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Top>Opinion>Getting Hits in Overseas Research Surveys —Amassing Contributions to Overseas Academia

Opinion

Getting Hits in Overseas Research Surveys

—Amassing Contributions to Overseas Academia

Nanao Hayasaka
Professor Emeritus, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: German literature, Austrian literature

Read in Japanese

1. What is an Overseas Research Survey?

Annex of the Pension Fortuna, where Musil is believed to have lived between 1938 and 1939
© Baugeschichtliches Archiv Zürich

My overseas research surveys consisted of visiting two or three cities in German-speaking European countries for about 10 days to two weeks, and conducting surveys and collecting materials. I usually went at the beginning of September during summer vacation, so I didn't need to hold any supplementary lectures. If you teach life science, you might go to South America to look for fossils, and if you teach sociology, you might conduct fieldworks in a given region. In my case, my topic was focused on the biographical research of the Austrian writer Robert Musil (1880–1942), so I carried out field surveys in various cities in countries where he was active, such as the Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland, and discovered previously unknown records. As a recent example, I was able to find out with near certainty the location of dwelling in Zurich where Musil spent his life in exile.

As long as you meet certain criteria, the funding will come from various research grants. I was able to take trips every year for almost 15 years until I retired. However, for the final three years, I ended up having to go to the hospital upon my return, and needed IV drips due to fatigue. It was very exhausting work.

2. Who was Robert Musil?

Musil in 1918, when he was 37 years old. He was awarded three medals for his service in World War I.
© Robert Musil Literaturhaus

Compared to some of the famous names in German literature like Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, and Thomas Mann, Robert Musil is not very well known. However, in a questionnaire that was conducted as part of a millennium commemoration in 1999, Musil’s unfinished novel, The Man without Qualities, was selected as the best German novel of the 20th century. It was considered to be in the same rank as James Joyce’s Ulysses and Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time as one of the three greatest novels of the 20th century. However, the way I see it, the two other novels are on a completely different dimension. I find this novel to be an extraordinary exploration that directly confronts the world, humanity, human wisdom, emotions and the soul. The deciphering and the sorting of the posthumous manuscripts, which amount to 10,000 pages, are all compiled in the new complete digital version. The keen, sensitive and conscientious Musil was an engineer who graduated from the Brno University of Technology and a Doctor of Philosophy who studied experimental psychology at Friedrich-Wilhelms-University of Berlin, as well as a commissioned officer who went through military boarding schools. His work, which contains profound knowledge and deep contemplation, is difficult to read, even for German speakers. After his death, efforts to reassess his lifework gained momentum, but it took a long time to organize his biographical data, which was full of unknown details.

Most of his relatives, including his wife, had all passed away. Pieces of his life were uncovered and put together like a jigsaw puzzle through the verbal evidence provided by his friends and acquaintances, but there are still many missing parts to his story.

3. What is Considered a "Hit"?

For example, I was able to uncover Musil’s work that he published under a pseudonym when he was 17 to 18 years old in a Sunday edition of a newspaper in Brno, Czech Republic, his home at the time (A Séance and At Twilight). These works are considered "hits" because they were previously unknown. A recent example is the discovery of a certificate that showed he was training at the mechanical engineering lab at the University of Stuttgart in 1903. This certificate, written by Carl von Bach, the laboratory chief at the time, was buried for over a century. Until its discovery, there was only circumstantial evidence of his training at the lab, so this is considered a "hit" as well. So far, I've published about two dozen "hits" in German in Chuo University's bulletins (Doitsu Bungaku (the German Culture) and Jinbunken Kiyou (Humanities bulletins)). Some of them have been published by German publishers, with me credited as the author.

4. Why Write Papers in German?

The article published under my name in the literary column of the New Journal of Zurich on November 28, 2018.

In Klagenfurt, Austria, there's a museum called the Robert Musil Literature Museum, where the complete works of Musil are digitally compiled, along with documents related to Musil which recorded who published the documents when and where. I send the papers I write to this museum. Not only that, but I reprint my papers (not entire bulletins, but booklets containing only my papers), and send them to researchers of Musil in Europe and America by airmail. This is because there are not many people in Japan who will read these reprints and understand the significance of the discoveries. It's no use sending papers written in Japanese to researchers in the West, so I have to write them in German. Toward the end of last year, an influential Swiss newspaper titled the New Journal of Zurich featured the article I described earlier about Musil's dwelling under my by-line (Writer Robert Musil Left Zurich to Escape the Screams of Children).

For Zurich, the fact that Musil could not stay in the city and left for Geneva without finishing his novel was a great loss, and the state of his dwelling that was the reason for this was unknown—this is the story that became a popular topic of conversation 15 years ago in the literary column of the New Journal of Zurich. As soon as it was published, I received emails from Swiss, German and Austrian researchers congratulating me. It is a rare opportunity to be published in a quality paper like the New Journal of Zurich, and this was probably the first to feature a Japanese writer(1).

