Haun Saussy is University Professor of comparative literature and of East Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Chicago. At the Academy, he is working on reconstructing the overlap...
John P. Birkelund Lecture
Another World Literature: New Approaches to a Literary History of East Asia
There are many challenges to creating an account of the literary interactions among China and its neighbors in the precolonial period: the multilingual, often-untranslated sources; the distorting effects of largely Chinese-language documentation; and the vast expanses of time and space. Moreover, the modern definition of “literature”—understood as imaginative writing—is not a good guide to this enterprise. In this talk, Haun Saussy notes that traditional Chinese definitions of literature include historical, philosophical, essayistic, and policy-oriented genres, and that much of the cultural traffic in and out of China over the centuries happened through religious activity. Saussy proposes a new starting point for scholars of Chinese literary history: focus on literature as “letters,” which should permit an enlargement of the entire sphere of “world literature” as regards China, its multicultural inhabitants, and its neighbors.