Abstracts for Volume 69 | 2008

Volume 69, Issue 1
Author Title
Sun Yifeng Opening the Cultural Mind: Translation and the Modern Chinese Literary Canon

Translation has played a critical role in forming modern Chinese literary canon and continues to stimulate its change and expansion. It is instrumental to the exchange and synthesis of foreign narrative modes and aesthetic paradigms. There are obvious political, cultural, and literary reasons for the formation of a literary canon, and to a degree literary production is inseparable from cross-cultural (re)production. The literary canon appropriates and is also appropriated by translations. Many modern Chinese literary concepts derive from translations, especially of Western literary and theoretical writings. By investigating the assimilation of translations into the Chinese literary canon, this essay focuses on a hybridized political and cultural discourse that marks a radical shift in aesthetic and cultural sensibilities in modern Chinese literature. The effects of canon formation reveal the patterns of the canon's manipulation and expansion in the modern Chinese political, cultural, and literary context.

Ming Dong Gu Lu Xun and Modernism/Postmodernism

Although Lu Xun (1881-1936) produces all his literary works in a period that coincided with the heyday of Western modernism (1910-1930), scholars both inside and outside China have made few attempts to study thme in the international context of the modernist movement. Because of Lu Xun's concern with the fate of the Chinese nation and his professed intention to be its spiritual physician, critical opinion holds that his writings are primarily political and cultural in thematics and realistic in formal representation. However, Lu Xun's vision of literature and his writing techniques also draw on features common to symbolism, surrealism, supernatural realism, grotesque realism, magic realism, and other experimental forms of writing. Since these are modernist, even postmodern, features, it would be of great interest to exploreLu Xun's relationship to the modernist movement that swept the West in the early twentieth century and the extent to which his writings anticipated literary postmodernism. I argue that his work should be viewed as a contribution to the international modernist movement from a non-Western, Third World country. Indeed, no history of international modernism is complete if it does not incorporate the incipient modernism that Lu Xun pioneered independently of the West.

Chengzhou He Women and the Search for Modernity: Rethinking Modern Chinese Drama

Because the theories of Chinese modernity are mainly organized around a masculine norm and pay insufficient attention to the specificity of women's lives and experiences, it is of great significance to carry out research on women's complex and changing relationships to the diverse political, philosophical, and cultural legacies of Chinese modernity. This essay explores the relationship of women to Chinese modernity through a close reading of some canonical texts from modern Chinese drama. The transformations of woman in Chinese spoken plays during the first half of the twentieth century reflect the complex experiences of Chinese women in their search for modernity. The Nora figures in Chinese problem plays are symbols of individualism and subjectivism. The modern women in Cao Yu's plays, whose education is informed by feminist ideas, become subjects of their desires for consumption and love. The female fighters in the revolutionary drama further deconstruct the patriarchy of gender, and their stories influenced the new development of gender politics in modern China. In general, the discourses of women's liberation were refashioned on the different stages of modern Chinese drama in parallel with the development of modern Chinese society. The essay suggests that women were actually heroines of Chinese modernity.

Li Tonglu New Humanism

Originally proposed by Irving Babbitt and Elmer More, and inspired by Buddhist and Confucian philosophy, New Humanism opposed the moral decline fostered by relativist and determinist beliefs and by an increasingly materialistic American society during the the early twentieth century. Brought back to China and transformed by Chinese scholars who had studied with Babbitt, New Humanism became a counter-narrative to the May Fourth movement, to Marxism, and to radicalism in general. This essay delineates the many roles New Humanism played in China, its internal contradictions, and its intricate relationship with hegemonic discourses by examining the literary practices of three New Humanists who demonstrate, respectively, ideal/academic, political, and transcendental ways of engagement.

