Volume 79, Issue 3 | September 2018

Special Issue: Chinese Encounters with Western Theories

Author Title
Marshall Brown and Ning Wang Introduction
Author Title
French Theories in China and the Chinese Theoretical (Re)Construction
Jiang Zhang On Imposed Interpretation and Chinese Construction of Literary Theory  
No doubt twentieth century Western literary theory has achieved remarkable results and historical advances. But the so-called “imposed interpretation” is one of its fundamental shortcomings. The “imposed interpretation” here refers to the practices that deviate from the text and dispel the literary significations. It is characterized by interpreting literary texts with a prepositioned mode of subjective intention in attempt to reach a conclusion conforming to the critic’s intention and theoretical doctrines taken off-field and from the critic’s own preconditioned logical cognition. On the contrary, to the author, constructing Chinese literary theoretical discourse should discriminate and examine various contemporary Western literary theories, actively draw upon its useful achievements and experiences, and return to Chinese literary practice in an overall way. It is also necessary to adhere to the orientation of nationalization and realize the dialectical unity of external research and internal research.
Liyuan Zhu Hillis Miller on the End of Literature  
In the first decade after 2000, the idea of “the end of literature” proposed by J. Hillis Miller aroused widespread controversy in Chinese academia. This article seeks to reiterate the original meaning of Miller’s statement, while tracing the original Chinese context from which this debate arose. The article points out that the real reason for this debate is not people’s different understandings of Miller's term, “the end of literature,” but rather that Chinese academics have become dissatisfied and anxious about the increasingly marginalized status of literature. This debate coincided historically with scholarly concerns over visual culture, the aestheticization of everyday life, cultural studies, and globalization. Each of these discussions contained related insights into the future development and transformation of literary theory and its disciplinary boundaries.
Theo D'haen With Chinese Characteristics  
The articles at the center of the present issue of MLQ, Wang Ning’s “French Theories in China and the Chinese Theoretical (Re)Construction,” Zhang Jiang’s “On Imposed Interpretation and Chinese Construction of Literary Theory,” and Zhu Liyuan’s “Hillis Miller on the End of Literature,” address the interchange between Chinese and Western literary theories. What transpires from these essays is that all Western theories, when “traveling” to China, assume “Chinese Characteristics,” reflecting changing historical and ideological conditions, but also that the vector of influence predominantly runs from Western theories to Chinese practice. To different degrees, and with varying urgency, all three Chinese scholars lodge a plea for greater recognition of Chinese theories in the West, and for the need for Chinese scholarship to construct theory of its own, rooted in the Chinese tradition. By way of a new translation, with commentary, by Zhang Longxi of a celebrated 1980s article by Qian Zhongshu, I argue that examples of a fruitful use of both Western and Chinese theory and literature already exist, and may serve to further put into practice what Wang Ning, Zhang Jiang and Zhu Liyuan are so forcefully calling for.
Kang Liu A (Meta) Commentary on Western Literary Theories in China ---- The Case of Jameson and Chinese Jamesonism  
The essay is a meta-commentary, or symptomatic reading of the Chinese obsession, or anxiety of influence with Western theory. It takes Fredric Jameson and Chinese Jamesonism as a case in point to illustrate the Chinese anxiety, and the battle between (Western) universalism and Chinese exceptionalism. Chinese Jamesonism shows how an eclectic American neo-Marxist academic discourse has been invented in China on selected themes of postmodernism and Third World “national allegory.” However, as a “shadowy but central presence” in Jameson and other Western left theories, Maoism is nearly completely absent in China’s appropriation of Western theories. A vigorous critique of the relationship between Maoism and Western left theories will shed some light on the issues of politics and ideology underlying the Chinese anxiety of influence.
J. Hillis Miller Western Literary Theory in China  
The authors of the essays on Western Theory in China in this issue of MLQ are highly distinguished both in their previous publications and in the positions they presently hold. Their essays are strikingly different in content and orientation. All three, nevertheless, favor the development of a distinctively Chinese literary theory. Wang Ning’s essay focuses on the influence over the successive decades since 1950 of Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, and Alain Badiou. Zhang Jiang’s essay is a more or less total rejection of Western literary critical theorists as all guilty of what he calls “imposed interpretation.” Zhang’s essay rejects formulas or models in literary criticism in favor of reading each work as something unique and sui generis. His call for a specifically Chinese literary theory is powerfully enunciated. Zhu Liyuan does me the honor of discussing in detail the influence in China of my “end of literature” essay. “Western Theory in China” ends with a section about something the three Chinese authors do not stress, name the major changes in literary theory in every country, including China, being brought about willy-nilly by the shift from print media to digital media. What happens to a given literary work when it is read online rather than on a printed page?

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