Is this a contest over civilisations? Multual literary perceptions of Japan and Australia
The founding of Australia and Japan's emergence as a modern state were simultaneous processes, but at the outset, neither nation knew much about the other. Each was , engaged in defining itself, as' new' nations did in nineteenth century terms, by culture and race. Both countries wanted to be respected in the world; yet both resisted outside interference; and both vacillated between openness and protectionism, national pride and self-doubt. To this day, the two nations' mutual perceptions seem still to be characterized by concerns about superiority or inferiority, which they sometimes express by reviving allegations of racism. But race was never an appropriate way to classify the two societies, and it is anachronistic in today's world. I find it more useful and appropriate to consider transactions between Australia and Japan as involving not racial but cultural difference -which for some of us, is more interesting than similarity -and a complex, long-running contestation over the deference due to civilizations, and claims of cultural exceptionalism.1 The notion of civilizational contestation as an analytical tool is one that I believe can be wielded more rationally and impartially for understanding and comparing literary narratives in different societies.
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