Studies in World Literature:
The Changing World of Asian Literature


The Changing World of Asian Literature is a course designed to introduce you to traditions of East Asian, Middle Eastern and South Asian literature, using the landmark anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from Asia, the Middle East & Beyond as a guide to delving into various issues of language, politics and representation. We will begin with classical work and culminate in an analysis of a handful of contemporary works, but leap around in time and place during the course of the semester. We will frame the work we read in a historical context and arrive at a notion of what constitutes “Asian-ness” as a term of demarcation and how this idea has changed and evolved over time to encompass a variety of new voices and new modes of expressions. We will also look closely at Diasporic works of art, that is poetry and fiction created by a dispersion of people, language and culture formerly concentrated in one place. Part of our goal will be to better situate these writer in the larger canon of Western literature—for example, are we to read these authors as exotic and even innovative, but ultimately marginal to established, canonical figures such as Hemingway and Faulkner? Or do we find in their works new modes of expression that allow us to make these authors duly prominent in their own rights? What biases ultimately go into canon-formation? Finally, we will balance our literary interpretations with theoretical works that help us better understand the variety of experience that constitutes Asian literature.

You will be required to write one long paper, in addition to numerous shorter papers and exercises over the course of the semester, critically engaging with the work we discuss in class. You will be expected to participate fully and actively in our discussions. You will also be responsible for presenting an oral presentation that will require work outside the classroom.


  • Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from Asia, the Middle East & Beyond, W.W. Norton & Co., ISBN: 0-393-33238-1
  • V.S. Naipul, Bend in the River, Random House, ISBN: 0-679-72202-5
  • Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, Norton, ISBN: 0-393-40428-9
  • Sanjay Patel, Ramayana: Divine Loophole, Chronicle Books, ISBN-10: 081187107
  • Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji [Abridged]. Translated by Edward Seidensticker. Vintage Books USA; ISBN: 0679729534
  • Arundhati Roy, God of Small Things, Perennial, ISBN: 0-060-97749-3
  • A good collegiate dictionary, such as Webster’s New World Dictionary
  • A folder in which to keep your work for this class.


WEEK ONE — Introduction to the Course and Methods
  • Reading: Confucius' The Great Learning; excerpt from Edward Said’s Orientalism; Li-Young Lee’s The Cleaving
    Language for a New Century “Preface” by Carolyn Forché
WEEK TWO — Spirituality and Poetry: Gibran, Rumi & Asian classicism
  • Reading: Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet; poems from Rumi;
    Language from a New Century chapter “Bowl of Air Shivers”
WEEK THREE – Chinese New Culture Movement
WEEK FOUR – Manifestations of Mythology WEEK FIVE – Consciousness and the Roots of the Psychological Novel WEEK SIX – Representations of Homeland and Diaspora WEEK SEVEN – Childhood and Custom WEEK EIGHT – Pan-Asian/Pan-African Consciousness & and Colonialism WEEK NINE – Politics, Language & the Model Minority Myth WEEK TEN – Warfare and the Impacts of Globalization WEEK ELEVEN – Terrorism, Foreign Policy and 9/11 WEEK TWELVE – Asian and Arab Avant-Garde and Cross-Genre Experimentation WEEK THIRTEEN – Love, Eros and Sexuality WEEK FOURTEEN – Spirituality & Renewal of Faith WEEK FIFTEEN – LAST DAY OF CLASSES. All papers due.



This lecture course will use the nine thematic sections in the Norton anthology, Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond, as a foundation to discuss poetry, focusing on close readings of poems with the goal of developing your reading skills as well as your methods of critical analysis and interpretation. You will read over 400 diverse voices, native and transplanted, political and apolitical, monastic and erotic, known and unknown, providing insights that transcend any narrowly defined strata of Eastern culture, and most importantly opening you to the universe of poetry.



Week One Week Two: "In Grasp of Childhood Fields," which embodies Rilke’s advice that childhood is that “jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories" // Section 1 Week Three: "Parsed into Colors", which shows how the kaleidoscope of identity is defined // Section 2 Week Four: "Slips and Atmospherics" stretches the cords of syntax, exploding normative lineation and familiar imageries to present an avant-garde sensibility // Section 3 Week Five: "Earth of Drowned Gods" brings together a parliament of poems that reflect the world of politics and social strictures that too often dehumanize and delimit its citizens // Section 4 Week Six: "Buffaloes Under Dark Water" contains mysterious, shrouded, duende-tinged luminescent bursts of lyric that resist the notion of taxonomy, even as they inhere together like shadows // Section 5 Week Seven: "Apostrophe in the Scriptures" speaks of war, the pervasive condition of discord that has damaged many countries and remains a continuing threat // Section 6 Week Eight: "This House, My Bones" shows the multiple manifestations of homeland, its comforts and conflicts, departure and ultimate return // Section 7 Week Nine: "Bowl of Air and Shivers" delves into spirit and mortality, sketching the specter of birth and death, consolation and bliss, the body and beyond // Section 8 Week Ten: The Quivering World maps the terrain of bodies, whether they be loci of pleasure or the spiritual component of love, subverting stereotypes of Eastern sexuality // Section 9 Week Eleven:

Course Syllabi

Language for a New Century is an invaluable tool to introduce poetry, diversity, history and geopolitics into the classroom, threading together voices from 61 countries in Asia and the Middle East. This resource contains a master syllabus on how to structure a class around this one text, as well as other syllabi about how to incorporate the book into a Creative Writing, Ethnic Studies, Asian and Asian-American Studies, Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern-American Literature, Women's Studies, World Literature, or other curriculum. Please explore our Course Materials to find discussion points, writing activities and exercises which surround nearly 30 poems from the book and the writing exercises are designed to help educators elicit maximal impact from their students, whether they are in high school or in graduate school. This space will be an evolving pedagogical hub and we encourage educators who have used the book in the classroom to share their materials and stories with us.

Available syllabi:

The Changing World of Asian Literature

Poetry Studies through Language for a New Century