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Intellectual Captivity

Literary Theory, World Literature, and the Ethics of Interpretation

Chen Bar-Itzhak

Abstract

This essay concerns the unequal distribution of epistemic capital in the academic field of World Literature and calls for an epistemic shift: a broadening of our theoretical canon and the epistemologies through which we read and interpret world literature. First, this epistemic inequality is discussed through a sociological examination of the “world republic of literary theory,” addressing the limits of circulation of literary epistemologies. The current situation, it is argued, creates an “intellectual captivity,” the ethical and political implications of which are demonstrated through a close reading of the acts of reading world literature performed by scholars at the center of the field. A few possible solutions are then suggested, drawing on recent developments in anthropology, allowing for a redistribution of epistemic capital within the discipline of World Literature: awareness of positionality, reflexivity as method, promotion of marginal scholarship, and a focus on “points of interaction.”

Xudong Zhang

The paper examines the ways in which memory is constructed in Lu Xun’s writings, above all his essay (zawen) by means of an artistic staging of its antagonism with forgetting. The author emphasizes the primacy of forgetting, as opposed to recollection conventionally understood, as the centrality of Lu Xun’s stressful, tragic principle of memory. The author argues that, by turning to forgetting as a register of and formal-spatial space for historical and political content, Lu Xun puts his signature stylistic maneuvers and mannerisms in full display. Hence, “memory for the sake of forgetting” must be understood literally, that is, as forgetting functioning as a heightened and intensified form of social protest, albeit in modernistic rather than realistic terms; and through this pressurized and agonistic inner space of convoluted temporality. Furthermore, the author seeks to show that forgetting also serves a representational function that goes hand-in-hand with Lu Xun’s zawen as poetics and chronicle all at once. In Lu Xun’s writing of reminiscence, that which fails to be repressed into silence, despair and oblivion roars back from the depth of an existential void, and reorganizes historical experiences of chaos and danger into a more powerful and intimate encasement and mimesis of reality. Thus, in Lu Xun, a modernist intervention into nothingness makes palpable history’s own structure of conflict, oppression and impasse which simultaneously stands for a metaphysics of defiance and hope.

Wang Anyi

Translator Todd Foley

Editors Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

Xudong Zhang

Editors Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

Wang Anyi

Translator Todd Foley

Jon Eugene von Kowallis

This article makes a reinterpretation of Lu Xun’s acclaimed prose poetry collection Yecao (Wild grass), written between 1924−27, by reading it in conjunction with a rediscovered prototype consisting of seven pieces published in Guomin gongbao (The citizen’s gazette) between August and September 1919 under the title Ziyan ziyu (Talking to oneself). Lu Xun’s baihua prose style had advanced considerably in the interim, but the author discerns a degree of thematic overlap between the two collections, on the basis of which he proposes answers to key questions that have been asked about Yecao since its first publication, concluding that it is still as fresh and avant-garde a collection to readers today as it was nearly one hundred years ago.

Workshop Discussions

On “A Girls’ Trip” & “The Rescue Truck”

Xudong Zhang