Conference Concluding Remarks

Respected President of the University, 

Esteemed guests, professors, researchers, and colleagues,a 

The international conference on the Modernization process in Japanese literature and in the literatures of the East-Asian region is coming to an end.

Yesterday morning, when we held in our hands the abstracts of the 108 interventions received by the organizing committee, we were able to imagine the implications of this conference to some extent. Now, after the plenary session and the fifteen panel discussions have taken place, we can understand even more clearly the significance of this conference to all interested parties. From myriad perspectives and scholarly backgrounds, the conference participants have come together to confirm that the literary modernization which occurred in countries belonging to the Sinographic cultural sphere from the end of the 19th to the beginning of the 20th centuries was of great importance and of a pivotal nature in the spiritual life of East Asian peoples.  It is impossible to fully acknowledge here each meaningful finding and every profound analysis offered by the interventions in order to shed light on the stature and significance of literary modernization.
 

            We understand that modernization was a necessity not only for literature but also for society in every East Asian country at the time of confrontation with Western civilization.  Modernization became a conscious choice for the Chinese-language cultural community during an era of difficult choices, especially when the model for that choice was not a sympathetic one when seen from a national spiritual perspective.  Resulting from the progression of history, the work of modernizing literature in the region marked it profoundly with the traces of an era in transformation, with all its contradictions and paradoxes.  Differences in the rates of progress and in the forms and contents of the literary modernization processes among the various countries are due to historical, societal and cultural particularities as well as to the different ways of resolving those contradictions espoused by each country’s creative intellectuals.

 

            Every conference panel explored, in breadth and depth, the manifestations and achievements of literary modernization.  This was truly a renovation that enriched and diversified every aspect of literary life:  the author’s conception of life and art, genres and forms, theory criticism and debates, translations and adaptations, publishing and the press, the broadening of expectations, the system of references, and the reader’s capacity for appreciation.  Above all, literary modernization highlighted subjectivity as a special quality of spiritual modernity that helped change aesthetic awareness and both the psyche and norms of society.  It would not be exaggerating to say that during the 20th century, spiritual life in every East Asian country was stamped by modernity, although to different degrees depending on the period.

 

            However, we have yet to recognize and evaluate the effects of modernization.  There has been a spiritual price to pay, injuries have been sustained and even tragedies have occurred that we must find a way to heal and transform in order to achieve acceptance and harmony with the new.  Deep chasms separate generations and require much time to bridge.  It is history’s fortune that literary tradition, as an elite entity, has not been deformed or destroyed by modernization but has increased in vitality and incorporated the spiritual elements of a new environment.  This can be seen not only in the theoretical exertions of informed and enlightened minds but also in the aesthetic image which teachers of the literary art in the East offer to the world.  Literary modernization has reached a new height:  after searching for a Western model to study, East Asian peoples have revitalized their own traditions and become a source of inspiration for themselves and for the world.

 

            Baudelaire, whose work has been invoked many times at this conference as a source of modernization, wrote, “Modernity is the transitive, the fugitive, the contingent, half art, half eternal and unchangeable.”  Yet over time the modern can also become the eternal.  One hundred years is long compared to a single life but brief in the span of history.  Modernization is a part of the history of East Asian civilization; it must surely face the test of time.

 

            A century ago, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese people created literature in an East Asian world that had recently opened its doors and perhaps could not fully imagine the last remaining echoes of creativity they would leave behind in the soul of the new generation that we have described here today.  Today we have not fully measured the returns that generations after ours will reserve for our own work.  It is certain that future inhabitants of East Asia will be grateful to us if, through artistic creativity, through the humanities, through comparative literature, we are able to nurture peace for all peoples so that the pathway of literature is truly one of sympathy and friendship - first and foremost among East Asian nations, then between Eastern and Western nations in the modern world. 

 

            Classical Chinese philosophy offers a thought that we would do well to consider today:  “All things are nourished together without their injuring one another. The courses of the seasons, and of the sun and moon, are pursued without any collision among them. The smaller energies are like river currents, the greater energies are seen in mighty transformations.” What can we do so that literature can be a swift, wide, abundant river that will not be stopped, obstructed, or run dry?  What can we do to make literature an ocean of knowledge, friendship, cooperation and development instead of a treacherous sea of suspicion and intractability?

 

            A hint of pessimism can be seen in the profound notion of philosopher A. C. Danto:  “Our knowledge of the past is significantly limited by our ignorance of the future.”  Indeed, no matter what the situation, because we are naïve and stupid before the future we can only partially understand the past.  Can we not now see this from the opposite angle? Recognizing that we cannot achieve an all-embracing, deep understanding of the past can diminish our stupidity in the face of the future. This conference has been a kind of literary history inventory that has helped us attain a deeper understanding of a special period of literature in the region.  With this knowledge we can turn our sights toward the future of literature and through that, the future of the country and the individual.

 

            We believe that two days of work are truly too few for the stature and scope of the conference theme. Yesterday afternoon the panels continued working during recess periods.  Many presentations that should have been given had to be set aside.  There are many ideas we would like to plumb further and many issues still to be debated through and through.  This conference has inspired all the researchers, those who have spent many years pondering literary modernization and those who have shared their thoughts and discoveries in various places.  Here all were given the opportunity to present their ideas in a systematic fashion before a prestigious and responsible community of scholars.

 

The professors and scientists at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City express their gratitude for the contributions that the scholars from Japan, China, Korea, the United States, Russia, and from centers of science and education throughout Vietnam, have made to this conference.  Most sincere thanks to The Japan Foundation for its very generous financial support. We ask your pardon for our unavoidable shortcomings and faults in the hosting and organization of this gathering.  We say good-bye in hopes that we will meet again in future scholarly activities that will unite us in the common pursuit of knowledge and friendship.

 

Thank you, honored guests, for your kind attention.

 

English translation by Nguyễn Quang Minh and Rebekah Linh Collins.

 

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