On March 3, 30 participants attended a Directed Studies webinar called “Ancient Chinese Thought” hosted by Mick Hunter, an associate professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Literatures.
The event was co-organized by former Directed Studies students Daniel Inojosa ’23 and Emiliano Salomón Ortiz ’22. It included a presentation followed by a Q&A session. Hunter introduced the ancient Chinese poetry and philosophy collection of “Shijing,” or “Book of Songs” — the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry. He compared philosophical and poetic traditions across Eastern and Western ancient traditions.
The Directed Studies curriculum covers the Western canon and is divided into philosophy, literature, and historical and political thought.
Event organizers Inojosa and Ortiz are part of “ReDirected Studies,” a group initiated by current and former DS students. The group seeks to create a dialogue between the European traditions covered in the DS curriculum and other traditions and cultures.
This webinar marks ReDirected Studies’ first event. Inojosa said Hunter’s talk was a “great” place to start since he has conducted research on cross-canonical works.
“We wanted to come at DS not only with a general concern for diversity, but also to crack open the limitations of the canon, what we consider as ‘the West,’ and to challenge them,” Inojosa said.
During the webinar, participants were sent a handout to assist in following the presentation. Hunter said this created a “double challenge” for him, as the talk’s structure differed from regular DS seminars.
Hunter noted that during classes, students discussed arguments about texts they were already familiar with. But in his talk, he attempted to both introduce Chinese poetry and analyze imagery, themes and literary structures within the poems. Hunter discussed hymns and odes such as “Cicada,” “The Seventh Month,” “Wings Flapping” and “On the Mountain is the Thorn-Elm.”
Roshan Gunasekara ’24, a current DS student, was one of the attendees. He said the talk’s structure was easy to follow.
“We got a four-paged handout of poems right before the talk, all of which were really, really aesthetic in all regards. They were all very fun to read and it was really easy to follow that along with the talk. I’ll certainly re-read those four pages in the future,” Gunasekara said.
In his talk, Hunter aimed to show how the DS curriculum can be expanded to include cross-cultural classical poetry. Rather than diminishing the value of DS, Hunter said this can enrich the conversation between cultures and texts.
“I think it’s fair to say that those of us who teach subjects that are not included in the DS curriculum feel frustrated by the limited scope of that curriculum, and especially those of us who work in China,” Hunter said. “In my humble opinion, China has the most vibrant classical tradition in world history. So, when you bring China into the mix, I think it shows that the DS approach can be really easily applied to East Asian contexts.”
Gunasekara noted that the literary themes in “Shijing” differed from conventional themes in Western poetry. For instance, he said that Western poetry largely revolves around the idea of love, personal relationships and friendships. The poems in “Shijing,” on the other hand, centered around the themes of homecoming and kineticism, the quality of moving things. Gunasekara said that this highlighted themes that were uncommon in the DS curriculum: collectivism and harmony with nature.
ReDirected Studies was founded by Inojosa in 2020.
Gamze Kazakoglu | email@example.com