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Ryan Ku

Visiting Assistant Professor

English Literature


  2. Phone: (610) 328-8152
  3. Eugene M. and Theresa Lang Performing Arts Center 204
  4. Office Hours: Thursdays 4:15–6:00 p.m.
Ryan Ku Profile Picture

Ryan Ku specializes in Asian American and Southeast Asian literatures in the context of multiethnic American and Global South literatures (especially after World War II). Based on the premise that history’s workings beyond boundaries entail a transnational, intersectional, and interdisciplinary approach to scholarship, he crosses geographic borders by centering minor subjects in his work to analyze the rewriting of history in literature. He obtained his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, with a Critical Theory Certificate, from the University of California, Irvine and, before coming to Swarthmore, helped build the Asian American Studies Program at Duke University as its inaugural Postdoctoral Associate.

He is currently at work on two book projects. Inspired by his course on Alternate War Histories of Asia/America, the first, War Reality: Novel Histories of Asia/America, reads racialized transpacific narratives that unearth subaltern war histories by expanding what reality means. Bringing together multiethnic literature’s questioning of national history with war scholarship’s challenging of objective reality, War Reality analyzes the mutual intricacy of national identity and ontological sense by turning to racialized subjects who, scapegoated as other to reify national identity as a given reality rather than an instrument of war, write about the realities subsumed under the nation, thus about the wars (beyond and within) on which the nation rests. Centering Asian–American literatures in the study of war to lay bare the narrative construction of reality without reducing reality to perspective, War Reality throws into relief the “forgotten” reality of American power in Asia along with the “invisible” reality of Asian difference in America by rethinking fiction as an inscription (as opposed to interpretation) of reality and war as a matter not only of how reality is seen but of what is designated as real in the first place.

An expansion of his doctoral dissertation, the second monograph in progress, Imperial Wounds: Filipino/American Novels and Late Modernity, reads multiethnic American novels as postcolonial texts by reading them with Filipino novels. This integration of ethnic and area studies—a rereading of America through the “Filipino as method”—is based on the “structurally queer” position of the Filipino as a subject that, in not fitting into minority multiculturalism, points instead to U.S. empire history as a traumatic foundation of ethnicity in the nation. As in War Reality, the transpacific crossing performed by Imperial Wounds unravels the novel, known historically as the nation’s story, as a medium of disavowed histories to which the minor is the key.

Influenced by critical theory—with its emphasis on critique, history, and reflexivity—and cultivating “(con)textual analysis”—a critical practice attentive to story, discourse, and context and wary of binary oppositions (categories essentialized because they have lost touch with their histories)—he also takes reading as an opportunity to philosophize about language, knowledge, reality, power, temporality, and desire. As a teacher, he aims to let students explore the world through texts, thereby know the other and the self, share in the life of freedom fostered by the humanities through analytical reading, sound argumentation, and effective writing. At Swarthmore, he teaches courses eligible for multiple majors and minors—namely, (in reverse chronological order) U.S. War Culture, Introduction to Literary Theory, Southeast Asian Literature in Translation, Global South Literature, U.S. Empire Literature, Southeast Asian Literature in English, Asian American Gender/Sexuality/Species, Alternate War Histories of Asia/America, and Asian American Literature and Culture.


  • “Gina Apostol,” The Encyclopedia of Contemporary American Fiction 1980–2020, edited by Patrick O’Donnell, Stephen J. Burn, and Lesley Larkin, 2022, John Wiley and Sons Ltd.,
  • “Postcolonial Pharmakon: Traumatic Transmission in Tony Perez’s Cubao-Kalaw Kalaw-Cubao,” Kritika Kultura 38 (2022): 195–231, Ateneo de Manila University,

  • “The Failure and Reality of Sublimation: Psychoanalytic Ontology and Revolution,” American Imago: Psychoanalysis and the Human Sciences 78, 1 (Spring 2021): 79–103, Johns Hopkins University Press,
  • Review of Kendall A. Johnson’s The New Middle Kingdom: China and the Early American Romance of Free Trade (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), Zhaoming Qian’s East-West Exchange and Late Modernism: Williams, Moore, Pound (University of Virginia Press, 2017), and Andrew C. McKevitt’s Consuming Japan: Popular Culture and the Globalizing of 1980s America (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), American Literature 92, 2 (June 2020): 387–390, Duke University Press,