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English doctoral student Mingjun Lu received the 2006 William E. Taylor Fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
Mingjun Lu. Photo by Liam Sharp

The Memory Keeper

Mingjin Lu is finding connections between early Chinese and Western thought

Mingjun Lu believes in connections. She believes in the connection between East and West, between St. Augustine and Shakespeare, and, above all, between remembering and forgetting. Lu, a doctoral student of English, recently received the prestigious 2006 William E. Taylor Fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Her winning proposal links 17th-century German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz and his “memory fold” – the concept that memories are never lost but merely hidden – to ancient Taoist philosophy. “Leibniz’s memory fold forms a significant part of his metaphysics, which draws its inspiration from Chinese Taoism and neo-Confucianism,” says Lu, referencing the two major religious and philosophical traditions of China. “The memory fold not only signifies a way of being but a way to being.”

Lu plans to show how the idea of “memory fold” – developed through time by pre-Socratic philosophy, St. Augustine, Bruno, Descartes and Leibniz, and configured in works by such literary luminaries as Shakespeare, Donne and Milton – finds its counterpart in both ancient and 17th-century Chinese philosophy.

The project is Lu’s chance to continue her passion for literature: she was formerly a high school teacher in China who did graduate work in literary translation at Nanjing University. It also illustrates her belief that there has been a far greater interaction between early Chinese and Western thought than has popularly been believed. Her hope? To reconstruct the historical ground of Eastern and Western cultural exchange and make what was once folded, unfold.

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