Ever since printing was first used for the circulation of texts, various print cultures have promoted and expanded the mutual reception of East and West, while also questioning the identity of East and West in a fluid mobility. For Japanese Buddhists of the eighth century, when Hyakumantô darani Sutra was printed, the West meant India, and for Renaissance Europeans, the East including China was often referred to as India through which traded objects transited from the Far East to Europe. In the Renaissance, in the eighteenth century, and in the age of Japonisme during the last two decades of the nineteenth century in France, printed books diffused the figures of the other between East and West.
The exhibit in the Lilly Library starts with the printed Buddhist sutra of the eighth century and the Gutenberg Bible and then advances to the Guia do pecador printed by the Jesuit Mission Press in Japan in the sixteenth century with movable type. At the midst of the persecution of Christianity in the early 17th century, the printing press was shipped out of Japan, and the European technique of printing disappears from Japan.
It is through woodblock prints that Japan welcomed the first phase of popularization of European cultures imported through Nagasaki and the Dutch East India Company and more importantly through the works written in Chinese authored by Jesuits in China. In Europe of the nineteenth century, the Far East was rediscovered in a new way. After Marco Polo’s travelogue, which circulated in print from the fifteenth century on, and various Renaissance travelogues written by religious and secular authors like Fernand Mendes Pinto, eighteenth-century France knew two distinct forms of Orientalism, namely chinoiserie in rococo-style decorative arts and encyclopédie, which comprehends the Orient within a scheme of universal knowledge. In the nineteenth century, Japonisme is first a rediscovery of the eighteenth century’s chinoiserie and the Japanese decorative arts classified under it. With Japonisme Japanese objects evolve from ethnographic artifacts to the status of art works.
Aiko Okamoto-MacPhail’s talk focuses on the pre-history of Japonisme when the book takes flight from its material shape as object to enter the virtual and invisible realm of the mind and to inspire a new connectedness and openness between East and West.
Aiko Okamoto MacPhail teaches in the Department of French and Italian at Indiana University. After receiving her master’s in French Literature at Tokyo Gaikokugo Daigaku (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) and the double maîtrise in French literature and philosophy at the Université de Paris VIII and Paris I, she studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and finished her PhD at Indiana University. Her field of specialization is Stéphane Mallarmé and French Symbolism, and she is also interested in the Goncourts and Japonisme in French literature. The Lilly Exhibit is an extension of her interest in the exchanges between East and West. Both France and Japan are historically active participants of connections which tie the two extremities of Eurasian continent.