“The Institute for World Literature 2014 at the City University of Hong Kong: A Reflection” by Heidi Huang


The IWL organisers and the MALCS participants: From right to left: IWL local assistant Jiang Zhuyu, MALCS student James Au Kin-pong, MALCS lecturer Dr. Heidi Huang Yu, IWL Assistant director Dr. Delia Ungureanu, IWL Director Prof. David Damrosch, MALCS students Candy Li Yalin and Yolander Tang Yingying

This summer, I was fortunate enough to attend the 2014 session of The Institute for World Literature, held at the City University of Hong Kong from June 23-July 17, 2014. The Institute for World Literature (IWL) was created by pioneer world literature scholar Prof. David Damrosch at the Department of Comparative Literature, Harvard University. In the 2014 session, seminars were delivered by world-renowned scholars, including David Damrosch, Dudley Andrew, Karen Thornber, Leo Ou-fan Lee, Ronit Ricci, Svend Erik Larsen, Theo D’haen and Zhang Longxi. There were also three distinguished lectures delivered by Krishan Kumar, Glenn Most and Gisèle Sapiro. (Photo 1, below)

Three MA students in the Literary and Comparative Studies programme, James Au Kin-pong, Candy Li Yalin and Yolander Tang Yingying, also participated in the IWL, where they were able to absorb new knowledge for further studies and befriend research students from other universities, such as Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Berkeley, Tokyo, Heidelberg, Berne, York, among other institutes. (Lead photo, above)

In the first two weeks, I was actively engaged in Prof. David Damrosch’s diverse, dynamic and dialogical seminar “The Grounds for Comparison”, which was attended by senior scholars, junior faculty member as well as graduate students from Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, China, India, Iran and the Philippines. I also assisted Prof. Leo Ou-fan Lee in his seminar “World Literature and Modern Chinese Literature”, in which Western sinologists and Chinese researchers participated. As I see it, the two seminars complemented each other perfectly in terms of research perspective and methodology. Damrocsh paves new ground for unifying the enterprise of world literature through a mixed mode of close and distant reading, while Lee applies a socio-historical approach that emphasises each writer’s point of departure and the translator’s visibility in the circulation of texts. (Photo 2) In the last week of the IWL, I was able to present my idea of “Teaching World Literature with a Constellation Paradigm” in the panel of syllabus planning where Prof. David Damrosch and other panelists from New York University, University of Helsinki and Chinese University of Hong Kong discussed their syllabi for world literature courses.

During the IWL sessions, I also had the opportunity to interview the IWL director Prof. Damrosch about his vision of world literature studies and localizing efforts of the IWL as it is held annually in various parts of the world. Damrosch stated that the IWL is designed for the individual and communal growth of young comparatists who shoulder the responsibility to challenge nationalistic, linguistic and disciplinary boundaries in literary and comparative studies. I was much inspired by Damrosch’s closing speech in which he shared his own experiences trying to encourage teachers to embrace the possibilities of teaching world literature with the aid of information technology. (Photo 3) To borrow Hemingway’s famous expression, the IWL is a “mobile feast” for any comparatist who is hungry for intellectual nourishment and resonance. I am very pleased to have been able to engage in this exciting venture where everyone’s voice was heard with equal respect and attention. This is, I believe, the true value of world literature studies.

[See also James Au’s “Zhang Longxi on World Literature”.]

Photo 1: The IWL Group Photo

Photo 2: Prof. Leo Ou-fan Lee discussing with Dr. Lucas Klein (University of Hong Kong) about the translations of Beidao’s poetry (Photo credit: Heidi Huang)

Photo 3: Group photo of Prof. Leo Ou-fan Lee’s seminar “Chinese modern literature and World Literature”

Photo 4: Dr. Heidi Huang delivering her talk “Teaching World Literature with a Constellation Paradigm” in the panel of Syllabus Planning hosted by Prof. David Damrosch

Photo 5: Prof. David Damrosch delivering his closing speech “Grand Theft Ovid: Literary Studies in the Internet Age”


HHeidi Huang is Lecturer at the Department of English Language and Literature. She got her MA and PhD in Transcultural Studies in Lyon where she met her husband from Hong Kong. She is trying really hard to live a well-balanced life as a woman of faith, a supportive wife, a dolphin mom, a cheerful giver, an innovative scholar, and an inspiring teacher. [Click here to read all entries by Heidi.]

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