Faculty & Staff
Michael K. Bourdaghs , Ph.D.
Professor in Modern Japanese Literature, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Department chair, East Asian Languages and Civilizations
modern Japanese literature, culture, and intellectual history; popular music; literary and critical theory
I try always to remember that literature is a dialogic undertaking. Whatever value a literary work may harbor is generated through ongoing dialogues between writers and readers. This approach requires us to remain attentive to relations between a given text and those that it responds to, as well as those that respond to it—including nonliterary sources. It also means that we need constantly to rethink the here-and-now from which we respond to a literary text. Engaging in dialogue means not only asking questions, but also being questioned.
In that light, as a scholar of modern Japanese literature, I stress the importance of moving beyond the boundaries of Japan. Japanese literature moves within and across multiple global networks, and its meanings are fundamentally shaped by those dialogues. I also have a strong commitment to engaging actively with our counterparts in Japan. I have edited or co-edited several volumes that introduce Japanese works of critical theory, literary scholarship, and philosophical inquiry, to English-language readers.
My own current research includes a radical rethinking of the work of Natsume Sōseki. I am dissatisfied with existing scholarship on Sōseki: I think it misrepresents the fundamental answer to the question "What is literature?" that Sōseki offers. I am completing a book manuscript (tentative title: Owning Up to Sōseki: The Properties of World Literature) that explicates the claim that he makes upon readers, especially those of us who approach him from the English language. I engage Sōseki's fiction and critical essays in relation to ideologies of modern property ownership, the discursive structure of literary and scientific knowledge, and the ethical practices of reading and writing.
Like Sōseki, I also think the realm of the literary extends beyond fiction, poetry, and drama. I have strong ongoing interests in philosophy, critical theory, social history, popular culture, and film and media studies. In Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Pre-History of J-Pop (Columbia University Press, 2012), I explore Japanese popular music from 1945 through the early 1990s, looking at how songs performed by such figures as Kasagi Shizuko, Sakamoto Kyū, and Yellow Magic Orchestra engaged creatively with the shifting historical situation of Japan's Cold War. I practice literature in other modes as well: I am an active translator, and I continue to write fiction on a daily basis.
Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical History of J-Pop (Columbia University Press, 2012; Japanese translation 2012).
「夏目漱石の《世界文学》・英語圏から『文学論』を読み直す」(Natsume Sōseki’s ‘World Literature’: Rereading Theory of Literature from the English-speaking world), 『文学』13:3 (May/June 2012), 2-16.
The Linguistic Turn in Contemporary Japanese Literary Studies: Textuality, Language, Politics. Edited and with an introduction by Michael K. Bourdaghs. (University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies Publications, 2010).
Natsume Sōseki, Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings, edited by Michael K. Bourdaghs, Atsuko Ueda, and Joseph A. Murphy. (Columbia University Press, 2009).
“Property and Sociological Knowledge: Natsume Sōseki and the Gift of Narrative,” in Japan Forum (2009).
「英語圏における『文学論』―理論・化学・所有」(Bungakuron in the English-Speaking World: Theory, Science, Possession). 『国文学』51:3 (March 2006), 137-147.
The Dawn That Never Comes: Shimazaki Tōson and Japanese Nationalism. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003).
Kamei Hideo, Transformations of Sensibility: The Phenomenology of Meiji Literature (original Japanese title: Kansei no henkaku, 1983), translation edited and with an introduction by Michael Bourdaghs. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Center for Japanese Studies Publications, 2002).