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Professor Kwok-kan Tam

Kwo-kan Tam

School of Arts and Social Sciences

The Open University of Hong Kong

Kwok-kan Tam received his PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has worked at the East-West Centre, Honolulu, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Open University of Hong Kong, and Hang Seng Management College, where he has served as Chair Professor, School Dean and Department Chairman. He is currently Head of the International Ibsen Committee, University of Oslo and Fellow of the Hong Kong Academy of the Humanities. He has published extensively on Ibsen, Gao Xingjian, World Englishes, modern drama, and gender in literature.

Causality in Culture and Literature

Causality is a concept in logic. Something happens because it is caused by another thing, then there is causality between the two things. In most cases, the cause occurs before the effect. Because of this, causality is sometimes conceived as relating to time, that is, the cause must precede the effect. For this reason, causality is a methodology used in the study of history, which has to do with time and logic. For example, German nationalism is considered as the cause for the rise of Nazi. Economic collapse is taken to be the cause of dynastic changes in China. In both cases, the former that precedes the latter is taken to be the cause. In religion, Christianity is a good example. God is the creator and is therefore the cause of human existence.

However, there are cases that deviate from the logic of precedence, such as sex and gender differences in which the male and the female, or masculinity and femininity, exist as a pair that can hardly be explained by the logic of causality. Cause is also used to explain the significance of something’s existence. But Existentialism tells us that human existence is not the case. The Book of Changes postulates a philosophy that the universe emerges because of itself, not because of a preceding cause. In literature, there are many counter examples to prove that causality can lead to wishful thinking. In this lecture, I will give examples from culture and literature to argue that causality exists as a postulate that works only when there are two or more things that form a logical relationship. In the realm of meaning and significance, causality does not necessarily exist.