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Rivi Handler-Spitz studies and teaches Chinese literature and intellectual history as well as comparative literature. Her book Symptoms of an Unruly Age: Li Zhi and Cultures of Early Modernity (University of Washington Press, 2017) compares writings by the late Ming dynasty radical intellectual Li Zhi to works by several of his best-known European contemporaries including Shakespeare, Montaigne, and Cervantes. Although these authors wrote independently on opposite ends of Eurasia, their works grapple with remarkably similar questions, among them how to differentiate between truth and falsehood, genuine articles and fakes. By examining the historical context in which these questions arose, as well as the culturally specific responses they generated, Symptoms of an Unruly Age highlights correspondences between early modern Chinese and European literature.
Rivi Handler-Spitz has also translated a large number of Li Zhi’s essays from classical Chinese into English in a volume she co-edited with Haun Saussy and Pauline C. Lee, A Book to Burn and a Book to Keep (Hidden) (Columbia University Press, 2016). Here is an interview in which she and her co-editors talk about the book.
Her current research explores themes of imitation, innovation, and the use of vernacular languages in Chinese literary criticism of the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries as well as in Renaissance Europe. She is also at work co-editing a volume of essays that analyze Li Zhi’s writings from the perspectives of philosophy, women’s studies, book history, intellectual history, and literary criticism. Her articles have appeared in peer-reviewed journals including Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR), Prose Studies, Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies, and Compilation and Translation Review.
Rivi began studying Chinese at Columbia University, where she earned an AB in Comparative Literature (Chinese, French, and Latin). She also studied modern and classical Chinese in Mainland China, Taiwan, and the University of Chicago, where she completed her PhD, also in Comparative Literature. Before joining the faculty at Macalester, she taught courses on Chinese language and literature, world literature, and comparative literature at the University of Chicago, Brown University, and Middlebury College.
Courses taught at Macalester include: Chinese 101, Masterpieces of Chinese Literature, Cramming for the Exam: Education in Chinese Literature and History, Opulence and Decadence: China, Europe, and the Early Modern World, Introduction to Asia, Translating Chinese, Cross-Cultural Encounters: China and the West.