Chen Yongguo Becoming-Obscure: A Constant in the Development of Modern Chinese Poetry

Both historically and theoretically, this essay traces the development of modern Chinese poetry, including the Chinese symbolists of the 1920s, the Modernists of the 1930s, the Nine Leaves of the 1940s, the obscurists of the 1970s, and the post-obscurists of the Third Generation of the 1980s, to the Western source from which the Chinese New Poets learned the techniques of modern western poetry and introduced them into China by way of adaptation and imitation. At that point, a new leaf was turned in the history of Chinese poetry: the mingling of the foreign elements, especially the obscurant that was constant in Western poetry, with vernacular Chinese expression gave birth to the New Poetry.

Alexander C. Y. Huang Cosmopolitanism and Its Discontents: The Dialectic between the Global and the Local in Lao She's Fiction

Modern Chinese fiction dealing with cultural others can be taken as a lens through which to re-read the cosmopolitan theory. At stake in the debate between communitarianism and liberalism are the viability of single cultural membership and its validity. Lao She's Self-Sacrifice (1934) and Dr. Wen (1936-1937) question the viability of global cultural membership. For Lao She, cultural hotchpotch—as suggested by Salman Rushdie—is not an option. These novellas dramatize the dialectic between the global and the local at a crossroads of Chinese nationalism and Western imperialism. Lao She's representation of Dr. Mao and Dr. Wen also pose challenging questions for his contemporaries and for twenty-first-century readers alike: Can one ever refuse to be defined by the local, either by birth or by acculturation? What are the implications and consequences if one so chooses?

Yomi Braester The Political Campaign as Genre: Ideology and Iconography during the Seventeen Years Period

The essay examines films produced during the Seventeen Years period (1949–66) and suggests that political campaigns may be akin to film genres. Insofar as generic distinctions of theme and style are produced according to the shifting interests of critics and producers, campaigns have produced a politically motivated typology. The examination of campaigns as genrelike offers an opportunity to rethink the connection not only between Maoism and its cultural manifestations but also between ideology and form in general.

Douwe Fokkema Chinese Postmodernist Fiction

The title of this essay implies that there is a Chinese postmodernism that differs from American or European postmodernism. But the different postmodernisms also have a common basis, which can be found at the level of unstable signification. First, the author briefly sketches how the concept of postmodernism traveled from the United States to western Europe and Russia, with key roles for American critics such as John Barth, Leslie Fiedler, Ihab Hassan, and Matei Calinescu and, in Europe, writers such as Umberto Eco and the reception of Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabokov. To the author, Chinese postmodernism differs from other variants of postmodernism because of its different cultural-historical and literary-historical background. The literary background of Chinese postmodernism is as complex as China's history of the last hundred years. The "Red Classics" of socialist realism, modern Chinese literature of the 1920s and 1930s, and traditional fiction such as Journey to the West and Dream of the Red Chamber, but also foreign novels in translation and Chinese folklore, belong to the collective memory of Chinese writers and readers. Qian Zhongshu's Fortress Besieged (Wei cheng, 1947) is one of the rare early examples of Chinese modernist fiction. After 1978 Wang Meng, Zhang Jie, Wang Anyi, and others wrote fiction in a modernist style. The simultaneity of modernism and postmodernism is a clue to the interpretation of Chinese fiction of the 1980s and 1990s. Notably in the work of Han Shaogong we find both modernist and postmodernist features. In particular, the essay will focus on the metalinguistic criticism in Han Shaogong's highly successful novel Dictionary of Maqiao (Maqiao cidian, 1996). Postmodernist exuberant fabulation, partly inspired by Gabriel García Márquez and partly by traditional Chinese fiction, can be found in fiction by Mo Yan, Yu Hua, and Han Shaogong. Please Don't Call Me Human (Qianwan bie ba wo dang ren, 1989) by Wang Shuo, recently honored with a Chinese compilation of "research material concerning Wang Shuo" (Tianjin 2005), will also be discussed.

