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East Asia and Future Directions of Comparative Literature
Spring, 2004

In this lecture series, Masao Miyoshi, Haun Saussy, Christopher Hill, and Christopher Bush tackle the problematics concerning the roles East Asia and East Asian literatures might play in the crucial changes of today's humanities, particularly as manifested through the field of comparative literature. A brief schedule is as follows:

  Fri 3/5 Masao Miyoshi "The Prospect of the Humanities (including Comparative Literature)"
  Tue 3/23 Haun Saussy "For Comparison's Sake: East Asian Literatures as Exception and as Rule"
  Thu 4/1 Christopher Hill "Comparative Literature, World Systems, and the 'Specialist'"
  Tue 4/13 Christopher Bush "The Other of the Other: 'East Asia' as Comparative Literature"

All talks take place at 4:30, with a reception to follow. For more information on the speakers and the locations of each talk, please see Lecture Series Speakers.

The issues they will address are of critical importance, especially given the history of humanistic disciplines. Although the field of comparative literature was founded with the goal of including all literary traditions of the world, soon national boundaries and cultural contiguity began to assert themselves with great force of separation. Scholars of East Asia often found themselves labeled specialists, with their area of expertise finding little reception in mainstream Eurocentric comparative literature. One may get a sense of the divide by way of the apparently ludicrous label, “Chinese comparative literature,” which has served as a descriptor for scholarly associations in China and even in the United States, or by way of the logical inconsistencies of some Japanologists in America who continue to make claims for a cultural uniqueness that renders Japan entirely incomparable in anyway.

However, recently, the rise of world literature in the American university has begun a process of restructuring the humanities, and has called into focus the identity of the field of comparative literature and its relation with non-European traditions. If Asia has often served as a foil for Western thought, from the Jesuit idealization of Ming China as a kingdom ruled by a Platonic philosopher-king, to post-modernist inventions of the Sino-Japanese “ideograph” as an answer to European metaphysical failings, it is especially important to ask now, at this juncture of increasing globalization, how one should locate East Asia in an University that has struggled to include non-European traditions with only modest success. What are the persistent problems and rewards of such inclusion? What role will East Asia, specifically East Asian literatures, play in the future of comparative literature?

Realizing that these questions represent deeper issues not just of comparative literature, but of the humanities in general, a number of scholars have already begun to theorize on the place of East Asian literatures in the university. One hastens to add that these scholars are not limited to East Asian specialist. Even some thinkers without particular affiliation or disciplinary interests in East Asia such as Frederic Jameson have over the last decade recognized the importance of these questions. We hope that you will join us to consider these vital issues that no one can afford to neglect anymore.



This lecture series was organized by Jonathan Abel and Kevin Tsai under the auspices of the Society for Intercultural Comparative Literature.The Program Committee included Andrew Hui and Matthew Stavros.
Right: a small image of the poster for the lecture series.

Lecture Series Poster





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