I attended the Institute for World Literature in the summer of 2018 when it was held at the University of Tokyo, Hongo Campus. Over the course of four weeks (much of which was a record-breaking heat wave for the archipelago) I took part in various seminars and guest lectures. There was also a colloquium series where junior and senior scholars with loosely connected research interests came together on a weekly basis to discuss some of the basic principles and ideas of these interests in a collegiate manner. I was among more than 120 participants from twenty countries and twenty-one institutions.
I spent my seminar time enrolled in Jing Tsu’s (Yale), “Multi-Scale Literary Studies” where we spent two weeks working against many of the foundational ideas of World Literature grounding our context in a sample of contemporary Chinese literature only to come back to the foundations of World Literature at the end of the seminar. Tsu occupied a very interesting space in this seminar—while not completely rejecting World Literature, she does not wholly embrace it either. As someone with a background in Comparative Literature, it was refreshing to approach World Literature with a healthy combination of scholarly caution and robust enthusiasm.
My second seminar was with Katharina Piechocki (Harvard) and titled, “Rethinking World Literature Through Cartography and the Spatial Turn.” Here, we used Spatial Theory to renegotiate how we organize literature across time and space as it relates to the field of World Literature. With a focus on the concept of islands and ‘island literature.’ I found this particularly useful to my own research as much of the content overlapped with topics covered in my first major comprehensive exam (which I was preparing for at the time).
While the IWL is known for its intellectual space, there is also plenty of room for creative writers to flourish. There were a number of artistic guest lectures and performances including an interactive and inclusive poetry reading that included local and international poets and artists based in Tokyo as well as participants of the IWL.
Rachel Wong is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English at York University, Toronto, Canada. She holds a BA in English and History from Simon Fraser University and a Masters in Comparative Literature from Western University. Her dissertation examines the intersections between activism and literature in the Chinese Canadian community and its relationship with Asian Canadian Studies.