Will and Lois Matthews Samuel Pepys Lecture
Copy of Kunyu quantu 坤輿全圖 (Complete map of the world), 1674, Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J. held at the Clements Library at the University of Michigan. Image stitched together from individual images of each frame of the map screen.
Guest Speaker: S.E. Kile (University of Michigan)
“Was the World Early Modern?: Telescopes, Surgery, and Print Media in China, ca. 1658”
In the middle of the seventeenth century, the transition from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing quickly made news around the globe, and its drama played out on stages from Japan to the Netherlands. Just a few decades earlier, Matteo Ricci had produced a series of world maps making a case for the sphericity of the earth in Chinese, and other Jesuit missionaries had carried telescopes to China, where they were instrumental in transforming astronomy at the Ming and Qing courts. These cross-cultural encounters have been well studied, but the majority of people living in the Ming and Qing barely felt their influence. How, then, might we consider the globality of this relatively disconnected early modern world?
In this lecture, S.E. Kile will propose a comparative method for theorizing the global early modern that uses our modern subject positions to triangulate between groups of cultural producers only dimly aware of one another. As this lecture series commemorates Samuel Pepys’s literary innovation and is timed around his harrowing surgical procedure, Kile will offer three examples of literary experimentation at the intersection of print and the physical world from Li Yu’s (1611-1680) work on the other side of the globe: the literary incorporation of the telescope as a narrative technique, the idea that the human body could be remodeled (gaizao) like a building, and the idea that the lived environment could be revised like a piece of writing. Historical simultaneity on a rapidly coalescing shared earth is connection enough to merit comparative consideration, and it is perhaps the only method that allows for the theorization of a global early modern world.
S.E. Kile is Assistant Professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. A scholar of early modern Chinese literature and cultural history, his work brings together a broad range of cultural texts. His first monograph, Towers in the Void: Li Yu and Early Modern Chinese Media (Columbia, 2023), theorizes early modern mediation and entrepreneurship through Li Yu’s cultural production across playwriting, fiction writing, garden and architectural design, and body modification. Kile’s current book project, tentatively titled “The Ends of the Early Modern World: Worldmaking in China, 1592-1843,”argues for the relevance of the “early modern” to the study of China, exploring how novelists synthesized scientific, religious, and vernacular knowledge about the world. Recent work has been published in How to Read Chinese Drama (Columbia University Press, 2022), Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, and Late Imperial China.
Professor William Matthews, a member of UCLA’s English Department faculty and the Center’s second Director (1970-1972), was an authority on the life and writings of the seventeenth-century British wit and diarist Samuel Pepys. With the assistance of his wife Lois, Matthews and his co-editor Robert Latham produced the definitive edition (eleven volumes) of Pepys’s works, which was published incrementally between 1971 and 1983. The Matthewses’ will, which endows the Center’s annual lecture and also a festive dinner, specifies that the event should be scheduled to coincide with Pepys’s own annual celebration commemorating the surgery he endured on March 26, 1658.
More information about past William and Lois Matthews Samuel Pepys lectures can be found here.
Register to attend in person
Laureate Classroom, Luskin Conference Center