Sheldon H. Lu Popular Culture and Body Politics: Beauty Writers in Contemporary China

This essay is a study of a group of women writers who emerged on the Chinese literary scene in the late 1990s and the turn of the twenty-first century. They have been called beauty writers (meinu zuojia), referring to the authors themselves being beautiful women. Their writings are characterized by an unabashed, unprecedented foregrounding of female sexuality. While their novels were censored by the state now and then, they circulate on the Internet and contribute to the formation of China's booming Internet literature. The initial core group of beauty writers has made a large impact on other aspiring female writers eager to explore and expose their sensuality and sexuality. The parading and pandering of female subjectivity via a body politics have become a major literary fad in contemporary mainland China.

top Volume 69, Issue 2
Author Title
Paul B. Armstrong Form and History: Reading as an Aesthetic Experience and Historical Act

Although form and history are joined in reading, the profession of literary studies has regularly regarded formalism and historicism as opposites and even antagonists. When dichotomous terms face off without mediation, a phenomenological approach to getting beyond their stalemate is typically to reflect on how they interact in lived experience. Refocusing attention in this way, I offer five theses on how history and form are connected in the experience of reading: 1. Literary works are historical entities, but they are not reducible to their origins; 2. The historical meaning of a literary work includes the history of its reception; 3. Reading literature entails a response to value and form; 4. The form of a literary work is integral to its moral, social, and political meaning, and 5. Unmasking is not an end in itself but a means to various kinds of revelations. I develop these theses by engaging the arguments of some of the best formalist and historicist critics, focusing mainly on well-known examples from the New Critics and the New Historicists, and trying to bring out aspects of the reading experience that they ignore or insufficiently acknowledge. The goal is to recover the interaction of form and history by analyzing reading as an intersubjective experience in which literary works are preserved and passed on historically through our ever-changing engagement with their forms.

David Randall Ethos, Poetics, and the Literary Public Sphere

In Habermasian theory, the bourgeois public sphere was preceded by a literary public sphere whose favored genres revealed the interiority of the individual self and emphasized an audience-oriented subjectivity. This essay argues that the association of this early modern literary discourse with the ancient public sphere proceeds from their common origin in the historically continuous intellectual tradition of European rhetoric. Ancient rhetoric, which also constituted the ancient public sphere, entered into ancient, medieval, and Renaissance rhetorical poetics; this last, transformed by the anonymizing effects of print culture and the philosophy of skepticism, and by the consequent development of the autonomous narrator, produced the discourse of the early modern literary public sphere. The emergence of this discourse derived particularly from transformations in the concepts of ethos and auctoritas. A prerequisite of this evolution was the shift in the presumed medium of European rhetorical poetics, from orality to writing to print. This argument has consequences for Habermas’ general account of communicative rationality, and is intended to suggest an alternate theoretical framework for Habermasian critical theory, where the European rhetorical tradition replaces communicative rationality.

Eric Byville "This More Delusive": Tantalus and Seneca in Paradise Lost

Despite its immense scope, Milton scholarship has rarely considered the influence of Senecan tragedy on Paradise Lost. This essay offers such a consideration by arguing for a specifically Senecan allusion in Book 10, in which Milton describes “delusive” fruits that grow in Hell and that deceive the fallen angels by turning to ash in their mouths. This episode has been the object of much critical discussion, and although its identified sources include the Bible, Lucan, and Spenser, none of these provides a convincing model for Milton’s depiction of the tantalizing food. I propose that Milton imitates the Tantalus scene from Seneca’s Thyestes, and that his engagement with Seneca here constitutes what critics of intertextuality call a “systematic” or “critical” allusion. As such, it not only provides an inter-text for the controversial fruit episode of Book 10, but also reveals larger thematic parallels between Seneca’s tragedy and Milton’s epic. More than simply a story to which Milton alludes, Seneca’s version of the Tantalus myth offers a model for understanding the important role played by allusion in historically “belated” literature.

