Cross Currents in East-West Literature and Film

This course sketches particular moments in the literary conversation (at times, parallel monologues) between literary texts whose authors perceive themselves as belonging to an “Eastern”-“Western” dichotomy.

These moments range from eighteenth-century texts that fictionalize Asian locales for domestic purposes, to 20th-century Japanese novelists re-shaping the Japanese novel under the influence of European authors, to post-WWII authors and directors who struggle to re-construct the Japanese identity in the wake of the wartime defeat and subsequent occupation.

Part One, on the “Oriental stranger” motif, examines the relationship between the Age of Pacific Exploration and the depiction of Asian peoples in Europe, through readings by Rousseau, Diderot, and Goldsmith, and Said, and Pratt.


Part Two addresses another prominent theme in East-West literature—woman as butterfly—as gender is presented and problematized in the works of Hearn, Long, and Puccini.


In Part Three, we read a pair of novellas that treat a common theme as well as possible historical influence. In addition, the Japanese novel by Soseki negotiates both the Japanese haiku tradition as well as “Western” (eg. 19th-century European) narrative techniques.


Part Four treats the cross-cultural “New Woman” movement that grew in Japan as well as Europe. We consider the theme of feminine perfectability as portrayed in the fiction of Ibsen, Shaw, and Tanizaki.


Finally, in Part Five, the course culminates with short stories and films created in the early post-WWII years, and which reflect a more hybridized relationship, particularly between Japan and the United States.