. Harald Fuess and Prof. Melanie Trede. The talk took place on November 17, 2016, at 4 pm at Karl Jaspers Centre. Prof. Harald Fuess is the Chair of Cultural Economic History at the Cluster and Scientific Coordinator of HeKKSaGOn at Heidelberg University. Melanie Trede is Professor for the Histories of Japanese Art at Heidelberg University, who is also Principal Investigator of the Cluster.

Prof. Ivo Smits’ field of expertise comprises literature and film in Japan. His research focuses on early medieval classical texts in both classical Japanese and classical Chinese. Bilingualism (or ‘biscriptualism’) poet-patron networks and concepts of imagination and representation are three big themes that occupy him a great deal.   

The Jour Fixe is a regular event of the Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context" held two times during each semester. It is organised by the four research areas of the Cluster and their speakers Prof. Diamantis Panagiotopoulos (Area A), Prof. Christiane Brosius (Area B), Prof. Joachim Kurtz (Area C), and Prof. Monica Juneja (Area D).

Visit the Jour Fixe website for more information.


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