Nan Z. Da

Assistant Professor of English

Specialty: Comparative Literature, Critical Theory, Nineteenth-century American literature and literary history, Chinese literature and literary history, Social Theory, Nationalism and Transnationalism, Theories of the Book and Reading

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

I study and teach American and Chinese literature as well as Chinese and Western literary and social theory. I am specifically interested in the kinds of social, global, and human phenomena that can only be captured through literary interpretation and I explore these through scholarly projects and non-fictional prose. My work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in American Literary History, Avidly, Critical Inquiry, The Henry James Review, J19, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Public Books, Signs, the Times Literary Supplement, and The Threepenny Review.

My first book, Intransitive Encounter (Columbia University Press, November 2018), uses Sino-US “exchanges” from an earlier era to name a cross-culturalism that is self-contained, 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. It finds this intransitivity in various forms and guises in the writings of an unusual cast of characters from nineteenth-century China and the US and proposes that these glancing encounters point toward a different path for Sino-U.S. relations—not a geopolitical showdown nor easy celebrations of hybridity but the possibility of self-contained cross-cultural encounters that do not have to confess to the fact of their having taken place. 

The sequel to this monograph, a work-in-progress called "Untracking Devices," uses literary theory and literary criticism to develop an alternative, antipositivist sociology of literature for a modern world governed by communicative distanciation and non-verifiability. Rather than study literary forms as discrete units that can be patterned, tracked, and mined, it studies literary devices—measurable contrivings that are also, in an obsolescent sense, un-ascertainable private desires or choices (as in: “leaving someone to their own devices”). It situates crossculturalism and multilingual imaginings and their attendant longstanding problems of influence and over-determinism in these devices that oscillate between complete privacy and transparency.

I am also working on a piece of autobiographical experimental criticism tentatively titled That No Harm Will Come to Harmless Things. How can a life be made more livable through literary and art criticism (and not just pieces of literature or art)? Reflecting on personal experiences of immigrant girlhood and the psychic fallout of the Cultural Revolution, I ask how critical thought and readings arrived at by others can help us narrate harms only partially explained by historical or circumstantial trauma as well as those that only did incomplete damage. 

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

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