Although we often enjoy literature for its autonomy, treating it as a welcome escape from the pressures of the “real world,” nonetheless outside powers—in particular the state—have left deep imprints on its themes, forms, and functions. How has state power encroached on literary production and imagination in Asia and what resources and strategies have writers drawn on to fight back? How have appeals to “truth” and “realism” played out in this struggle?
This course explores how particular political institutions, societal customs, and artistic forms have shaped literature in Asia over the past three millennia. Drawn from the literatures of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and India, our readings include early Chinese and Indian philosophical texts; courtly chronicles and diaries such as The Tales of the Heike and The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong; recluse writers such as Tao Qian, Kamo no Chōmei, and Kim Sisŭp; and stories by modern writers, including Lu Xun, Mori Ōgai, Satō Haruo, Park Wansuh, Rabindranath Tagore, and Saadat Hasan Manto.
By comparing works from different cultures, places, and periods, we will also develop an understanding of the methods of comparative literature, in part through cross-cultural creative exercises.