5. How is This a Contribution?

The Hakone Ekiden race, for example, can't be seen live in Germany. Not only that, but there is probably no familiarity with the event in any country outside of Japan, not just Europe. On the papers I write, the following by-line is always displayed: Hayasaka. Chuo-Universität, Tokio. Although it may be modest, this is contributing to increasing the level of recognition of Chuo University. Of course, for Robert Musil, there is the International Robert Musil Society (IRMG), where works related to Musil, such as research papers, are organized as “Beitrag” (contributions), which means that the work I'm doing is effectively considered a contribution. With that said, what we refer to as overseas research surveys in Japan is just called academic research in other countries. Only in Japan do we include the "overseas" part. This means that for Japanese researchers—who travel all the way from Japan on expensive 20-hour round-trip flights—libraries and museums in these areas are more compelled to put in an earnest effort to help find the materials we are looking for. There are documents that we can acquire precisely because we come from the Far Eastern country of Japan, which means there are contributions that Japanese researchers are uniquely capable of making. These are certainly advantages that should be leveraged(2). In addition, I have arbitrarily decided that the work I'm doing should be considered as a sort of Zivildienst (civilian service, or more commonly, alternative service in lieu of military service).

6. What is Zivildienst ?

Germany had a system of conscription, or Wehrdienst, until 2011. Young men were sent to stay in military barracks for nine months to undergo athletic training, weapons training, camping and combat training so that they would be prepared to pick up a rifle should a war break out. This is not unique to Germany. About 20 countries, including South Korea, Switzerland and Russia have systems of conscription that last between six months and two years. Very few countries, such as Japan, Iceland and Costa Rica, have never had conscription in the 75 years after World War II(3). However, in most countries, with the exception of South Korea and North Korea, you can apply for exemption as a conscientious objector. In Germany, if you have moral objections toward war, and it is recognized by the government, you are eligible for alternative service, such as caring for senior citizens, working in facilities for the disabled or volunteering at the Red Cross for 12 to 20 months (depending on the year). Now, let's take a look at Japan. For 75 years after the end of World War II, Japan's pacifist constitution spared us from instituting conscription. This may just be my personal opinion, but it seems to me that this is akin to having the entire nation having claimed conscientious objector status. So then, do we have a system of alternative service in its place? In fact, most non-Japanese people don't know that Japan has abandoned warfare, by "trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world." The preamble of the Constitution of Japan states "We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society," but have we been able to attain an honorable place simply by abandoning war? Doesn't it just look like to the world that the entirety of the Japanese populace is claiming conscientious objector status, while doing nothing in lieu of military service? It may be too late in this tense international climate where we can almost smell the gunpowder, but what have we done to "occupy an honored place in an international society?" How much have we been able to demonstrate to the world that we are not a people upon whom you can drop nuclear bombs without hesitation? With all due respect, I see more than a few professors in the humanities that consider Japan as the entire areas of their activities, and those who place far too much importance on the Hakone Ekiden race. I've contributed to the New Journal of Zurich, and been published by a German publisher (Wilhelm Fink). This is an example of a Japanese person, although surely inadequate, contributing to the development of international academic research. I can't speak for the level of impact that these efforts will have, but I believe that the modest work I've done can be considered a type of alternative service in this world full of menacing threats, as a contribution that demonstrates the honorable place that Japanese people occupy in the world. I hope that Chuo University students embrace this stance and have the desire to do work that has an impact on a global scale.

  • ^ The side-by-side translation of the article featured in the New Journal of Zurich is available here.
  • ^ The Jinbunken (Humanities Research) Booklet Kaigai Gakujutsu Chosa no Thrill to Tanoshimi (The Thrill and Enjoyment of Overseas Research Surveys) is available here.
  • ^ The U.S. moved to an all-volunteer military force in 1973. The UK abolished conscription in 1960. France, which adopted extensive conscription during the French Revolution, recently abolished the system due to the increasing sophistication and specialization of military service. Many countries in Europe were on a trend toward abolishing conscription in the years following the Cold War between the 1990s and 2010, but in recent years, many are bringing back the system. Ukraine (2014), Lithuania (2015) and Sweden (2015) have all reinstituted conscription. This was in part a response to Russian actions and the stance taken by President Trump to withdraw from NATO. France and Germany are also considering reinstituting conscription, both as a response to Russian actions and as an effort to counter terrorism.
Nanao Hayasaka
Professor Emeritus, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: German literature, Austrian literature
Nanao Hayasaka was born in 1947 in Miyagi Prefecture. He withdrew from his University of Tokyo Graduate School of Humanities doctorate course in German and German Literature. He assumed his post at the Faculty of Science and Engineering, Chuo University in 1985 after having taught liberal arts education at Okayama University and at Yamagata University. He is the author of Robert Musil und der genius loci. Wilhelm Fink Verlag, München (2011), and the co-author of three other books published in Europe. He is credited with the joint editorship of five books in Japanese. He has translated K. Corino's Robert Musil Eine Biographie 1, 2, 3, Hosei University Press (joint translation, 2009–2015), among other works. He has written numerous essays. He was awarded the Robert Musil Medal in 2005, and the 9th Japan-Austria Literature Society Prize in 2013, among other prizes.
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