Global Humanities Junior Fellow at Freie Universitaet Berlin
August 2015 - January 2016
The Writer as Collector: Cosmopolitan and Materialistic Responses to Modernity in China and Europe
The research project explores the practice of collecting as both a tactile engagement with history and a discursive thought process that unsettles literary and historic narratives, triggering cultural change through reconfiguration of existent elements rather than ex nihilo. It argues that collecting, disguised as a pastime, can be a subtle form of political engagement, emblemizing history as an accumulation of moments that constantly open up to a myriad of ruptures. The project focuses on twentieth-century China as an interlocutory field, analyzing the writer-collectors Lu Xun, Qian Zhongshu and Shen Congwen. Forming an imaginary intercultural dialogue are the great intellectual collectors Walter Benjamin and Eduard Fuchs, as well as the Czech sinologist and anthologizer Jaroslav Průšek. Together these writer-collectors contribute to cultural innovation in the face of unprecedented destruction and reconfiguration of local traditions.
Guangchen Chen is a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature, Harvard University, with a secondary focus on musicology. Working on Chinese (classical and modern), German, English and Czech literatures, his research interests include writers as collectors, history of emotions, Sino-Czech cultural relations, phenomenology of music, kitsch in the arts, and ecocriticism. His Chinese translations of Albert Schweitzer’s Johann Sebastian Bach and Claire Roberts’ Friendship in Art: Fou Lei and Huang Binhong are forthcoming in 2015. He is currently working on the Chinese translation of David Damrosch's How to Read World Literature. He is a program assistant of Harvard's Institute for World Literature, and serves as an associate editor for the Beijing-based journal Poetry · Calligraphy · Painting.