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‘La République des Lettrés’ comes to Nagasaki : Record of a Translator’s Struggle

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Conférence de David Mervart
Vendredi 20 novembre :10h-12h

Université Paris Diderot

Salle 481C, Grands Moulins, Aile C

The paper is narratively framed as an almost anecdotal story of probably the earliest recorded translation of the peculiar and difficult metaphor ‘republic of letters’ into any East Asian language. The time is 1790s, the place is Nagasaki. Using some previously untapped archival material ranging from library catalogues, through woodblock prints, to geopolitical treatises, this is an attempt to plot the case study in intellectual history of conceptual translation onto the background of sociology of knowledge formation and transmission. It is effectively a detailed enquiry into the complex conditions of possibility—material and logistical, social, cultural, intellectual—of such a case of cross-cultural mediation. The story itself is thus used as an illustration of the ongoing processes of communication that had, by the eighteenth century, arguably already brought into existence something like a republic of letters on a Eurasia-wide scale. In doing so, it also addresses the question of what all of this suggests to us regarding what some call ‘global intellectual history’.

* David Mervart received a B.A. in English literature and a M.A. in Japanese studies from the Charles University, Prague. In 2009, he earned his Ph.D. in the history of Asian political thought from the Graduate School of Law and Politics, University of Tokyo. From 2009 to 2014, he was assistant professor of Japanese history at the University of Heidelberg’s cluster of excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context.”