Modern Language Association Forum in Pre-14th Century Chinese Literature: Call For Papers

Panel 1: What Is (Chinese) Poetry?
Sponsored Panel by LLC Pre-14th-Century Chinese Forum

This panel addresses the broader problem of what poetry is, first by asking how the specific instance of Chinese poetry has been theorized in classical East Asia and second by asking how Chinese poetry is positioned and understood in the broader disciplinary contexts of poetry studies in the modern (Western) academy. The first question highlights the long history of theoretical writing on poetic genres, arguing for the present relevance of the kinds of aesthetic concerns, rhetorical strategies, and critical commentaries that have shaped the classical Chinese poetic tradition. The second question draws critical attention to how contemporary academic discourses on poetry often define it solely through the model of Western lyric, which, even as it has undergone recent revisionist critique by proponents of the “New Lyric Studies,” is nonetheless representative only of the English, French, and German literary traditions and their retrospective adoption of certain Greek and Latin poets.

All of this said, there are also questions of what is meant in speaking of “Chinese poetry,” both in terms of “Chinese” and in terms of “poetry.” Given the cosmopolitan nature of the classical Chinese language (sometimes referred to as “literary Sinitic”) shared among the cultures of East Asia before the twentieth century, the kinds of national boundaries enforced by modern academic institutions potentially distort and misrepresent the multiple histories of poetry written in classical Chinese. And a different kind of potential distortion is found in the application of the Western concept “poetry” to a tradition that had very different distributions of genre. To ask what is (Chinese) poetry is therefore to ask how we understand the idea of poetry both within a specific cultural instance that itself may be problematized, and to ask how we understand the universalizing model of poetry itself across different literary traditions.

We call for papers that draw on, and respond to, the recent debates between the historicizing arguments made by Virginia Jackson and Yopie Prins (“lyricization”), and the universalizing, philosophical claims for lyric as characterized by Jonathan Culler. Just as Kuan-hsing Chen has insisted on “Asia as method,” arguing for the necessity of epistemological frames of reference other than the West that serve to destabilize unquestioned assumptions of universalism, these papers seek to rethink what has largely been a debate focused on Anglo-American and European poetry, offering new perspectives on the question of lyric by reframing it in terms of the classical Chinese tradition.

Please send abstracts to Jack Chen ( no later than March 15. Scholars accepted to the panel will need to have MLA membership current by April

Panel 2: Posthumanism and Premodern China
By its simple non-hyphenation, “posthumanism” tends to suture two sets of theoretical concerns which ought to be separable. Post-humanism (understood as the critique of the “human” as a privileged category pretending to absolute difference from the animalistic, while erasing gendered and cultural difference) is often easily conflated with posthuman-ism (attempts to theorize technological interventions in the human, such as cyborgs or genetically-engineered beings). While specialist discourse on the subject is very clear about the distinction between these topics, the imaginative prominence of the latter (conventionally distinguished as “transhuman”) has tended to attract scholars of science fiction, and of the philosophy of science, to these ongoing debates, while marking off the topic as not of much concern to those trained in premodern fields. There is an implied teleology to the structure of debate: only as we evolve beyond a set of traditional genetic limitations can we properly focus on how the “human” is a questionable category.

This panel proposes to open a discussion on how posthumanist critique, in any guise, might be relevant to scholars of premodern Chinese literatures. Although distinct from the post-Renaissance humanisms of Europe, construction of the category of the human (as well as imagination of its alternatives) was just as important to premodern China as to the West. Without any ideological presuppositions, we wish to ask: in what ways has that category functioned to structure premodern Chinese literary and social discourse, and whether the pre-technological imagination of transhuman figures served to deconstruct the category of the “human”, or perhaps to reinforce it?

Possible starting-points might include:  Animal-spirit seductresses in the zhiguai genre, and non-human gender  Liezi’s “robot” and other golem-like figures in philosophical discourse  Religious Daoist imagination of the body and its cosmological correspondences  Sun Wukong as beast/demigod in narrative and performance  Theorization of humanity in political discourse on non-Chinese ethnic groups  Ge Hong’s Lie Xian Zhuan and hagiographical representations of transcendence  Buddhist theological debate about the possibility of plant-based mind  Peony Pavilion and the humanistic sublimation of necrophilia  Human/natural parallelism as anthropocentrism in classical poetics  Rereading Story of a Stone as the story of a stone  Deformed/amputated bodies and the Confucian family order  Li Zhi’s revision of xinxue, and late-imperial construction of the passionate human
Please send abstracts to Daniel Fried ( no later than March 15. Scholars accepted to the panel will need to have MLA membership current by April 7.