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Timothy J. Van Compernolle

Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Civilizations (Japanese)

(On Leave 7/1/2015 - 12/31/2015)

Departmental affiliations: Asian Languages and Civilizations; Film and Media Studies


My research interests encompass the middle of the eighteenth century through the 1930s.  This is a period of immense upheaval in Japan, one that witnesses the rise of a commercial economy, the encounter with the West, the audacious program of modernization implemented in the wake of the Meiji Restoration of 1868, and the transformation of the country by the forces of industrialization and urbanization.  My research in this period follows three broad lines of inquiry: first, I’m interested in the memory of the past in a new age, that is for the space “in between” eras; second, I’m interested in how literature reflects and responds to forces changing society; third, I’m interested in forms of literary criticism that removes literature from isolation and puts it in contact with other arts and with the larger social world more generally.  My early research centered on the pioneering woman writer Higuchi Ichiyo, which resulted in the monograph The Uses of Memory: The Critique of Modernity in the Fiction of Higuchi Ichiyo.  My current book project, Struggling Upward: Worldly Success and the Japanese Novel (forthcoming, March 2016), takes up the role played by new discourses on social mobility in the formation of the spatial imagination of the modern novel.  A future project, tentatively titled Celluloid Metaphors: Japanese Literature in the Age of Cinema, will seek to uncover the connections between literature and new technological cultural forms, especially the cinema, during the 1920s and 30s.


I teach courses on the whole range of expressive culture in Japan, with emphasis on literature, but including, too, the cinema, the city, the culture of the demimonde, and contemporary popular culture.  I also have interests in language pedagogy, stemming from my experience teaching the Japanese language for almost a decade, and in topics that range well beyond Japan’s borders, including first-year seminars, gateway courses in Asian Studies, and courses in literary and cultural theory.  At the forefront of all my teaching is the interpretation ofthe cultural artifact, with due attention paid to its formal properties, to its participation in larger social and aesthetic contexts, and to its reinterpretation in later ages. Ultimately I view the engagement with the artistic text as a training of the imagination and not as the search for a single, correct answer.  I always try to illustrate how there can be a multitude of compelling and competing interpretations and how a rhetorically sophisticated text sparks interpretation as a creative activity in itself.  For these reasons, most of my courses are discussion intensive.