Like National History and the World of Nations, Christopher L. Hill’s current research is both comparative and transnational. His ongoing work is committed both to “granular” approaches to literature and thought from different parts of the world and to uncovering the mediations shaping the relationship between local phenomena and the world-scale structures of capital and the international state system. As in his earlier work, too, he uses examples from the “peripheral” country of Japan to upset theoretical assumptions derived from North Atlantic history.
Figures of the World: The Naturalist Novel and Transnational Form
Hill has been working for several years on a book-length study of the transnational career of the naturalist novel. This genre of fiction, which combined elements of realist fiction, reportage, and the nascent social sciences, crystallized in France in the 1860s in the work of Emile Zola and the Goncourt brothers. In the following decades it was embraced by self-declared naturalists from South America to East Asia, whose work formed a transnational literary field. Looking closely at examples from Europe, East Asia, and North and South America, in addition to the macro-history of the school, Hill has found what is best described as a spatial morphology of form. As the naturalist novel was turned to address local social conditions, its form changed in ways that could not have been predicted from its earliest manifestations, making it an example of a genre whose transformations can only be understood through its movement.
Hill has published several articles and chapters from this project, including “The Travels of Naturalism and the Challenges of a Global Literary History” in Literature Compass, and “Nana in the World: Novel, Gender, and Transnational Form”, in MLQ, and presented work in progress at the Modern Language Association, American Comparative Literature Association, Association for Japanese Literary Studies, the inaugural conference of the Society for Novel Studies, and other conferences. Figures of the World will be published in Northwestern University Press’ FlashPoints series in summer 2020.
Japanese Writers in the “Bandung Moment”
An unexpected discovery became the inspiration for Hill’s third book project, on the intellectual culture of 1950s Japan. After teaching undergraduate and graduate courses on the culture of postwar Japan for several years, and digging into the work of the daisan no shinjin writers after the war, Hill came across signs that the Catholic novelist Endô Shûsaku was intimately familiar with the work of the Martiniquan anti-colonialist Frantz Fanon at a time when both were all but unknown. They may have met while studying in Lyon, an encounter that has no place in the conventional histories of decolonization (for Fanon) and the Cold War in East Asia (for Endô)—but whose context reveals a shared intellectual culture informed by legacies of imperialism and evincing an urgent concern to craft philosophical foundations for human relations unmediated by empire, whether European, American, or Japanese. With the Conference of Asian and African Nations convened in Bandung in 1955 in mind, the project presents this as the “Bandung moment” in Japanese intellectual culture.
Hill’s article on the encounter between Endô and Fanon, “Crossed Geographies: Endô and Fanon in Lyon,” appeared in Representations 128 (Fall 2014). He has presented his research on the Conference of Afro-Asian Writers held in Tashkent in 1958 at the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting in 2015 and the conference Postimperial Japan and East Asia held at Columbia in 2016.