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World of Letters

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Lu Xun, Benjamin, and Daodejing

image of Journal of World Literature

While the discourse of national literature was fully espoused in modern China, many Chinese classics were transposed into Europe and had a unique impact on European modernist literature. Overshadowed by these oft-discussed dynamics are Chinese modernists’ own engagements with the nation’s classics. Focusing on Daodejing, the foundational work of the Daoist canon, this paper compares Lu Xun’s modernist retelling of the legend of the birth of Daodejing with Walter Benjamin’s commentary on Bertolt Brecht’s poem featuring the same anecdote. This paper argues that both works, by reconstructing the scene of Daodejing’s first inscription, engage with this text in its lost original moment, which precedes any national identification. They open the text up to other configurations, thereby projecting alternative literary worlds. This paper thus questions the dominant conception of world literature as consisting of the circulation of nationally identified works of literature.

Affiliations: 1: University of Maryland


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