Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Rising From a Placid Lake China's Three Gorges at the Intersection of History, Aesthetics and Politics
by Byrnes, Corey Jonathan, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2013, 180; 3593745
Abstract (Summary)

Researched and written in the shadow of the recently completed Three Gorges Dam, this dissertation begins with an "Introduction" that describes the earliest mythology of this mountainous region, which is said to have been hand-hewn by the deity-civil servant Yu the Great, so that the waters of a cataclysmic flood could drain to the sea. This proto-governmental response to natural disaster stands at the core of all later accounts of the Gorges, helping to form an aesthetic tradition that views the landscape as not only a site of trauma but also a surface created through and primed for physical alteration.

Chapter 1, "Tears in the Void: Traces of the Past in Du Fu's Three Gorges Poetry," focuses on this tradition as manifested in the interplay of the personal and the national at a moment of grave political crisis, the An Lushan Rebellion (755-763), when the iconic poet Du Fu (712-770) sought refuge in the wilds of the Gorges. In the strikingly fragmented verse that he wrote during this period, Du's fevered visions fail to coalesce into a stable landscape in the monumental mode of Yu the Great. Instead, they flicker across the surface of the Gorges in the form of fleeting, hallucinatory traces (ji) of a fractured personal, cultural and spatial order.

Chapter 2, "Reinscribing the Trace: The Three Gorges in the Song Dynasty," shows how a new genre of travel diaries and essays (ji) from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) transforms Du Fu's traces, stabilizing and re-inscribing them as touristic landmarks through physical and literary practices of marking, recording and verifying. The authors of these texts, writing barely a generation after the cataclysmic loss of the northern half of the empire to an ethnically non-Chinese dynasty, were acutely aware of the vulnerability of the landscape as cultural topography. For them, Du Fu offered not only a sympathetic model of the loyal minister in southern exile, but also a set of geographical and historical associations that elevated the Gorges to a landscape imbued with powerful moral significance.

Chapter 3, "Specters of Realism and the Painter's Gaze in Jia Zhangke's Still Life," turns to a new aesthetic of fragmentation that, while reminiscent of Du Fu's, is finely attuned to the contemporary pressures of global capital and national development. Focusing on Jia Zhangke's 2006 film Still Life (Sanxia haoren), this chapter explores how The Three Gorges, now on the brink of inundation, serve as the ideal venue for Jia's disassembly and recombination of earlier artistic forms—portraiture, Socialist Realism and Chinese landscape painting, as well as Tang poetry and contemporary pop music—in a work that reveals precisely how cultural practices work trans-historically to constitute this particular landscape.

While pre-modern artistic forms serve as occasional components of Jia's eclectic hybrid style, they are the very warp and weft of the American-based Chinese artist Yun-fei Ji's painting practice, the subject of Chapter 4, "Ink in the Wound: Trauma and The Three Gorges in the Painting of Yun-fei Ji." In his Three Gorges paintings Ji self-consciously manipulates spatial and temporal codes borrowed from classical Chinese painting to depict the dam project as a violent act of physical inscription and traumatic displacement. This chapter details how Ji imagines the landscape of The Three Gorges as a site of traumatic experience: both a raw wound that opens onto past traumas, especially the Cultural Revolution, and a frame for the physical and psychic consequences of the dam project.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Varsano, Paula
Commitee: Ashmore, Robert, Berger, Patricia, Jones, Andrew
School: University of California, Berkeley
Department: East Asian Languages and Cultures, Chinese Language
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 75/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian literature, Art history, Film studies
Keywords: Aesthetics, China, Du, Fu, Ji, Yun-fei, Jia, Zhangke, Song dynasty, Three Gorges
Publication Number: 3593745
ISBN: 978-1-303-37120-2
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