Nan Z. Da

Nan Da 2021
Nan Zhang Da


Dorothy G. Griffin Associate Professor of English, Concurrently affiliated with the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures

Specialty: Comparative Literary- and Critical Theory; Nineteenth-century American literature and literary history; Chinese literature and literary history; China-West relations; History and Praxis of Literary Criticism

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

My research and pedagogy focus on American and Chinese literature and Chinese and Western literary- and social theory.  The phenomena that interest me most are moral and social-psychological, having to do with the difficulties of truth-telling and establishing causality, and of describing the lived experiences of cross-culturalism and the unexpected consequences of reading literature. My work tries to find non-trivial connections between these topics and the history and future of China-West relations.

Courses I have taught include Introduction to Literary Theory, Social Theory for Literature, American Literature before 1865, American Transcendentalism, History of Discourses of China. 

Research and Writing

I am in the process of completing an academic monograph called "On Disambiguation" that outlines a fateful relationship between the praxis of literary interpretation and the Chinese diaspora after 1949. In this work I update the classic formula of diasporic tragedy, the idea that in exchange for the deescalation, self-differentiation, and juridical neutrality offered by liberal democratic societies the exile must forfeit his grasp of etiology and causality (what exactly happened, one after the other? Who did what to whom, and using what alibis?) and leave things at the wrong level of ambiguity. The contention of this book is that the Chinese diaspora's iteration of this tragedy will depend on, and uniquely illuminate, the most foundational concepts from the theory and praxis of literary interpretation. Working in the psychic and material aftermath of Maoist China, "On Disambiguation" surveys works written in English and Chinese, in immigration and in exile, including those classified as Asian-American literature, and classic works of literary criticism, Chinese and Western, that examine victimization, exegesis, and incomplete disambiguation.

"On Disambiguation" is an academic sequel to my first book, Intransitive Encounter, which theorizes cross-cultural contact using specific claims about the nature of 19th century American literature, late Qing/early Republic Chinese literature, and global modernity. An "intransitive encounter" is a self-contained cross-culturalism, one that uses itself up in the moment and that, out of no ill will or bad faith, has no mappable afterlife or program of exchange attached. I discuss this form of intransitivity in nineteenth-century Sino-US literary exchanges and their historical contexts and propose a different path forward for cross-cultural relations—not a geopolitical showdown nor easy celebrations of hybridity but one that borrows more heavily from the boundary-policing and risk-taking habits of literary interpretation. (Reviews for Intransitive Encounter: 1 2 3 4)

I am also finishing a personal history of the Cultural Revolution woven into an extended reading of Shakespeare’s King Lear and a series of essays on American literature and culture from the perspective of immigrant girlhood called That No Harm Will Come to Harmless Things

With Professor Anahid Nersessian I edit the series Thinking Literature for the University of Chicago Press. 

Selected Scholarly Publications

On Literary Studies and Data Science

Reviews and Other Essays

Selected Talks (Recent and Upcoming)
April 2022, "On King Lear and Contemporary China," tentatively scheduled in-person, University of San Francisco, Department of English
April 7, 2022, talk from "On Disambiguation", tentatively scheduled in-person, Yale University American Colloquium.
January 2022, roundtable on academic publishing, MLA Washington DC
November 17, 2021,  talk from "On Disambiguation",  University of Pennsylvania, American Literature Working Group
October 27, 2021, roundtable discussion on new books on the Cultural Revolution, Virtual talk, LARB
July 6, 2021, "Chinese Tragedy and the Political Life of Literary Criticism," Virtual talk, Lingnan University Prism Symposium ("Chinese Learning Goes West")
May 8, 2021, “Literary Studies, Data Science, and the Future of Argumentation” Virtual talk, Einstein Forum
March 1, 2021,  “The Last Lover: Figures at the End of Surveillance” Virtual talk, University of San Francisco
February 11, 2021, "The Chinese Diaspora and the Future of Literary Criticism," Virtual roundtable with Elaine Ouyoung and Jane Hu, n+1 magazine.
November 18, 2020,  “Prosopoeic Errors: A Reading in Henry James” Virtual talk, Mahindra Center, Harvard University 
March 2020, “Tracking Devices: on King Lear and Contemporary China” Critical Speaker Series, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
February 2020, "Decoy Vices”, UCLA Department of English
February 2020, “Tracking Devices: on King Lear and Modern China”, CalArts: Arts and Politics Public Lecture

Contact Information:
206 Decio Hall
(574) 631-7536

Mailing Address:
Department of English
233 Decio Hall
Notre Dame, IN 46556