The second of two lectures from the Centre for Cross-Cultural Studies.

World literature: all literature that circulates beyond its culture.

There are parallels between the literatures of the Far East and the Far West which included crime literature, fantastical literature, sensual literature, and literature of sensibility.  Despite this Chinese literature is dismissed as inaccessible, cut off to the western mind by deliberate particularism so there is no common reference.

English literature encountered Chinese literature at the same time as the canon of English literature was being shaped.  The encounter with Chinese literature was inconvient for a literate culture celebrating itself.  I saw a comparison with how our modern heroes reference themselves on the canon of television and cartoons (“Willy taught Jerry about the Revenge of the Bunny, and how revenge is a dish best served funny”).

Chauvinism required the superiority of Western imperial culture and science.  In China the imperialists encountered a literary culture meriting a literate education.

The Chinese Other was borrowed as someone used to project the morality of the age on.  For Voltaire and Goethe they were cosmopolitan philosophes.  For later writers like Strachey and Bertram Russell the Other was a culture of contentment, poetic anti-modernity and anti-industrialism.  The Chinese Other was both brobdingnagian and lilliputian: great-hearted and small-minded.

Does this say something about our modern fantastic literature?  Our utopia is out there, beyond the boundaries of our imagination.  I wonder if in modern literature what we project onto China has become amoral.  Onto their culture we project a dystopic authoritarianism, the worst of what we fear is to come.

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