Myles Chilton studied English literature at the University of Toronto, then received an MA and PhD from the University of Chicago in the History of Culture. Since 2012, he has been a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Nihon University.
1. Can you describe a turning point in your career?
During graduate school, a return to Japan (I had previously lived here for ten years) began to seem increasingly likely, so I turned my thoughts to how I would teach English literature to Japanese students. These thoughts became more urgent after I accepted an offer for a tenured position at Chiba University, and haven’t really subsided, as I haven’t found anything other than provisional answers.
2. What question are you currently exploring in your work?
3. Which artist or writer has had the most influence on you?
There are many possible candidates, but I suppose Thomas Mann would have to be near or at the top. Through reading him (alas, only in translation) I felt I had finally found the perfect prose fiction blend of instruction, delight, and imitation. In another life I’m going to study German, so that I can be a scholar of the whole Goethe, Wagner, Nietzsche, Mann, Hesse nexus.
4. What do you think is the value of the humanities?
One value the humanities can teach us is humility: We have to keep in mind that for many good, kind, honest people, leading rich, fulfilling lives, the humanities has no value whatsoever.
5. What does the future hold for your field?
Rens Bod’s recent A New History of the Humanities argues that pattern-seeking has always characterized the humanities, challenging Dilthey’s view that the humanities is about hermeneutic understanding of unique events, whereas the sciences are about explaining universals. This latter view has dominated, and to a large degree, hamstrung the humanities.
Pattern-seeking allows us to think big by pushing against the confines of Western medieval-derived disciplines, and concentrating on the study of humanistic materials methodically, comparatively, and coherently, without forsaking attention to variety, change, tradition, invention, agency, creativity, and artistry. I think it’s worth a try.