"Books Are Useless": Collecting, Excess, and Bibliophile Culture in Prewar Japan
Professor Nathan Shockey presents the Fall 2023 George Parker Winship Lecture. His talk explores changing attitudes towards the materiality of modern Japanese books in the early 20th century. Shockey describes how the expansion of the commercial book industry set off a speculators’ market for rare books, creating anxieties about commodification. At the same time, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 reduced countless thousands of volumes to ash, prompting the critic Uchida Roan to champion the practice of over-accumulation and praise unread books as vectors for the transmission of knowledge and literary culture.
Nathan Shockey is Associate Professor of Japanese, Director of Asian Studies, and an affiliate of the Center for Experimental Humanities at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. He is the author of The Typographic Imagination: Reading and Writing in Japan's Age of Modern Print Media (Columbia University Press, 2020).
Reception to follow. Co-sponsored by Harvard-Yenching Library and the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies.
The George Parker Winship Lectures on Bibliography were established in 1968 through a gift by the John Barnard Associates in honor of George Parker Winship ’93 (1871–1952). In 1915, Winship became the librarian of the Harry Elkins Widener collection, where he served until 1926, when he became Assistant Librarian of Harvard College Library. During his long career he made numerous contributions to the field of bibliography and was also a significant and enthusiastic promoter of book collecting at Harvard. Since 1968, over 100 Winship lectures have been presented on subjects relating to librarianship, collecting, book history, bibliography, and culture.
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