Nan Z. Da

Nan Da

Assistant Professor of English

Specialty: 19th-Century American Literature, Critical Theory, Comparative Literature, Transnationalism

Degrees: BA, University of Chicago; PhD, University of Michigan

My research draws on a variety of sources from nineteenth-century American philosophy to Chinese textual traditions to critical theory. I ask what literary criticism can show us about global interactions besides the fact of their happening and their representation; mostly I wonder what happens when we take our prompts for relationality from the versions inside literature, which regulates the efficiency of cross-cultural transmissions and polices boundaries both personal and international in ways that are very different from real life.

My current book project, Intransitive Encounter, considers a cross-culturalism and a transnationalism that is wholly self-contained, that uses itself up in the moment of transpiration and that does not demand institutionalization, demonstrable impact, or empirical evidence that it has taken place. It offers a sustained study of nineteenth-century Sino-US literary encounters, finding in them a lack of commitment towards transpacific interpollination, synthesis, and convergence that doesn’t even rise to the fullness of subversion or rejection. Through a dynamics of formality (a term which had different resonances and implications before the twentieth century), these encounters challenge our tendency to backdate globalization insofar as they politely decline long-lasting networks of cross-national and cross-cultural influence.The book also surveys the dynamics of exchange in global modernity, giving historical and linguistic explanations for why intransitive encounters became simultaneously more prevalent and harder to see.  

My next book, tentatively titled Other People's Books, studies the obsolescence of certain visions of the uses of literature, recovering them while finding the cause of their obsolescence in linked fantasies about other people's relationships to their books and about print cultural efficiency in global modernity. I recover, for example, a Chinese philosophy of the purpose of reading that sees it as a way of minimizing harm, a preoccupation of the acting self which, given time and space, will always tend towards harm and destruction. Books were seen as something that succeeded in taking you out-of-commission in proportion to how difficult and compelling they were. Why was this and other Chinese philosophies of reading crowded out by mysterianist romances of Chinese book culture--the Chinese book as a forerunner of parallel universe theory or exclusively as a tool of divination, for instance?  I locate the answer not in the representational choices of any particular author but in fundamental paradoxes around the function of books in a modern world governed by communicative distanciation and non-verifiability. This inquiry takes me from nineteenth-century Western reception of Chinese texts to twentieth-century writings by by authors such as Jorge Luis Borges and Philip K. Dick.

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Contact Information:
228 Decio Faculty Hall
(574) 631-7536

Mailing Address:
Department of English
356 O’Shaughnessy Hall
Notre Dame, IN 46556