John Richardson Nicholas Rowe's Tamerlane and the Martial Ideal

Rowe's Tamerlane of 1701 marks an important step in the development of literary representations of military heroes. Rowe draws upon and adapts seventeenth-century accounts of Timur and other soldiers in order to create a more virtuous and peace-loving conqueror than those of his predecessors. Yet by a kind of dramatic sleight his hero's pacific temper leads him inevitably to war, and becomes an argument for William III's contemporary war with France. In fashioning this warrior who both hates and wages war, Rowe anticipates a number of heroic figures of the eighteenth century. The play's lasting popularity suggests that he also provides the century with one of its most well-known and resonant versions of the martial ideal.

top Volume 69, Issue 3
Author Title
Christopher Braider The Witch from Colchis: Corneille's Médée, Chimène's Le Cid, and the Invention of Classical Genius

This essay explores the origins of the modern French paradigm of literary genius in the dramatic works of Pierre Corneille. Guided by a critical suggestion inscribed in an oft-noted allusion to Corneille's first tragedy, Médée, near the end of Racine's Phèdre, the essay argues that the key to the Cornelian model of literary greatness is the degree to which Corneille identifies his own poetic inspiration with his tragic protagonists, and capitally with the first of them, the eponymous heroine of Médée itself. When set in dialogue with the ventriloquistic absence of the poet mandated by the classical era's perfection of the specifically theatrical mode of representation, Corneille's identification with his tragic divas constitutes genius as the radical Other of the classical cultural order his subsequent canonical status as "le grand Corneille" portrays him as personifying. In addition to generating revisionist readings of both Médée and the later Le Cid, the essay thus invites students of French literature to rethink the grounds of French literary culture as a whole.

Katherine Ibbett Heroes and History's Remainders: The Restes of Pierre Corneille

This essay examines the figure of the reste—the things or people left behind—in the tragedies of Pierre Corneille, in particular though not only in the late plays, themselves a body of work left behind by the canon. It proposes that these remainders provide a new perspective on Corneille’s treatment of heroic action and its place in history, and argues that the remainder becomes, in Corneille’s work, something capable of redemption and new life. The argument is focused on three tragedies: Médée (1634), Sertorius (1662), and Tite et Bérénice (1671).

Petra Dierkes-Thrun "The Brutal Music and the Delicate Text"? Wilde's Symbolist-Decadent Aesthetic and Richard Strauss's Modernism in Salome Reconsidered

The familiar scholarly view of Richard Strauss’s modernist opera Salome is that it disregards and completely overhauls its libretto source, Oscar Wilde’s 1891 symbolist-decadent drama. A close reconsideration of the relationship between what Hutcheon and Hutcheon have called “the brutal music and the delicate text,” however, shows that despite seemingly divergent styles the two works actually share major formal and thematic characteristics. Responding in tandem to the metaphysical crisis of modernity, both aimed to systematically replace metaphysical purpose and sublime religious experience with physical sensation and secular ecstasy, strongly corporealize affect, and glorify amoral modern individualism as embodied by the perverse Salome. Some important yet little analyzed contemporary reviews of the play and the opera in Germany and Austria from 1905 to 1907 (some of which I translate here for the first time) already noted such correspondences and consistently interpreted Strauss’s choices as direct aesthetic corollaries to Wilde’s, illustrating that contemporary audiences understood Wilde’s and Strauss’s projects as compatible and complementary rather than divergent, as later scholars have argued. At a time when the relationship between the symbolist, decadent, and modernist aesthetic was still very much in flux, Wilde’s and Strauss’s ultimate goal turned out to be the same in Salome: to manufacture secular sublimity by modern aesthetic means.

Brian McHale 1966 Nervous Breakdown, or, When Did Postmodernism Begin?

