4. Bei Dao and World Literature

This chapter reframes the extensive critical debate about translation, globalization, and national and world literatures sparked by the work of Chinese poet Bei Dao 北岛. It argues that Bei Dao’s writing addresses the allegorical readings and translations that produce and repeatedly transform conceptions of the national, the world, and the global. Because of the allegorical mutability of Bei Dao’s work, poems written secretly in his early twenties could become rallying cries for a generation, appear a decade later (in 1989) on protest banners, and, the following year, be read as representative of a globalized world literature without a history or identity. Instead of fixing literature and history within a single story––a single world or world literature––or set of binaries––local/global or individual/collective––Bei Dao’s allegories emphasize the historical flux and contested readings that gave birth to our current era.

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