Typical mid-September little tsunami of emails, meetings and all sorts of admin work. Coming back after a half-sabbatical does not make it easier. Right now, listening to the second movement of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 on repeat while trying to cope with my inbox.

Working on…

Preparing my talk on China, translation and Western literature for this seminar to be held in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to explain the project we’ve been working on at ALTER to a non-academic audience in Barcelona.

The seminar will be the formal opening of this wonderful exhibition of Juan Mencarini’s photographs taken in Fuzhou in the 1890s. The exhibition, commissioned by our colleague Xavier Ortells-Nicolau, is also part of our collective project.


When Truth Becomes a Commodity

Going over old issues of the CHE. Beautiful piece here by Daniel T. Rodgers on truth, post-truth, and truth’s complexity:

Above all, it will require a renewed commitment to truth’s complexity and the processes by which one searches for it. As long as we can click on the truths we want, as long as truth is imagined as a desire satisfied in a politically and commercially saturated market, we will have a superabundance of facts that people hold as true. Everyone will get what he wants, and the public — and its trust in truth — will fall apart.

Third alternative

Only a few days to go. Preparing to adjust back to the old rhythms by re-reading Zadie Smith’s Find Your Beach. Also, a quote from Viktor Shklovsky’s Third Factory comes in handy: “There is no third alternative. Yet that is precisely the one that must be chosen.”


Last week of writing before leaving Cornell. Finishing draft 1.0, clearing things out. Making lists of books I will buy once in Barcelona–looking for alternatives to Amazon.

Open science

Thinking about open science. Mainly understood as making data and results open to society (i.e. not to private companies or collectives), especially when research has been publicly funded.

Yet science–including research done in the humanities–should also open its backstage. Research appears always neat, solid, well-argued in books, articles, conferences. But a major part of the process leading to those results remains in the shadows. I’m thinking of obstacles and failures, but also of doubts.

Doubt has been removed from the public view. An extreme example: major research calls ask for contingency plans in case your hypothesis or methodology fail at some point. Also in the humanities. Everything has to be so tightly planned beforehand that, once you get the funding, it seems almost irrelevant to carry out the project–you already know what will happen.

It would be instructive to see what lies behind a book, an article, a talk, a course, a translation.

No Monopoly on the Liberal Arts

Interesting article here by


Working on the final revisions for the article for Modernism/modernity. It is always a pleasure to receive comments from sharp readers who get down to the skin of each sentence. For instance: “This is a mixed metaphor, and it is also confusing: mosaics are already structurally diverse, and they rely on a single viewpoint perspective. So can you perhaps say the same thing without this analogy?”


Reading: Victor Segalen, Stèles, translated and annotated by Timothy Billings and Christopher Bush (Wesleyan University Press, 2007).

Working conditions

What I mean by excellent working conditions is actually this: a small but closed working space with plenty of light, silence, and no interruptions. Of course, a great library collection is a plus–but still secondary. Need to move 4,000 miles to get this?


Stuck looking for images to illustrate an article that will come up soon at Modernism/modernity. One of my colleagues sends me plenty of options. One of them, this engraving by Enrique Alba for Juan Manuel Pereira’s Los paises del Extremo Oriente, published in 1883. The characters were originally copied upside down.

Source: ACE (

The whole object of travel

Selina Lai-Henderson opens one of the chapters of her wonderful Mark Twain in China with this great quote from Chesterton: “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land”.


All day stuck trying to structure what will probably be chapter 4. Got the argument, got the corpus, but the flow in the sstructure does not work. Moving sections from here to there. I try to refocus by having a panoramic view of the project. Halfway of my visit, main ideas refined, very rough first draft on its way. I should be happy.

Often-overlooked topic

Nature‘s editorial this week: “How institutions can help lab groups to be productive, supportive and rigorous is an essential but often-overlooked topic.” Oh, yes. This is even more essential and overlooked in the humanities, where it is often not even considered a topic. The final recommendations (resources for administrative tasks; support for mentoring and managing lab members; more use of measures of scientific productivity beyond counts of high-profile papers) would be more than welcome outside labs as well.

The Great Stratification

Going over old issues of the CHE. Very interesting piece here by Jeffrey J. Williams on the state of academic labor. The comparison with medicine and health care is insightful. But even if we end up having to buy the metaphor, we still need decent conditions for all the different types of scholars involved in this stratified process.

Chen Jitong

Reading Chen Jitong’s works written from Paris. At first sight, a clear example of bicultural agent or cross-cultural mediator. But a closer look at his writings reveals a strong auto-ethnographic drive. He works with binarisms and polarities all the time. No actual mediation underneath the surface.

At Cornell

I will be visiting Cornell University for a few months to work on my project on Western representations of China. Looking forward to camping at Olin Library, shaping the book and drafting the chapters.


Her letter was an apology. She was sorry for not having been in touch for a while and for the delays in her project. She was suffering a depression. It all had started with a strange feeling, a kind of weight, a kind of fog. It was now a diagnosed  depression. She had lost much more than her self-esteem as a young researcher—she had lost her life’s breath. The letter was part of the first steps to assume and go over the situation.

It took me a while to write her back. I wanted to make her comfortable: do not worry, try to get well, take it easy. I wanted to teller her that she is talented and that her project is fascinating. But then I thought these are the polite things that people probably tell you all the time when you are down in the well. So I decided to share some experiences with her. I told her that I often lost confidence in my projects and in the profession as well. I told her that swimming regularly and writing down my frustrations in a notebook had worked well for me.

She wrote me back. She thought that more experienced researchers did not have these kinds of problems. She thought that it was all about sitting down and starting to write and enjoy. She told me that she was feeling better. She had started visiting the swimming pool and the notebook was a good idea.

This was a few months ago. Since then I keep on asking myself whether the training we offer to our graduate students and young researchers is adequate enough.