Resisting Enchantment, Questioning Aestheticism: Modern Chinese Literature and the Public Sphere

Veg, Sebastian. Resisting Enchantment, Questioning Aestheticism: Modern Chinese Literature and the Public Sphere. Critical Inquiry, vol. 46, n° 3 (Spring 2020), pp. 536–554. URL : https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/708077 (consulté le 17 mars 2020)

Abstract

If indeed aestheticization and enchantment are perennial traits of state discourses and practices in China, it is perhaps unsurprising that a countertradition in modern literature should emphasize disenchantment. Cultural productions that originate from outside the sphere of the state have often questioned its authority. Where the state seeks to enchant, literature has sometimes sought to kindle doubt, to arouse debate. Although such debates have often been curtailed or suppressed, it is worth reexamining the connections between literary production and political debates in different historical contexts throughout twentieth-century China. Drawing on theories that stress the intentionality of literature and the speech act value of the literary text, the present essay attempts to characterize the communicational dynamics both within the text and in the context of its reception. In this perspective, it revisits some of the literary debates that took place in China in the May Fourth and Republican periods (represented by Lu Xun), the early postwar years and the ROC—PRC transition (Lao She), in certain works written during the Cultural Revolution (Jin Fan/Liu Qingfeng), as well as post-1979 literature on the mainland (Yan Lianke). It does so by selecting texts that seem to have been produced with the intention of challenging the aesthetics of enchantment, using literary devices to interrupt readers’ enjoyment and thus open a space for public discussion of both aesthetics and politics.

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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