On Sept. 19, Hirokazu Miyazaki of Cornell University gave a lecture to an audience of University students and staff entitled “The Economy of Hope.” The lecture was the second in a series of ten on the theme of “Hope and Hopelessness” hosted by the Center for the Humanities. The framework for Miyazaki’s talk centered around specific historical occasions that aroused a need for hope, a prevalence of hope, or both.

After opening the lecture with a short summary of what his paper and lecture would generally cover, Miyazaki launched into the circumstances that surrounded his interpretation and discussion of hope.

“My current thinking about hope cannot be separated from what happened in Japan five years ago and my own personal experience of it,” Miyazaki said.“I was in Tokyo when the earthquake Tōhoku hit Northeastern Japan. I was literally shaken, and really shaken by the nature of a tsunami really swallowing up houses and cars. We hadn’t been warned. But what happened a little bit later was even worse. The [disaster at the] nuclear power plant Fukushima really fundamentally changed Japan’s future and my own future, too. I still live with this sense of loss.”

Miyazaki used this example to demonstrate that there are different levels of hope. For example, he noted that humans have individual hopes that pertain to themselves and those immediately in their lives, and then they have is what he calls “collective hope,” which is the hope of a community, city, or even nation. For Japan, there was a prevailing sense of nationwide, collective hope after the disaster literally rocked the nation.

Throughout the lecture, Miyazaki offered varying perspectives on hope, from those of Western economic writers such as Jane Guyer to Yuji Genda’s discussion of “Hope and Society in Japan,” which focuses specifically on the difference between attainable and unattainable hope. The difference as Genda saw it, Miyazaki explained, was that attainable hope comes from the process of recovering from a failure.

As discernible from the title of the lecture, much of the focus was on hope as it related to the economy, or hope as an elusive concept that could come in tangible forms. According to Miyazaki, hope can be a tangible want, but it can also be an equally intangible and ubiquitous presence, as it was for Japan in 2011, after the tsunami and chemical disaster left the nation in severe need.

“Hope is paradoxical,” Miyazaki said. “Hope often contains within itself opposites.”

After the lecture, Miyazaki opened the floor to the audience for questions. One audience member asked if Miyazaki discerned a difference between the English and Japanese general definitions of hope.

“In English, I feel that when you think of hope, you tend to think of hope as a verb,” Miyazaki said. “When you pose a question of ‘what is hope,’ [one responds with] questions like, ‘for what?’ But in Japanese…this category of hope has emerged as a noun. As a result, it has invited very abstract reflection on this category, hope, without and specific linkages to objects.”

Miyazaki then noted that this could have something to do with the differing philosophies of Japan and America. In America, he explained, emphasis tends to be the individual, while in Japan, emphasis is on the collective.

In general, the audience’s reaction to the lecture was a positive one.

“I though it was interesting, because [English and Japanese speakers] don’t think of hope in the same way,” Tara Mitra ’20, an attendee, said. “He talked about the verb and the noun, and that’s just something that I didn’t think of.”

Neha Srinivas ’20 found the talk insightful.

“He seemed really passionate about hope,” she said. “He seemed like he was really personally connected to the topic, to the material.”

Srinivas also added that Miyazaki made the lecture more enjoyable through the use of humor.

“He also got the room laughing about what could be perceived as a very serious topic,” she said. “He had his moments.”

One memorable example of this occurred at the beginning of the lecture, just as Miyazaki introduced the topic. He joked that the question “what is hope?” is not an easy one, and that he has a long answer, which was essentially the paper that his lecture was based on.

The third lecture of the series, titled “Hopes of Killing: The Cultural Politics of Eradication,” will occur on Oct. 3.