The Asian Empson: Compiling a Trilingual Open-Access Database and Bibliography on the Work and Career of Sir William Empson in China and Japan, 1931-1952

Project: Research project

Project Details


The scope of the proposed research is regional, involving intellectual assets and modes of inquiry—biographical, archival, and cross-cultural—contributed by scholars based in China and Japan, countries where the English poet, William Empson, taught and lived during two different periods between 1931 and 1952. The aim of the research is integrative, seeking to document how Empson created discourses in his criticism and poetry for a new construct in the Western imaginary: “Asia.” Originally made fashionable by Rabindranath Tagore, pan-“Asian” values became central to Anglo-European understandings of global order and politics at the dawn of post-World War Two globalization, even as the relationship of such “worldedness” to actual contexts, places, and persons distinct from political ideology—as socialist, republican or monarchist—was less certain. By contrast, Empson’s apparent aloofness from career politics helped to populate the “Asian” field with poetic imagery, critical acumen, and lived experience, including the significant impact of his teaching upon China’s revolutionary generation of intellectuals. Moving beyond literary biography, our project seeks to document the relation between a globalizing, post-war English literature and the deterritorialization of culture and aesthetics the political construction of “Asia” required—and at which costs—to Chinese and Japanese subjects and people. If Empson was among the earliest proponents of such literary regionalism (askance empire and nation as vehicles for world-consciousness), he was also among the first to acknowledge his Chinese students as necessary stakeholders in this multi-lateral process of knowledge transfer. Hence Empson’s pedagogy provided salutary corrections to orientalist conventions in service to a more viable “Asian” premise for future leaders on the global stage. Upon “Asian” ground, and working alongside Japanese and Chinese actors, the realization of regional design emerges, with an imaginary “Asia” as materially situated, yet also elastic, at a period of remarkable social transition. Using current data management tools, data modeling, and digital visualization techniques, the project will deliver and disseminate a comprehensive database allowing for the compilation of the first complete bibliography, in English, of scholarly works about Empson originally written in Chinese and Japanese. Once complete, the actively managed Empson database will likewise be disseminated on-line as open- access, thereby allowing regional scholarship, via English translation, to be more widely exchanged with a global scholarly audience. We hope our collaborative research will model a more robust, international dialogue between Western and regional viewpoints within the emerging subfield of Empson Studies.
Effective start/end date1/01/1730/06/20


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