Karen L Thornber

Karen L Thornber

Director of Graduate Studies in Comparative Literature
Director of Graduate Studies in Regional Studies East Asia
Professor of Comparative Literature and Professor, East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Karen L Thornber

Research Fields:

World literature and the literatures and cultures of East Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan), as well as the Indian Ocean Rim.  Textual production, circulation, consumption, and reconfiguration as key elements of wider cultural and planetary consciousness.  Transculturation, postcolonialism, ecocriticism (literature and environment), trauma, medicine and global health.  Research languages include: Chinese (modern and classical), Japanese (modern and classical), Korean, Hindi, Urdu, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portugese, and limited Indonesian. 

Selected Works

Empire of Texts in Motion: Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese Transculturations of Japanese Literature (Harvard 2009), co-recipient of the International Comparative Literature Association Anna Balakian Prize for the best book in the world in the field of Comparative Literature published in the last three years by a scholar under age 40 and recipient of the John Whitney Hall Book Prize, Association for Asian Studies, one of the largest area studies associations in the world, for the best English-language book on any contemporary or historical topic related to Japan in any field of the humanities or social sciences; Ecoambiguity: Environmental Crises and East Asian Literatures (Michigan, 2012), recipient of the Rene Wellek Prize (Honorable Mention) of the American Comparative Literature Association, for the best book in the field of comparative literature in the trienneum 2010-2012, recipient of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment Book Prize (Honorable Mention), for the best scholarly book of ecocriticism published in the biennium 2011-2012, and recipient of the International Convention of Asia Scholars Accolade (2013); International Convention of Asia Scholars Accolade (2013) for the scholarly work in Asian Studies most captivating and accessible to the non-specialist reader published in the biennium 2011-2012; Toge Sankichi and Poems of the Atomic Bomb (University of Chicago Center for East Asian Studies, 2012), recipient of the William F. Sibley Memorial Translation Prize in Japanese Literature and Literary Studies; Literature and Medicine, Guest Editor of Special Issue on World Literature and Health (2013); The Poetics of Aging: Confronting, Resistingand Transcending Mortality in the Japanese Narrative Arts (co-editor with Charles Inouye, Susan Napier, and Hosea Hirata; forthcoming 2014).  Current projects include books on world literature, environment, and health and on networking environments (with special focus on East Asia and the Indian Ocean Rim). Thornber is also a member of the editorial board of the five-volume Wiley-Blackwell Companion to World Literature.

Research: 

Professor Thornber's main areas of research are world literature and the literatures and cultures of East Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan) as well as the Indian Ocean Rim.  Her publications analyze textual production, circulation, consumption, and reconfiguration as key elements of wider cultural and planetary consciousness.  She has written extensively on the environmental and medical humanities (especially ecocriticism and literature and medicine/global health), transculturation, postcolonialism, and trauma.  Her research languages include Japanese (modern and classical), Chinese (modern and classical), Korean, Hindi, Urdu, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portugese, and some Indonesian. 

Dissertation

Cultures and Texts in Motion: Negotiating and Reconfiguring Japan and Japanese Literature in Polyintertextual East Asian Contact Zones (Japan, Semicolonial China, Colonial Korea, Colonial Taiwan, 1895-1945) 

Dissertation Prizes
Charles Bernheimer Prize, American Comparative Literature Association (2007), for the best dissertation in the field of Comparative Literature in North America.

International Convention of Asia Scholars (Leiden) Book Prize (2007), global competition for best dissertation in the field of Asia Studies (2005-2007). 

Achilles Fang Prize, for best dissertation in East Asian humanities, Harvard University. 

Books

Empire of Texts in Motion: Professor Thornber’s first book, Empire of Texts in Motion: Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese Transculturations of Japanese Literature (Harvard, 2009; 607 pp.), explores interactions among the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese literary worlds in the Japanese empire (1895-1945).  By developing the new theoretical concept of the artistic contact nebula, this book argues that while actively reconfiguring Western literatures – the subject of most comparative scholarship on twentieth-century East Asian literatures – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese writers also engaged significantly with one another’s creative output, forming vibrant spaces of intra-East Asian textual contact.  Empire of Texts in Motion demonstrates how this textual contact both affirmed and challenged Japan’s cultural authority, not only blurring distinctions among resistance, acquiescence, and collaboration but also eroding cultural and national barriers central to the discourse on empire.  It analyzes how texts engage vigorously with specific predecessors and demonstrates how literary interactions occurring in sites of unequal power relationships are far more active and complex than the conventional "influence paradigm" has allowed. 

