Dostoevsky at World Literature Congress in Beijing

世 界 文 学 研 究 所 
Institute of World Literature

School of Foreign Languages, Peking University, Beijing, 100871, P. R. China

In collaboration with Zhao Baisheng, Professor of Comparative World Literature, Director of the Institute of World Literature, School of Foreign Languages, Peking University,  Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover co-organize a panel on “Dostoevsky as a World Writer” at the First Congress of the World Literature Association (established at Harvard in 2011), “The Rise of World Literatures”, Beijing, 30 June – 3 July 2011. The Panel included presentations by Sergei Shaulov (U of Bashkiria, Ufa, Russia), Irene Zohrab (Victoria U of Wellington), and Liang Kun (Renmin University of China).  Slobodanka was also a Plenary Speaker with a paper on “The Obsession with Money: Dostoevsky’s Arkady Dolgoruky  (The Adolescent) and the Birth of 20th century Virtual Culture.” Gayatri Spivak and David Damrosch were Keynote Speakers.

The conference venue was the beautiful campus of Peking University, the oldest and most elite university in China. The organisers did everything to make the 130 delegates from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, the Americas and Africa feel welcome, from the help with accommodation to the lavish food served at the conference lunches and the Congress Dinner. The life and soul of the whole conference mechanism was Professor Zhao Baisheng, Professor of Comparative World Literature and Director of the Institute of World Literature, School of Foreign Languages, Peking University. Professor Baisheng gave a warm reception to participants long before they arrived in Beijing, through his encouraging friendly and collegial emails and his perfect communication in English. The conference atmosphere was up-beat and spread a feeling of goodwill and optimism not only about the future of the Humanities but about world collaboration in culture in the age of globalisation. Difference – transmissible through translation – was valorised as a positive value and celebrated through the heterogeneity of world canons and theoretical approaches featured under the one roof: World Literature. The role of translation, “script worlds” and publishing in World Literature was highlighted through a large focus on these discourses in the conference presentations. It was a relief to see that the diachronic approach was not displaced by synchronic studies and that history still loomed large in the methodologies of World Literature.

The World Literature Association, inaugurated at Harvard University under the leadership of David Damrosch, whose published works provided a theoretical framework for the work of the First Congress, was launched at Peking University which hosted the First Congress. Future congresses will migrate to various universities around the world.
For me, the First Congress was a journey into the future – the future of knowledge in the 21st Century and the epistemological heritage of literature and its cognate discourses: philosophy of culture, critical theory, semiotics, phenomenology and many other subtexts of World Literature. At the opening of the Congress, the Chinese doyen of Comparative Literature, Professor Yue Daiyun, Director of the Centre for Cross-Cultural Studies at Peking University, and President of the Chinese Comparative Literature Association, stressed the “progress made in World Literature in the name of Comparative Literature,” with which it intertwines. She repeated this message throughout her speech.

Beijing is a city of monumental proportions yet somehow the people of Beijing make it very welcoming and human. I felt at home and at ease in this city although I can’t read or speak Chinese and not because “everyone speaks English.” Everyone does not speak English even if some speak it exceedingly well, especially children. I felt at home because this is the first conference I have been able to attend without jetlag: it is in “our region.” The flight is a straight line north, from Melbourne to Beijing, along the same longitude. No crossing of time zones – a boon for all Oz academics. The China of Beijing did not strike me as very different from the Australia of metropolitan Melbourne.