Introduction

By Golahny, Amy | Bucknell Review, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Introduction


Golahny, Amy, Bucknell Review


IT is now a commonplace observation that our globalized economy and digitized technology have made the distant areas of the world interdependent and in some ways more familiar and accessible to one another. The purpose of the eight essays in this issue of the Bucknell Review is to examine how specific cases of cultural contacts between Pacific Rim and Western European cultures intersect, illuminate their differences, and generally maintain discrete identities. This collection developed from a conference entitled East/ West:Points of Contact, one of a series of events in March 2001 at Lycoming College, Williamsport, Pennsylvania. (1) These events were conceived as an opportunity to feature scholarly topics less often highlighted in the college and scholarly curriculum. Initially, the overall orientation was loosely defined from a "Western" Eurocentric and North American perspective, and directed toward Asia as the "East," but surely even a loose definition is laden with ambiguity and potential misunderstanding. For this collection of essays, we prefer a geography that is associated with Pacific Rim areas as "East," ranging from central Asia to Austrialia and Japan, and the "West" associated with European, North American, and Judeo-Christian traditions. The exchanges in ideas, religion, and culture resulting from contacts among these areas, whether through actual or virtual travel, indicate mutual affinities and occasionally interdependencies, but also separate and independent in identifies. Each of these essays concerns the portability, mutability, and adaptability of aspects of the exchange of ideas and, in nearly all cases here examined, an affirmation of identity on the part of each culture in the exchange. The cases of intersections examined here generally indicate developments of cultures approaching one another and then retrenching.

In his lecture at the March 2001 conference, Patrick Nagatani remarked that direction is hardly fixed. (2) Going west from California brings the traveler to Asia, but going further west from there leads through the Silk Route to the Mediterranean, Europe, the Atlantic, and eventually North America back to California. From Nagatani's personal Japanese-American perspective, any direction becomes circular if taken to its fullest extension. Nagatani's work proposes a directional relativity, and, furthermore, it encourages the questioning of cultural values and their interaction, the investigating and preserving of artifacts, and the constructing of narrative from physical evidence. For our purposes in this volume, Nagatani established the relativity of East and West, and demonstrated how such a directional orientation becomes movable, imprecise, and ultimately without fixed meaning attached to location.

Yu Liu discusses Leibniz's profound study of Chinese Confucianism to demonstrate how it contributed to Leibniz's own ideas about the nature of the universe. European interest in China often focused on conversion to Christianity, which was among the main purposes of the Jesuit travel there. But Leibniz, who studied Confucian philosopy through the intermediacy of Matteo Ricci and other Jesuit scholars, found that it guided his view of man from a finite Christian product of God toward an organic participant in a self-forming process.

Benjamin Elman illuminates the mutual respect and exchange of ideas between the Jesuits and the Chinese literati in the Ming and Manchu dynasties. The Jesuits in China offered Western methods of categorizing and investigating the natural world; for the Chinese, these methods were invaluable for time and land measurement. For over three hundred years the Chinese "investigation of things," whose ultimate goal was to "fathom principles" of the Tao, incorporated technical aspects of Western astronomy and mathematics as appropriate.

Julie Berger Hochstrasser examines the ceramics industry of China and the Netherlands to chart the commercial, aesthetic, and utilitarian exchanges made possible as soon as transportation and open markets were established. …

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