Book Prizes for Empire of Texts in Motion: 
International Comparative Literature Association Anna Balakian Book Prize (co-recipient), for the best book in the world in the field of Comparative Literature published in the last three years by a scholar under age 40. 

John Whitney Hall Book Prize, Association for Asian Studies, for the best English-language book on any contemporary or historical topic related to Japan in any field of the humanities or social sciences.

Ecoambiguity: Professor Thornber’s second book, titled Ecoambiguity: Environmental Crises and East Asian Literatures (Michigan 2012; 702 pp.), analyzes how literature from East Asia and around the world depicts the ambiguous relationships between people and their biophysical environments.  It focuses on creative portrayals of the relationships between damaged ecosystems and discrepancies within and among human attitudes, behaviors, and information vis-à-vis the nonhuman world.

Book Prizes for Ecoambiguity:

Rene Wellek Prize (Honorable Mention, 2013) of the American Comparative Literature Association, for the best book in the field of comparative literature in the trienneum 2010-2012

Association for the Study of Literature and Environment Book Prize (Honorable Mention, 2013) for the best book-length monograph of scholarly ecocriticism published in the last two years (2011-2012)

International Convention of Asia Scholars, Accolade (2013) for the scholarly work in Asian Studies most captivating and accessible to the non-specialist reader published in the last two years (2011-2012)

Professor Thornber's Toge Sankichi and the Genbaku shishu, a translation of Toge's Japanese-language poetry anthology on the atomic bomb, has been published by the University of Chicago, Center for East Asian Studies, as an e-book (2012). 

Translation Prize: This translation received the 2012 William F. Sibley Memorial Translation Prize in Japanese Literature and Literary Studies.

Literature and Medicine 31:2 (2013), Guest Editor of Special Issue on World Literature and Health

Companion to World Literature (five volumes), Associate Editor (in progress, Wiley-Blackwell)

Global World Literature and Health: Moderating Expectations, Negotiating Possibilities (in progress)

Networking Environments (in progress)

Articles and chapters include:

