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Waka is Japan’s oldest form of poetry, dating from at least the 8th century CE. What, then, to make of the appearance of music in an art form traditionally defined along literary lines? To answer this question, Christopher Hepburn, a postdoctoral scholar in East Asian Studies and Music in the USC Libraries and USC Dornsife College, will share his interdisciplinary understanding of waka as musical artifact, and position it within a framework of its oral, written, and performative aspects.

The traditional treatment of waka as a solely literary artifact removed from music has resulted in many prejudices about the interplay of music and words (that the musical mode of understanding and the written mode of understanding are not mutually informative) and the misjudging of aesthetic issues (often due to a failure to appreciate the nonconceptual aspects of music, i.e., those aspects that are analyzable such as pitch, rhythm, and so forth). In all, scholarship in the field of waka has arguably taken thirty years to make it to a point where it can truly be studied from an interdisciplinary perspective. This talk not only seeks to tease out many of the problems and assumptions associated with understanding waka as a musical artifact but how we can move past them.

Co-sponsored by the USC Libraries

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Bio
Christopher Hepburn, PhD, is the Edward L. Doheny Jr. Postdoctoral Scholar and Teaching Fellow of East Asian Studies and Music at the University of Southern California.

An American musicologist, writer, educator, and critic, his research covers a wide range of interdisciplinary topics from the Heian to the Edo period, with particular focus on waka composed on the theme of male love. A scholar of Japanese musicopoetics, Hepburn is especially interested in premodern Japanese works of orality, ideologies of musicality, performativity, theories of embodied orality, and generative theories of music and words.

Hepburn’s research comes from the school of thought that the scholarly acceptance of unproven assumptions or statements made in absolute terms should always be questioned and examined contextually.  It is for this reason he believes that those who approach history or historiography should do so by taking on the role of the skeptic and contrarian.

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Meeting ID: 898 0547 1117 | Passcode: 841154

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