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Alex des Forges – The Examined Subject and the Natural Self in the Eight-Legged Essay
October 15, 2018 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Speaker: Alex des Forges, University of Massachusetts – Boston
This paper inquires into the rhetoric and practice of the individual voice in Ming dynasty examination essays, commonly referred to as shiwen (modern prose) or bagu wen (eight-legged essays). Beginning in the early 1500s, essay criticism and the essays themselves feature a rhetoric of the natural self who writes and acts without undue constraint; at the same time, writers made extensive use of a range of techniques to complicate narratorial perspective and tone of voice that anticipate the free indirect discourse that would become a defining characteristic of the modern Western novel. I would like to suggest that shiwen and their associated critical discourse serve not only as precedent, but also as inspiration for the distinctive literary voices and aesthetic sensibilities for which the late Ming moment is known.
Alexander Des Forges is Associate Professor of Chinese at University of Massachusetts – Boston. His publications include Mediasphere Shanghai: The Aesthetics of Cultural Production (University of Hawai’i, 2007), “Burning with Reverence: The Economics and Aesthetics of Words in Qing China” (PMLA, 2006), and “Sleights of Capital: Fantasies of Commensurability, Transparency, and a ‘Cultural Bourgeoisie’” (differences, 2014). He is currently finishing a book manuscript on literary work and the aesthetics of voice and representation in early modern China, with particular attention to the challenges the examination regime poses to a market-based concept of cultural capital.
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