In or about 1966, modernity changed. In the spirit of recent reflections on “the year as period” (notably by Michael North in MLQ 62:3 [December 2001]), the present article undertakes a thought-experiment: What if we were to date the beginning of postmodernism to 1966, instead of, say, 1972-73, the onset-date preferred (for different reasons) by Charles Jencks, Fredric Jameson, and Andreas Killen, among others? What might such a thought-experiment tell us about postmodernism, and about periodization in general? Like 1973, but even more decisively, culture in 1966 is characterized by a series of striking “breakdowns”—of developments that get ahead of themselves, that stall out and recoil upon themselves. Traceable across a variety of cultural practices, this pattern is especially evident in rock music, which achieves aesthetic “escape velocity” in 1966 in such works as The Beatles’ Revolver and Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, but then stalls out. The pattern of stall and recoil is only one of a number of other “topological transformations” of cultural practices and products also datable to 1966, among them the (re)invention of meta (self-reflection, recursiveness, strange loops) and the opening of paraworld spaces. These topological transformations constitute the building-blocks of a postmodernist poetics.

top Volume 69, Issue 4
Author Title
Paul H. Fry How to Live with the Infinite Regress of Strong Misreading

Harold Bloom in his "anxiety of influence" phase is often thought to insist on an intertextual dynamic that is ahistorical. This view might seem to be confirmed by comparison with the text of Bloom's "strong precursor," Eliot's "Tradition and the Individual Talent." The reason for this widespread response to Bloom—and to Eliot—is that although Bloom is as authentic an historian of literature as Gadamer, as the late Russian Formalists (e. g., Tynjanov), or as Jauss, he shares with all these figures a sense of a fundamental and unchanging intertextual dynamic that overrides conditions imposed by broader historical or even literary change. The essay argues finally that Bloom's theory does in fact accommodate change just insofar as it belies his own claim that he is not interested in narrowly verbal allusion. It shows, in a series of examples, that even in Bloom's most broadly imaginative moments, relations with past texts are inspired by verbal signals.

Asha Varadharajan The Unsettling Legacy of Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence

Harold Bloom's idiosyncratic poetic history is a perdurable cultural force with implications for our present, and not just for Bloom's own. Bloom's story of influence, his attention to the cultural and historical imaginary of "Europe," can thus lend itself to postcolonial contexts that are equally concerned to trace how this imaginary insists and persists at our behest and against our political will. This essay produces a provocative constellation of Bloom's unlikely and unquiet heirs on the contemporary critical scene to open his kingdom of culture to the sufferings of history and to those who have been denied a place in it.

Andrew Elfenbein On the Discrimination of Influences

Although influence remains a pervasive term in literary criticism, little has changed in its theoretical framework since the work of Harold Bloom in the early 1970s. This article argues that adaptations of findings in cognitive and social science open up new and more finely-nuanced means of analyzing literary influence. The Picture of Dorian Gray is the test case for such adaptations. I examine two forms of influence: local allusion and global revision of thematic and narrative structures. The psychology of memory for language provides tools for distinguish among allusions by stressing the differences between the processes of encoding and retrieval and the consequences of these differences for literary works. To analyze global influence, I return influence to its ordinary language meaning of persuasion. The social psychology of persuasion provides an alternative to Bloomian psychoanalysis as a means of describing the multiple factors involved in persuasion and their interactions.

Katherine Elkins Memory and Material Significance: Composing Modernist Influence

This essay explores a modernist revision of influence distinct from a Bloomsian model of struggle and misprision. Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf articulate new representations of composite memory that suggest an alternative. When memories of past works collide with a changed present, they inspire creative adaptation and forgetful recombination. This revision of influence also challenges viral theories of cultural transmission by positing a more active role for the artist. More important than Harold Bloom’s anxiety of influence is an anxiety of significance emerging from the self’s confrontation with a world of fast-paced change.

Ankhi Mukherjee The Death of the Novel and Two Postcolonial Writers

This essay examines the anxiety of influence of the postcolonial English language novel. It focuses on texts that are constituted by metropolitan (Western, European) forms of the realist novel, albeit in a reactive mode. My claim is that postcolonial revisions of canonical novels reinvent the Eurocentric canon for a global age while enacting a death of the romance of the novel. The essay has three parts: the first examines Naipaul’s vexed identification with and shadowing of Conrad, and the second discusses Coetzee’s deconstructive interpretation of the national and cultural provenance of the classic English novel. The concluding section examines contestations around questions of canonicity, fictionality, and the historical embeddedness of postcolonial novels.


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