Christopher Bolton, Professor of Comparative and Japanese Literature

Christopher Bolton, Professor of Comparative and Japanese Literature and Chair of the Comparative Literature Department, specializes in 20th and 21st century Japanese literature and animation.  In 2012-2013, he will teach a course on the end of the world in Japanese literature, as well as a tutorial on postmodernism and a team-taught course on traditional Japanese literature and history.

How did you become interested in Japanese literature?  You write on your website that you majored in the sciences in college.  What inspired you to pursue studies in Comparative Literature instead?

I’ve been interested in Japan since I spent a summer abroad in Kyushu in high school.  I studied Engineering at college and worked as a software developer after graduating.  I spent part of that time in a Japanese office, and became more and more interested in Japanese language, which is what eventually prompted me to go to graduate school in Japanese.  Originally I was most interested in speaking Japanese, but over the course of graduate school I got more and more interested in reading and teaching literature.  Now my research deals with the relationship between science or technology and literature, including visual and digital literature like animation.  I like teaching in the Comparative Literature program at Williams because I can teach literature from a wide range of cultures and media, and also because I can teach courses on the literary theories that have tried to describe what links and distinguishes all these different kinds of texts.

Why do you think it’s important for Williams students to have an awareness of non-Western cultures, and of international issues?

Recent Japanese novels can feel very relevant and contemporary to a Western audience, but Japan also has a rich literary history going back more than a thousand years, with forms and works that are radically different from Western literature.  I like this mix of the familiar and the strange—from 10th-century court diaries to modern novels, from 18th-century puppet plays to contemporary animation. For me studying literature (and particularly radically different literatures) is less about learning some abstract construct we call “Japanese culture” than about gaining new perspectives in order to think about how language works in our own lives and in the world.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading John Irving’s novel In One Person.

If you could go any one place in the world, where would you go?

I enjoy getting to Japan regularly for my own work, but I grew up in Williamstown, and I  think it’s also pretty terrific here.

To visit Professor Bolton’s website, click here.