Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Wild Individual: Politics and Aesthetics of Realism in Post-Mao China (1977-1984)
by Xie, Jun, Ph.D., New York University, 2017, 316; 10192412
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation attempts to examine Chinese realist novels (novellas) flourishing in the transitional period between Mao’s era and post-Mao era (1976-1984). This period, rarely explored in English-speaking academia, constitutes a critical site to understand the social and cultural transformation from socialist to post-socialist China and to study the “individual” newly formed in that period whose influence continues to shape today’s China. By looking into realist novels, my research attempts to understand this social change and the historical construction of an individual subject distinct from both the human subject conceptualized in the socialist realism in Mao’s era and the bourgeois individual in the 19th century European Realism. Realist novels, which opened a textual space for social imagination in a liminal period, undertook the role of creating a life-world of post-socialist China with its mimetic and critical function, thus launching another “cultural revolution” immediately following the ending of Mao’s “Cultural Revolution.” The main body of my research consists of the analysis of three sub-genres—Enlightenment fiction (Chapter One), humanist fiction (Chapter Two) and peasant’s fiction (Chapter Three), each corresponding respectively to political subject, aesthetic subject and economic subject. The dissertation will show how the enlightenment subject, Kantian subjectivity and “persona economicus” reinvigorated in these fictional imaginations. However, it was also a period in which all these newly constructed “myths” of subject were pressed to meet their internal limits which led to their ineluctable dissolution. This was due to the emergence of the “wild individual,” for example, we can detect the terrifying unrestrained desire of lower class that participated in the discursive formation of the autonomous subject and we can detect the anxiety caused by the accumulation of capital even in the overall optimistic narrative of peasant’s literature.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Zhang, Xudong
Commitee: Button, Peter, Lezra, Jacques, Upham, Frank K., Wang, Ban
School: New York University
Department: East Asian Studies
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 78/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian literature, Asian History, Aesthetics
Keywords: Cultural Revolution, Enlightenment, Humanism, Individual, Labor, Realism
Publication Number: 10192412
ISBN: 978-1-369-63003-9
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