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A Personal Statement

for the 20th Anniversary of the Department of Comparative Literature, HKU

Text / Siu Heng
(Arts Administrator, Cultural Manager)

My first encounter with Comparative Literature took place in 1999, a whole decade ago, when I enrolled in Prof. Jeremy Tambling's "Gender Studies". Freudian and Lacanian theories were obviously too difficult (as reflected by my poor grade for this course) for a freshman who knew nothing about critical theories. Yet in the second semester I was courageous enough to take another Comparative Literature course, "Digital Culture" taught by Dr. Heidi Gilpin. Baudrillard and Virilio were perhaps still too challenging, but I was amazed at how familiar technologies were scrutinised in ways totally unfamiliar to me. That gave me the incentive to major in Comparative Literature, after some struggle the night before declaring my major to the faculty office.

I became fascinated with Comparative Literature in year two when I took Dr. Esther Cheung's "Hong Kong Culture: Popular Culture". I learnt to see ordinary things in extraordinary ways. My final paper for this course, titled "The Reproduction of Popular Culture", the result of a pleasant research experience, became my first semiacademic publication with the help of Dr. Cheung. I went on to study film language, narratives, Hong Kong identity, urban space, modernity, postcolonialism... and many more intriguing topics in Comparative Literature courses.

I can go on and on to talk about the significance of each Comparative Literature course for me, from my undergraduate years to the days when I did my part-time M.A. programme in Literary and Cultural Studies. I am sure many Comparative Literature alumni have more remarkable stories. However, not every one of them has the chance to do outreach and publicity work for Comparative Literature, and I was privileged to be involved in some activities organised by the department from 2002 to 2005: "Summer Institute on Public Criticism and Visual Culture", "Hong Kong Culture Workshop Series" with filmmakers Ann Hui and Stanley Kwan, and "Film Art and Culture" programme for gifted secondary school students. [Link]

I stopped freelancing for Comparative Literature when gladly there were dedicated staff members to take on more projects of this kind. The lessons learnt from these projects about the possibilities and constraints in promoting arts and culture in Hong Kong gave me enough confidence to switch to arts administration two years ago. My previous jobs were also related to creative industries. Owing to my training in Comparative Literature, I did think of how, in my limited capacities, I could facilitate cultural development in a city lacking cultural ethos. A quote from Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, which I learnt in the Comparative Literature course "The City as Cultural Text", aptly summarises my career aspiration: "…seek and learn to recognise who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

Comparative Literature: Inspiring Cultural Talents: 20 Years and After, 56-57.