Associate Professor KATO,Hiroshi 《Aesthetics and Science of Literary Arts》
Interviewers, organizers: Shunsuke Satonaka (second year, first-term doctoral student in literary science) and Kong Xin (junior, philosophy, thought and culture major)
Satonaka: First off, Professor, what led you down the path of academics?
Kato: Somewhere around the time elementary school ended and junior high school began, I got interested in Japanese history and saw a lot of Buddhist architecture. Then, around the end of elementary school, I saw Horyu-ji Temple and got a real shock! The layout of the temple and the town of Ikaruga itself were just indescribably shocking!
That got me thinking that I’d like to do work that deals with cultural treasures, and I really started studying in earnest. I chose Osaka University, where I could do research close to Nara, and at first I wanted to study Japanese art history and Eastern art history.
Satonaka: I see. But now you are in the literary science department. Did you come across literary science at the university?
Kato: That’s right. However, I became fond of both Western and Eastern literary works. For example, everyone is influenced by Osamu Dazai at some point, right? Aside from him I enjoyed reading Soseki Natsume and Ogai Mori, along with the western writers Flaubert, Maupassant, and Shakespeare. Still, I barely even considered ancient Greek and Roman literature (which I study now).
I got into Greek and Roman literature research because I decided, being in the aesthetics department, I should take the opportunity to learn things from other fields. I ended up studying Greek and Latin, which was required for literary science (although I have no idea why it was required back then [laughs]). At the time, I took Professor Takehiko Tozu’s Western literary history lecture dealing with Aristotle and found it incredibly interesting.
Usually, students study things like novels and poetry in Japanese class at school, right? In contrast, subjects like music and art deal with the actual creation of a work. Because of that, I was shocked all over again by literary science’s conception of “literature as art.” For some reason or another I went to visit Professor Tozu and talked about my interests.
Then, over the university’s summer break I spent two months immersed in the annotated edition of a book on Aristotle that Professor Tozu had given me. Honestly, at the time I felt like giving up (laughs). I thought it was such a tough field and I wasn’t taking care of my health; I was nervous. When I discussed things with Professor Tozu, he told me, “That’s right, poetics and Greek tragedy can’t be understood in one day. Next time, come to the seminar.” I thought I would make my way into art history by covering the philosophically important parts of Plato’s dialogue the Republic, but although my brush with the subject was coincidental, I decided to follow my interests in Greek aesthetics and literary science.
Student Life and Academics
Satonaka: What was your lifestyle like while you were working on your studies, Professor?
Kato: Actually, one of my strongest memories from being a university student is looking things up in dictionaries. It certainly wasn’t a dreary life, but I also didn’t want to go on that way forever. Everyone has doubts about whether they can make it in their chosen field, don’t they? The same was true for me.
However, as I worked on Greek and Latin every day, I certainly wasn’t making quick progress, but the number of times I looked things up decreased and I understood the meaning of texts because the syntax became clear to me. At that point, I developed a sense of the issues at stake and an idea for a thesis came to me. In that way, the mists parted little by little, my field of vision opened up, and I managed to make it.
Satonaka: This may be connected to the concerns you mentioned, but what do you think is meaningful or useful about a university education?
Kato: First, I think education is never a hindrance to us as we actually go about living our lives. Even when people complete an undergraduate or master’s program and get a job, the things we learn in college are a source of all kinds of ideas rather than a hindrance. I believe that just because establishing a foundation of knowledge may not be useful per se does not mean it isn’t necessary.
In the School of Letters in particular, we move away from practicality to study through the lens of the arts the question of what it means to be human, and I believe it is not useless to do so as we go through the process of making life choices.
The School of Letters deals earnestly with questions like what human beings are and how we should live, and I think it is important to have an attitude that promotes this as a selling point rather than being embarrassed of it. It may seem embarrassing or naive at first glance, but I think that isn’t the case at all.
The Courage to Learn
Xin: What advice would you give to university students who feel hesitant about learning something, especially a foreign language they have never actually used before?
Kato: One piece of advice is to never look for an easy answer in anything. Even if one issue is solved, the next will pop up right away. That’s why you shouldn’t stop in the middle of something and just relax there; I think you need the courage to go further, the courage to expand your own knowledge further. Still, what I think is most important when doing research is to realize that you are ignorant at the same moment you are celebrating the fact that you “know” something. “Knowing” has two layers: just as it opens up a new world to you, it also exposes how little you know. I know there are people who are afraid of that and hate learning because of it, but it’s not about that. Knowing does not invalidate who you were in the past; I try to always hold onto the courage to overcome and continue learning, applying it not only to studying but to everything I take on.
Also, studying a foreign language is practice for thinking about things in Japanese. Studying languages like English, German, and Greek allows us to read foreign-language texts, but doesn’t it also allow us to practice thinking about things ourselves, namely thinking about things in Japanese? We can think of learning foreign languages as something that builds a foundation for us to learn our native language. I also think that we were born as Japanese people and will continue to work on language acquisition until we die. Just because you can have an everyday conversation does not mean you’ve acquired a language. I’m certain of that.
The Study of Literary Science
Xin: At first I misunderstood the study of literary science, thinking that it tended toward the interpretation of texts, but now I think it’s more than simply reading a text and figuring out what is written there; it is the study of people forming arguments learned through texts.
Kato: That’s right. In Japanese, the word for Renaissance literally translates to “revival of literary arts.” However, in my opinion if we consider the “literary arts” to cover culture as a whole rather than limiting it to literature alone, literary science can be something more comprehensive while also including the necessary basic work of interpreting a single author’s works.
Xin: I feel like it is a discipline where people can build a solid position for themselves.
Kato: I think that’s exactly right.
Satonaka: Well then, please give a final message to students.
Kato: First, have courage when it comes to learning. That’s important.
Also, be sure not to lose the sensibility that allows you to recognize exceptional things as exceptional and beautiful things as beautiful.
Satonaka and Xin: Thank you for your time.