6/3: Yueling Ji

PhD Candidate, EALC

“Can style be described with adjectives of mood?”

Time: Friday, June 3, 3-5pm CT

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Left: C. T. Hsia’s drawing of book cover, in letter to brother T. A., March 6, 1961

Right: Cover of first edition of A History of Modern Chinese Fiction, Yale UP, 1961

Abstract: “Style” is an elusive concept in literary studies, encompassing a wide range of textual characteristics and critical practices. One common way for a reader to engage with literary style is to describe their impression of a text with adjectives, for example, to call the text “bleak,” “stirring,” “delightful,” or “decorous,” and so on. But what is the nature of these “feeling words” that describe style? How do they relate to the formal characteristics of the text, and how do they relate to the reader who is expressing their opinion? This chapter explores these questions with well-known examples from the history of Chinese literary criticism. In particular, I discuss the influences of classical Chinese poetics and Anglo-American New Criticism on a few notable critics of modern Chinese literature active during the Cold War period.

Presenter: Yueling Ji is a PhD candidate in modern Chinese literature. Her dissertation is a study of the history and methodology of Chinese literary criticism, focusing on the concept of style. She also writes about China-Russia relations, Marxism, and gender/sexuality theories.

Respondent: Celia Xu is a Ph.D. candidate in the comparative literature department at UChicago. She works on modern and contemporary poetry in China and the U.S., with a particular interest in the interaction between science and poetry.

5/27 Hanna Pickwell

PhD Candidate, Anthropology

A flavor of human feeling: Affectivities of outmoded things in Beijing

Time: Friday, May 27, 3-5pm CT

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Abstract: Old furniture, toys, décor, and electronics no longer have a use or fit the aesthetic regime of today’s Beijing, and yet my interlocutors – senior citizens in Beijing’s old city – are not planning to dispose of them. These old everyday things, between possession and junk, accumulate in physically liminal spaces around their people’s homes – in corners, stairwells, and courtyards and evoke ambiguous feelings. Aging residents of one Beijing neighborhood have donated many such objects to a community center, where things that were once adjacent to junk became a collection that is essential to the center’s warm atmosphere and has wide appeal beyond the neighborhood. This chapter takes up the question: to what extent, and in what ways, did the materiality of the GLR and its collection shape the sociality that unfolded there? It argues that material things and spaces act as durable loci, anchors for the for the accretion of experiences and traces that can be activated through memory and imagination and experienced as atmosphere or, the emic term, “flavor.”

Presenter: Hanna Pickwell is a PhD candidate in the anthropology department at the University of Chicago. Her dissertation research focuses on the social efficacies and regimes of value of used commodities in China.

Discussant: Lilian Kong is a PhD student at the University of Chicago, enrolled in the East Asian Literature and Civilizations + Cinema and Media Studies joint program. She studies contemporary Chinese film and media, with research experience in healing media, media atmospheres, media ecology, and global vernacular. 

5/20 Jue Hou

PhD Candidate, Social Thought & Comparative Literature

“Tenkō and the Invention of the Quotidian Subject: Parapolitics and the I-Novel Form from Kobayashi Takiji to Nakano Shigeharu

Time: Friday, May 20, 3-5pm CT

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Friends and family assemble to mourn Kobayashi Takiji (1903-1933) after his death by torture at the hands of the Tokkō police.

Nakano Shigeharu (1902-1979) and family.

Abstract: This chapter probes the intersection between the I-novel (shishōsetsu) and Japan’s proletarian literature, especially at the latter’s moment of crisis during what was known as “tenkō,” or the (largely coerced) renunciation of the left by Japanese intellectuals in the 1930s. A turning point marked by intense political setbacks and ideological shifts, the turbulent decade witnessed an unexpected convergence between Japanese Marxism and the I-novel form, which the former had previously condemned for its preoccupation with quotidian life and, supposedly, disinterest in public politics. Tracing the shifting image of the “seikatsusha,” or the quotidian “agent of living,” from Kobayashi Takiji’s Tō seikatsusha (Life of a Party Member, 1933) to Nakano Shigeharu’s “Mura no ie” (“House in the Village”, 1935), I examine how Japan’s radically changing political conditions enabled and, indeed, necessitated alternative ways of thinking and acting through literature. Rather than merely a strategic “retreat” from overtly political themes, I argue, the I-novel form’s shift back-and-forth between personal interiority and public politics (or its increasing inaccessibility) makes possible new modes of resistance through constructing the parapolitical figure of the seikatsusha who inhabits a sphere of excess that defies inclusion in the realm of politics. Beginning with Kobayashi’s attempt to re-appropriate the “reactionary” I-novel by engaging the quotidian seikatsusha only to stage its radical erasure in the service of the revolutionary end, I then examine Nakano’s radically different approach to everyday life. This in effect signals a reorientation of the Japanese Marxist movement whose indulgence in its own theoretical integrity, as Yoshimoto Takaaki argues, had heretofore translated into failures to confront Japan’s ancien régime in the face at ground level. How does the rise of the I-novel, in the form of “tenkō literature,” shed light on this moment of sea change? How might one bring into dialogue the history of a literary form and that of political ruptures? What epistemological possibilities do the I-novel’s (para-)political quotidian subject open up for the Japanese left and for our own era? These are among the questions that I seek to address.

Presenter: Jue Hou is a joint degree PhD Candidate in Social Thought and Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on East Asian and European literary modernisms and modernity. He is writing a dissertation on the “I-novel” and global confessional literature with a focus on the period between the late 1920s and the early postwar years.

Discussant: Danlin Zhang is a third-year PhD student in EALC. His research explores the entanglement between modern Japanese literature, Western science and imperialism. He is also interested in modern Japanese poetry and popular culture.