Cloaks and Words: Li Zhi and Montaigne’s Essays and Unstable Signification in the Sixteenth Century
Rivi Handler-Spitz, Middlebury College
Writing in similar essayistic genres,the radical Chinese intellectual Li Zhi (1527-1602) and his more moderate French contemporary, Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) produced texts saturated with anxieties about inauthenticity and misrepresentation. Both authors discursively decry the dissimulation and imposture they find all around them, yet their texts – swarming with irony and self-contradiction – rhetorically reproduce these very features. Thus their writings not only comment upon but also (paradoxically) reenact certain instabilities characteristic of age in which they lived. Professor Handler-Spitz argues that the parallels between Li Zh’si and Montaigne’s use of self-contradiction resemble violations of sumputary laws in this period. In both cases, readers – of cloaks or words – must discern what meanings lurk beneath potentially misleading exteriors.
Rivi Handler-Spitz is assistant professor of Chinese at Middlebury College. Having completed her PhD in Chinese and French comparative literature at the University of Chicago in 2009, she received a postdoctoral fellowship in classics and international humanities at Brown University’s Cogut Center for the Humanities in 2010. Her interests include the history of reading, the history and theory of the essay, autobiography and the history of the self, and East-West comparative studies. Her book project, tentatively titled Provocative Texts: "Li Zhi in the Global Sixteenth Century," examines the significance of Li Zhi’s use of rhetoric in the contexts of late-Ming and European social, material, literary, and intellectual history. She is also working on an English translation of selections from Li Zhi’s Fen Shu, Xu Fenshu, and Cangshu.
Cosponsored with the Mahindra Humanities Center and the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
Location: CGIS South, Doris and Ted Lee Gathering Room (S030), 1730 Cambridge Street, Harvard University