"Climate Change and Changing World Literature" (in progress); "Abusive Medicine: Constructing the Japanese Empire and its Aftermaths in East Asian Literatures" (in progress); "Ishimure Michiko and Global Ecocriticism" (in progress); "Care, Vulnerability, Resilience: Ecologies of HIV/AIDS in Chinese Literature" (2015); "Wolf Totem and Nature Writing" (2015); “Wenhua zhuanyi wangluo he quanqiuxing bijiao: Yazhou, Feizhou, Dayangzhou he Meizhou wenxuezhong de renlei zhongxinzhuyi shengtaiguan he ‘shengtai bendu jumin’” (Transcultural Networks and Global Comparison: Anthropocentric Ecologies and the ‘Ecological Native’ in Literature from Asia, Africa, Oceania, and the Americas) (2015); "Reimagining (Global) World Literature: Health, Paradise, and Betrayal in Korean, English, and Urdu" (2015); "Paradoxes of Conservation and Comparison: Taiwan, Environmental Crises and World Literatures" (2015); "Environments of Early Chinese and Japanese Literatures" (2015); "Chinese Literary Landscapes of SARS and HIV/AIDS: On Hubris and Vulnerability" (2014); "Comparative Literature, World Literature, and Asia" (2014); "Capitalizing on Contradiction: Environmental Crises and East Asian Literatures" (2014); "Modernist Literary Production in East Asia" (2014); "Anthropocentric Ecologies and the 'Ecological Native' in Native American, Maori, and Aboriginal Taiwanese Literatures" (2014); "Chinese Literature and Environmental Crises: Plundering Borderlands North and South" (2014); "Literature and Environment: New Approaches to Ecocriticism" (2014); "Japanese Literature and Interwar East Asian Modernisms: Reconfiguring the Individual and the City" (2014); "Literature, Asia, and the Anthropocene: Possibilities for Asian Studies and the Environmental Humanities" (2014); "Environmental Crises and East Asian Literatures: Uncertain Presents and Futures" (2014); "Empire of Texts in Motion: Where in the World is World Literature" (2014); "Rethinking the World in World Literature: East Asia and Literary Contact Nebulae" (2014); “Hansi shijie wenxue zhong de shijie – Taiwan, Zhongguo dalu, Dongya ji wenxue jiechu xingyun” (Rethinking the World in World Literature: Taiwan, Mainland China, East Asia, and Literary Contact Nebulae) (2014); "Overwhelming Disease and Nature: New Perspectives on Ariyoshi Sawako and Amitav Ghosh" (2013); "World Literature and Global Health: Reconfiguring Literature and Medicine" (2013); "Global Health and World Literature: Translating Silences in Cambodian Writing on Sex Slavery" (2013); "Afterword: Ecocritical and Literary Futures" (2013); "Japanese Literature and Environmental Crises" (2013); "Nature, Humanity, and Uncertain Futures: East Asian Literatures and Environmental Degradation" (2013); “Shejie wenxue yu shengtai piping: Tanjiu Dongya wenxue zuopinzhong feirenlei de fusuli [World Literature and Ecocriticism: Questioning Nonhuman Resilience in East Asian Literatures]” (2012); “Dajiang Jiansanlang [Oe Kenzaburo]: quyu, quanqiu he he wenti de shuxiezhe [Oe Kenzaburo: Writing Regional, Global, and Nuclear Problems]" (2012); "Ishimure Michiko, Literature, and Environmental Ambiguity" (2012); “Acquiescing to Environmental Degradation: Literary Dynamics of Resignation" (2012); "Collaborating, Acquiescing, Resisting: Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Transculturation of Japanese Literature" (2012); "Green Paradoxes: Literature and Environmental Crises in Korea, China, and Japan" (2012); “1920 nendai no Higashi Ajia bunka kōryū to kantekusutosei” (2011); "Literature and Environment" (2011); "Legitimacy and Community:  Traveling Writers and Texts in Post-1945 East Asia" (2010); "Degendering Ecodegradation and Rethinking Ecofeminisms in the Writing of Kurihara Sadako, Sakaki Nanao, and Ichimure Michiko" (2010); "Responsibility and Japanese Literature of the Atomic Bomb" (2010); "Ecological Urbanism and East Asian Literatures" (2009); "Early Twentieth-Century Intra-East Asian Literary Contact Nebulae:  Transculturating Censored Japanese Literature in Chinese and Korean Literatures" (2009); “Ecocriticism and Japanese Literature of the Avant Garde” (2009); "French Discourse in Chinese, in Chinese Discourse in French – Paradoxes of Chinese Francophone Émigré Writing" (2009); "Translation and the Borders of Early Twentieth-Century Japanese Literature" (2008); "Itinerant Clouds, Sooty Trains, and Peripatetic Memories:  Travel in Hayashi Fumiko's Ukigumo" (2007); "Reconfiguring Japanese Literature in Early Twentieth-Century East Asia:  The Enpon Boom, the Uchiyama Shoten, and the Growth of Transasian Literary Communities" (2006); "When the Protagonist is Death:  Implicating Text and Reader in Trilogies of Hiroshima and Auschwitz" (2004); "Literature of the Atomic Bomb" (2001).

Courses Taught:

  • Undergraduate: Literature and the Environment; Literature, Gender, and Revolution; Literature and Medicine; Medical Humanities; Sophomore Tutorial
  • Graduate: Poetics of Empire; Thinking and Writing Transculturally; Literature and Diaspora; Comparative Literature Proseminar; Professing Literature
  • Institute for World Literature: World Literature and Environmental Crises

Contact Information

Email: 

Office Hours: Tue 12:30-1:30 and by appointment
Office: Dana-Palmer 204
p: 617-496-6244