Nan Z. Da

Assistant Professor of English

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

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

My research and pedagogy cover American and Chinese literature as well as foundational concepts from Chinese and Western literary- and social theory. I proceed from the conviction that some of the most ordinary observations about the world require for their enunciation much assistance from the processes and structures of literary analysis and interpretation. The phenomena that most interest me are moral and social-psychological, having to do with the difficulties of truth-telling and establishing causality, of describing the lived experiences of cross-culturalism and the unexpected consequences of reading literature. I also establish in my literary histories and criticism a metaphysical link between these phenomena and the social-theoretical realities of East-west relations over time.

Courses I have taught include Introduction to Literary Theory, Social Theory and Sociology for Literature, American Literature before 1865, American Transcendentalism, Introduction to American Fiction, History of Discourses of China. Graduate students working with me have pursued projects in American poetry and poetics, auto-theory, 21st century social critique, and contemporary Chinese literature and politics. 

My first book, Intransitive Encounter names 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 theorizes this form of intransitivity in nineteenth-century Sino-US literary exchanges, including canonical writings from this period, and proposes a different path forward for Sino-US 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. I am currently writing a scholarly sequel to Intransitive Encounter tentatively titled "Truth Devices, Tracking Devices." Inspired by the late Stanley Cavell's odd formulation of Cordelia's death in King Lear as a "tracking device," I test the intuition that literary objects track injustices no court of law but that of literary criticism would hear, and that any additional tracking would just be redundant if not actually harmful. A discussion of the fine distinction between empirical truth-telling and total surveillance unfolds across several interlinked sites: Chinese diasporic and Anglophone literature, antipositivist social theory, and a selective history of literary criticism. Finally, I am also writing a piece of autobiographical experimental criticism called That No Harm Will Come to Harmless Things that reflects on immigrant girlhood and the psychic fallout of the Cultural Revolution.

I edit, with Professor Anahid Nersessian, Thinking Literature—a series dedicated to literary criticism sponsored by the University of Chicago Press.

Selected Scholarly Publications

On Literary Studies and Data Science

Scholarly Reviews, Book Reviews, and Other Essays

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

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