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.
The 8th IWL session took place on the serene campus of the University of Tokyo, erected north of the bustling Tokyo downtown and surrounded by national museums encircling the beautiful Ueno Onshi Park. I had the privilege of participating in this 8th session held in July among more than 120 scholars from 24 countries and 21 institutions.
In this session, the impressive program included four-week seminars taught by David Damrosch (Harvard), Christopher Bush (Northwestern), Pheng Cheah (UC Berkeley), Jing Tsu (Yale), Ursula Heise (UCLA), Mitsuyoshi Numano (U of Tokyo), Delia Ungureanu (U of Bucharest), Zhang Longxi (City U of Hong Kong), and Wiebke Denecke (Boston). Memorable guest lectures were delivered by artists and translators actively engaging with the worldly possibilities of text: Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, a web artist duo based in Seoul; Motoyuki Shibata, a renowned Japanese translator; and the bilingual writer imagining between Japanese and German languages, Yoko Tawada.
As a first-year doctoral student, the Institute experience was inspiring both creatively and professionally. I presented developing ideas for my dissertation project on Korean Canadian Literature at the “Sociology and Literature” colloquium in participation with global scholars examining the intersectionality between literature and local and global contexts, including politics, culture(s), institutions, laws, and markets, through their research. The feedback I received from this colloquium offered a diversity of theoretical approaches to consider for my dissertation.
The relationship I built with students and scholars from various institutions also helped me to mark future opportunities for engagement and research dissemination. As one especially helpful engagement, I met doctoral students from South Korea, who offered invaluable advice regarding summer courses and archives pertaining to my research interests in links between modern Korean literature and literatures of the Korean diaspora. Motivated by these interactions, I will be exploring these interests further through a fieldwork research trip in South Korea in the upcoming fall semester!
When I attended the IWL, the summer school was hosted by the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, in joint partnership with Aarhus University. As in previous years, the institute was attended by over 150 scholars from 50 countries which made for a truly unique experience. The scholars I met and the conversations we had (to say nothing of the reading recommendations!) were the highlight for me, but there was so much that was wonderful about those four weeks.
I spent my seminar time enrolled in “Multilingualism, Translation, and World Literature” with Reine Meylaerts (KU Leuven, Belgium) and “Between Nations: Migrant Writing and the Cultural Meeting in the Text” with Mads Rosendahl Thomsen (Aarhus University, Denmark). I enjoyed both seminars immensely but neither more than my weekly Postcolonial Colloquium, led by Tanutrushna Panigrahi (International Institute of Information Technology Bhubaneswar, India). Here I was fortunate to engage with PhD and MA students from South Korea, the United States, India, Austria, and Switzerland, whose work mobilized postcoloniality alongside Middle Welsh and Anglo-Latin Literature, Galician Literature, and Queer Islamic Oralities, to name a few intersections. Our conversations have stayed with me since those Tuesday mornings and I look back at my notes often.
Of our guest lecturers, I was most interested to hear from the then (see: Jean-Claude Arnault scandal) Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius. Her talk, “How to get the Nobel Prize in Literature”, left us all mystified as it revealed very little, if anything at all, about how one “gets” the Nobel prize or how the winner is selected. Everyone spent the following days discussing the lecture only to realize it had achieved its desired effect: further mystification. The fact that I am speaking about this today is testament to its reach!
Vanessa Evans is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English at York University. She holds a B.A. in English from the University of Calgary and an M.Litt. in Modernities from the University of Glasgow. Vanessa is currently a visiting lecturer at the Obama Institute for Transnational American Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz.
I attended the Institute for World Literature in the summer of 2016 when it was held at Harvard University. The program was attended by over 150 scholars from nearly 50 different countries in all. I enrolled in Eric Hayot’s seminar entitled “The Big and the Small,” which considered the importance of scalar models in world literature; as well as Paul Giles’ seminar on “Cross-temporalities,” which introduced temporal vectors to my analysis. There were plenary lectures given by Rebecca Walkowitz, David Damrosch, and Homi Bhabha. All of the professors regularly held office hours, so I was able to meet with Bruce Robbins, and Margaret Cohen to discuss my dissertation project. I presented my own work at the Postcolonial & World Literature Colloquium to colleagues working in related fields, and received excellent feedback.
Students who attend IWL were provided with a university library card, which in this case gave me access to the largest university collection in the world. Needless to say, I felt as though I’d died and gone to heaven. I used this opportunity to conduct research for a now published article, entitled “Sof’town Slueths: The Hard-Boiled Genre Goes to Jo’burg.”
Although the IWL is a valuable intellectual space, it isn’t just a place for research; there is plenty of opportunity to make connections and have some fun in the process. A short train ride away from Boston are the towns of Gloucester, Amherst and Concord—home to Charles Olson, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, to name but a few. My personal highlight, in this regard, was swimming in Walden Pond before taking a nap in the shade of Emerson’s garden—an experience I will not soon forget!