Associate Professor of Japanese
Queens Hall, Room 245C
PhD, Cornell University
Lewis Cook teaches advanced Japanese reading courses, Classical Japanese, Classical Chinese, East Asian Literature in translation, and developed a writing intensive course on the Book of Genji and Japanese women writers. His research specialities are the editing of Classical manuscripts, poetics, Classical Japanese hermeneutics, and literary theory, and he translates Classical Japanese.
My research in recent years has been evoted to editing and translating the textbooks of the so-called 'Secret Teachings of Ancient and Modern Poetry,' an institution for training teachers of poetry that flourished in late medieval Japan. Apart from rote emorization of canonical texts, the tools of the trade for poetry teachers at the time were ommentary and criticism.
Their objective was to provide instruction not only in the arts of making but in those of reading and judging poetry. The 'Secret Teachings' was a remarkably successful institution. Its graduates enjoyed great prestige and often substantial financial rewards, despite the fact that few of them achieved lasting acclaim as poets. Perhaps there are some lessons here for our contemporary institutions of literary education.
I teach courses in Japanese and Chinese literature in English translation, and courses in modern Japanese language. The challenge of teaching literature in translation is that literary texts are often those which most adamantly resist successful rewording or paraphrase, and above all in translation. This is especially true perhaps of lyric poetry, and in both Chinese and Japanese traditions, the lyric poem was the most prestigious genre of creative literature.
Fortunately, many works from both languages have been rendered into English by translators such as Waley, Pound, Kenneth Rexroth and Gary Snyder, all of them poets in their own right. And a number of the most engaging texts are available in versions by several different translators.
I've found that by using varied and often competing English versions of short poems together with the originals in Chinese and Japanese, it's possible to explore something of the sense of what gets "lost" in and what survives the straits of translation.