25-29, June, 2015
The heyday, so to speak, of Manifest Destiny resulted in one of the greatest books in the American literary canon. Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) arguably could not have come into existence without the magnified global consciousness and context of the ideology of Manifest Destiny. Published only a few years before Commodore Matthew Perry’s gunboat negotiations with a certain Far East archipelago, this novel reveals the future of American expansionism: “If that double bolted land, Japan, is ever to become hospitable, it is the whale-ship alone to whom the credit will be due; for already she is on the threshold” (Chapter 24, “The Advocate”). Certainly, Japan in the mid-nineteenth century was “double-bolted,” for pre-modern Japan prohibited any foreigner from entering the country and sentenced to death anyone who tried to leave it. Yet, it is also true that around the same time a half-Chinook, half-Scot North American named Ranald McDonald (1824-1894) entered Japan in 1848 via the city of Matsumae, Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. He arrived on a small boat provided him by the captain of the Plymouth, a whaling ship from New York on which he had been a sailor. McDonald, who became the first teacher of English in Japan, ended up educating contemporary Japanese translators, including Einosuke Moriyama, who would go on to help the Tokugawa Shogunate successfully negotiate with Commodore Perry. Surely, while writing Chapter 109 of Moby-Dick, entitled “Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin,” Melville was keenly aware of McDonald’s narrative, for he precisely copied the latter’s uniquely clumsy spelling of the name of the city, Matsumae, as “Matsmai” in the following passage: “And so Starbuck found Ahab with a general chart of the oriental archipelagoes spread before him; and another separate one representing the long eastern coasts of the Japanese islands – Niphon, Matsmai, and Shikoke.” In this context, we also should not forget a young fisherman named John Manjiro, a.k.a. Manjiro Nakahama (1827-1898), who was rescued in 1841 by the John Howland, another American whaling ship. His boat wrecked on the island of Torishima, Manjiro would end up participating in the Tokugawa Shogunate’s negotiations with Commodore Perry in 1853 as a most skillful translator and interpreter. He would later go on to study English and navigation in Massachusetts. Manjiro’s career began in 1841 and very naturally recalls Ishmael’s voyage in Moby-Dick, which overlaps with Melville’s own in the same year.
Against this literary, historical, and geo-political backdrop, the Melville Society of Japan is pleased to host in 2015 the International Herman Melville Conference here in Japan. Our country has produced more than a dozen Japanese versions of Moby-Dick, including Professor ABE Tomoji’s, Professor SENGOKU Hideyo’s, and Professor YAGI Toshio’s excellent works. Under the able auspices of the Melville Society of Japan, we have cultivated our own fine Melvillians. Originally the Melville Study Center of Japan directed by Professor MAKINO Arimichi, the Melville Society of Japan has published its annual, Sky-Hawk, since 1985. For the 25th anniversary issue, the Melville Society published a collection of essays all written in English, Melville and the Wall of the Modern Age (Tokyo: Nan’Undo Publishers, 2011), which radically revised and expanded its groundbreaking predecessor, Professor OHASHI Kenzaburo’s edited Melville and Melville Studies in Japan (Westport, Conn: Greenwood, 1993), the first English-language volume of Japanese scholarship on Melville.
Moreover, the host university for this event will be Keio University, which has over the years built its reputation for Transnational American Studies, and which established in 2011 the G-SEC (Global Security) American Studies Center with Professor TATSUMI Takayuki as one of its directors. Back in the mid-nineteenth century, renowned Japanese thinker and educator Yukichi Fukuzawa, visited Europe once in 1862 and the United States of America twice, in 1860 and 1867; there, he and John Manjiro purchased a copy of Webster’s English Dictionary, presumably A Pronouncing and Defining Dictionary of the English Language, edited by Noah Webster’s son-in-law S. G. Goodrich and published in 1859 from Lippincott in Philadelphia. There is no doubt that this dictionary helped Fukuzawa translate a number of diplomatic documents and write the original books on western civilization and modern Japan for which he is justly admired. Besides being the Founding Father of Keio University, Fukuzawa was the first translator of Thomas Jefferson’s “The Declaration of Independence” and a champion of Unitarianism; indeed, he invited a number of Unitarian ministers and scholars here from Harvard University, including Arthur May Knapp. What is more, Fukuzawa first introduced our campus in 1898 to Professor Thomas Sergeant Perry, the first teacher of American literature at Keio University. Professor Perry was the great-nephew of Commodore Perry, who unlocked the “double-bolted Japan” and initiated our Far East archipelago into its first cultural exchanges and economic transactions with western countries. Keio University’s library is also well known for having treasured a copy of the first edition of Moby-Dick as well as all the whaling and oceanographic books and materials Melville referred to in the novel. They were all donated by Dr. KAWASUMI Tetsuo, a pathfinder in Japan’s transpacific research on Melville and John Manjiro.
The symbolic significance of the 2015 International Melville Conference being held in Tokyo goes beyond the history I have so far mentioned in that it necessarily reminds us of the global context that marks our new century in provocative contrast and comparison with the American Renaissance. The first decade of the 21st century gave rise to various reconfigurations of Global American Studies. Transcending the limits of “trans-national America” as originally advocated by Randolph Bourne in 1916, a number of scholar-critics in the wake of the 9.11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq War in particular, began to reshape the discourse of globalism by introducing new conceptual tools. Some of these would include Gayatri Spivak’s “planetarity” (2003), Gretchen Murphy’s “hemispheric imagination” (2005), Wai Chee Dimock’s “deep time” (2008), Yunte Huang’s “transpacific imagination” (2008), Paul Giles’ adaptation of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “deterritorialization” (2011), and Shelley Fisher Fishkin’s “deep maps” (2011) as shorthand for “Digital Palimpsest Mapping Projects.” If we trace the 19th-century rise of the Monroe Doctrine in the wake of Jefferson’s hemispheric imagination as leading to the 21st-century revision of it in the Bush Doctrine, who does not read Melville’s Chapter 1 of Moby-Dick, “Bloody Battle in Afghanistan,” as strangely prophetic? It makes us wonder if or how post-Revolutionary America came to champion the cause of post-colonialism: Was it less in line with freedom and democracy per se and rather more a continuing discourse of crypto-imperialism? The first decade of our new century started with the 9/11 terrorist attacks on east coast cities of the United States and closed with the 3.11 multiple disasters on Japan’s east coast, both raising vital questions about energy and fuel crises as a result. Melville too weighed the significance of energy and fuel as part of a global and domestic economy in antebellum America.
The International Melville Conference offers each of us the opportunity to explore together our planetarity but also to question the global future of democracy, technology, trade and economy, transdisciplinary exchanges, and, yes, “Ah Humanity!” itself, all inspired by Herman Melville’s one-of-a-kind literary imagination.