Grace Lavery


Grace Lavery is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of California, Berkeley, where she specializes in Victorian literature and culture – where “Victorian” indexes a transnational and transtemporal mode of representation, a capacious set of generic conventions and formal styles available from the 1830s to the present. She is particularly interested in the intertwined histories of Orientalism and aesthetics, in the nineteenth century and beyond, and works with Victorian novels, poetry, non-fiction, and cinema to write the transnational cultural history of aestheticism. An essay on Kafka and Derrida appeared in Demnageries: Thinking (Of) Animals After Derrida(2011); her article about Mikimoto Ryuzo, a Japanese translator of John Ruskin, won the American Comparative Literature Association’s A. Owen Aldridge Prize in 2012, and was published in 2013. She has an essay on Oscar Wilde’s “Japanese vellum” editions forthcoming in ELH, and is currently completing her first book-length project, Loving the Alien: Intimacy, Violence, and the Japanese Tradition in Anglophone Literature.

Scholars have long noted that Japan occupied a unique and contradictory place in the Victorian imagination – on the one hand, a modernizing rival Empire, and on the other, a beautiful Oriental object. In recent decades, postcolonial and transnational scholarship has explored the many lateral connections between the misconceptions of Orientalist discourse and the mystifications of literary aestheticism. Yet because scholars have underestimated the formative work done in that field by Japanese writers, both in Britain and elsewhere, they have offered simplistic accounts of aestheticism, in reality a complex and contested field of discourse to which Japanese and British writers brought a range of psychic and political stakes. Authors such as Yone Noguchi, Okakura Kakuzo, and Mikimoto Ryuzo wrote and published some of their most important work in Britain, not only contesting the terms in which Japanese culture was discussed, but re-negotiating the very categories on which aestheticism depended. Loving the Alien reconceives fin-de-siècle aestheticism as a collective, global enterprise, in which the possibility of a universal standard of beauty was tested against the world’s first non-Western modernity. By the end of the century, Lavery argues, debates over aesthetics expressed the affective turbulence of a world in which European unipolarity had been crucially, and permanently, undermined.