12/2: Paola Iovene

Associate Professor, East Asian Languages & Civilizations

“Reading Beyond Books: Radio Fiction Series and Lu Yao’s Ordinary World

Time: Friday, December 2, 3:00-5:00pm CT

Location: Center for East Asian Studies 319 (1155 E. 60th St.)

★Co-Sponsored by Sound and Society workshop★

Abstract: Largely unappreciated by critics when its first volume came out in 1986, Lu Yao’s novel Ordinary World (Pingfan de shijie) was awarded the Mao Dun literary prize in 1991 and went on to become one of the most beloved works of contemporary Chinese fiction. Today, Lu Yao himself epitomizes the rural other rejected by urbanites, the common readers’ writer whose aesthetics are staunchly antithetical to those of academic elites, and ultimately a martyr who was killed by his writing.

While no single factor alone can account for the multifaceted development of Lu Yao’s persona and the extraordinary success of his work, neither might have been possible without the radio program Fiction Series (Xiaoshuo lianbo), which broadcast Ordinary World several times. It would be an overstatement to say that the radio created the author. Nonetheless, the radio narrator Li Yemo profoundly shaped Ordinary World’s reception, bringing Lu Yao’s work to many more readers than books alone would have reached, to the point that Li’s voice came to be perceived as that of Lu Yao himself. How exactly this happened is the main question addressed by this chapter.

The “talking books” broadcast by Fiction Series, I suggest, were an important component of socialist Chinese literary culture, facilitating a “reading situation” that differed both from academic criticism and from leisure reading in print and other visual media. The series played a considerable role well into the late 1990s, offering a different angle from which to reconsider the enduring appeal of realist modes of writing and non-elite forms of literary appreciation.

Does listening to a fiction broadcast constitute a reading act, which in the context of the volume where this essay will appear is defined as the “interaction of individuals (or groups of individuals) with text through which they generate meaning from texts” (Henningsen 2021)? Proposing the notion of “model reading-listening situation,” this chapter aims to rethink reading as a collaborative and multisensorial process that generates feelings and actions, but no interpretations.

Presenter: Dr. Paola Iovene is an associate professor of modern Chinese Literature in the department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Tales of Futures Past: Anticipation and the Ends of Literature in Contemporary China (2014) and a co-editor of Sound Alignments: Popular Music in Asia’s Cold Wars (2021).

Respondents: Siting Jiang is a PhD student in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at University of Chicago. Her research interests include modern Chinese literature, sound studies and cultural studies. Dr. Neil Verma is Assistant Professor of Sound Studies at Northwestern University. His books include Theater of the Mind: Imagination, Aesthetics and American Radio Drama (2012), and the edited anthologies Anatomy of Sound: Norman Corwin (2016) and Media Authorship and Indian Sound Cultures, Indian Sound Citizenship (2020).

Elvin Meng

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