Professor HATTORI, Noriyuki 《English and American Literature and English Linguistics》
Interviewers, organizers: Mariko Nakamichi (sophomore, comparative literature major) and Asuka Nomura (sophomore, comparative literature major)
Nakamichi: Professor, could you tell us what led you to English literature?
Hattori: When I was in about the third grade of elementary school, I got 50 volumes of a book series called “The Complete Collection of Literature for Boys and Girls” through my father’s work. I fell in love with books because of it, and I’ve kept on reading. Rather than calling it studying, I grew up reading novels, reading literature. Then, at some point I had the desire to turn that into a career.
Another thing that I liked was English. English was my strong suit, so I combined the two and came up with English literature. When I chose a specialization after starting school at Osaka University, I had trouble deciding between English literature, French literature, and musicology, but in the end I chose English, went to graduate school, and became a teacher.
Nomura: Had you been planning to do research since you entered college?
Hattori: Yes, I had wanted to become a university professor from a relatively young age. My father was a geography professor at a university, and I had hopes of becoming a researcher.
Nakamichi: Did you ever consider other kinds of work?
Hattori: How can I put it...I was a relatively unusual kid who didn’t fit in well in groups, and I think I became a university professor without much hesitation because I had a feeling working at a company wouldn’t work out for me.
I played violin in the orchestra when I was a college student. I really grew to like it and considered transferring to an arts college for a while, but my parents were vehemently opposed to it and I decided to stay where I was.
Nomura: What is your area of specialization within English literature?
Hattori: It’s essentially 18th century English novels. Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift...I started off with adventure novels because I like them, and that ended up becoming my specialization. The 18th century is the age in which the novel was born, and I focus on how the English novel came into existence because that is where my interests lie. I fundamentally enjoy literary works, so I read stories from any period. I read contemporary novels as well. My central specialization is, as you would expect, 18th century English novels.
Nakamichi: How did you spend your time when you were in college?
Hattori: I mostly enjoyed practicing for the orchestra and studying, and I read books. On school breaks I went on training retreats with the orchestra and my Saturdays were usually taken up with practice, so the orchestra was central in my life. I don’t play any instruments now, but I am still good friends with the people I was close to back then.
Choosing a Research Topic
Nomura: When I was in high school, I had no idea what studying in university was like. It isn’t reading the textbook and copying things down.
Hattori: It can be difficult to find something that you like. In my case, however, I did explore and read a variety of things on a whim because I liked them. Education in high school is about memorizing and studying a limited amount of content within a defined scope geared toward test-taking. Conversely, here it’s about figuring out how to work on something that you are interested in and choosing a research topic from limitless options. Narrowing things down can be difficult.
The process of determining a research topic involves progressively narrowing down your interests, but it is “limiting” when things get narrowed down and you become unable to do other things. The issue is what you perceive as freedom or as a limitation. Conversely, if I told you to just do whatever you wanted, that would cause you problems as well, wouldn’t it? (laughs)
I also think we sometimes stumble upon topics. There are people who choose as topics problems that hit close to home, painful experiences like failures in life, love, illnesses. Sometimes it seems like we can’t understand something if our own feelings are not reflected in it, or like we understand something precisely because we have experienced it ourselves. That is an interesting aspect of literature.
Nakamichi: I’m sure you’ve traveled abroad for research before; have you had any interesting experiences?
Hattori: I travel abroad for work every year. There is a work called Trainspotting, both an original book and a movie, that uses a heavy Scottish dialect. There are many scenes where the protagonist, Trenton, is wandering around, fleeing, or dashing off somewhere, and once when I was writing a paper I field tested how far he actually ran in comparison to the original book.
Nomura: Do you mean you actually went to the character’s area and retraced his movements?
Hattori: Exactly. The setting was an old train station that had previously fallen into disuse, and the discontinued station produces a powerful image of an isolated, lonely scene. I walked over to it to see if it was actually still there. I didn’t understand this when I read without focus as a child, but if I actually go to London or Amsterdam or Edinburgh and walk around in the neighborhoods portrayed in a novel, I get a distinct, vivid image of the novel’s universe and the space. Of course, I do actually go to the locations and research by going through old documents, but I think it’s also important to walk around the neighborhoods. Concreteness and images are important.
The Appeal of Chaos
Nomura: People see novels as something artificial, but they are actually about reality.
Hattori: In 18th century novels in particular, my area of expertise, real political events and uprisings are often written into novels and fiction. In that era the division between newspaper or magazine journalism and the written material that fictionalized it was blurry, and I find that mess interesting. All the chaos that existed before specialization had progressed makes it into a single novel, and I enjoy untangling and contemplating that. More and more real locations and real events make their way in, and the protagonist gets wrapped up in them. I guess you could call it “the appeal of chaos;” these novels have that. For example, it isn’t one story that simply proceeds in order; diversions and other events come into play. That may be another part of the appeal that novels have.
Nakamichi: Lastly, please give a message to high school students who are hoping to attend to the School of Letters.
Hattori: English literature is “living language,” while English tests do their best to take proper nouns out of the equation. They work hard to avoid language that might be advantageous to a particular student and disadvantageous to another student, so, insofar as possible, the English is dry and can be understood by anyone. However, the real fun is in the particular parts that describe who did what and where, isn’t it? I think the concreteness and the images that excite our creativity—the language that has been thrown out of English tests—are the fascinating parts. I realize that is abstract. Our daily lives are overflowing with drama like love and fights; I think you need to create a certain kind of story for your future self. What gets thrown out is the interesting part, and that’s what I want you to read.
We even study the syntax of English grammar without knowing what kind of sentences it is used in. But there are actually all kinds of contexts, and the language lives inside them. A novel is the highest expression of that. I believe the ability to read novels critically is one that can be cultivated. I also believe it’s important to create your own story as you live life: imagine yourself in ten years and think about what you’ve done, and what you’re going to do. In my opinion, the ability to read novels critically lives in that sort of basic study. There is a decreasing number of people who specialize in literature after being taught to distance themselves from it, but the ability to read is what living is about. I have faith that it helps us cultivate skills that we can practically apply.
Nakamichi and Nomura: Thank you for your time.