From Burke and Wordsworth to the Modern Sublime in Chinese Literature

From Burke and Wordsworth to the Modern Sublime in Chinese Literature

Yi Zheng
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Purdue University Press
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  • Book Info
    From Burke and Wordsworth to the Modern Sublime in Chinese Literature
    Book Description:

    This volume presents a historical-textual study about transformations of the aesthetics of the sublime—the literary and aesthetic quality of greatness under duress—from early eng Romanticism to the New Poetry Movement in twentieth-century China. Zheng sets up the former and the latter as distinct but historically analogous moments and argues that both the European Romantic reinvention of the sublime and its later Chinese transformation represent cultural movements built on the excessive and capacious nature of the sublime to counter their shared sense of historical crisis. The author further postulates through a critical analysis of Edmund Burke’s Inquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, William Wordsworth’s Prelude, and Guo Moruo’s experimental poem “Fenghuang Niepan” (“Nirvana of the Phoenix”) and verse drama Qu Yuan that these aesthetic practices of modernity suggest a deliberate historical hyperbolization of literary agency. Such an agency is in turn constructed imaginatively and affectively as a means to redress different cultures’ traumatic encounter with modernity. The volume will be of interest to scholars including graduate students of Romanticism, philosophy, history, eng literature, Chinese literature, comparative literature, and (comparative) cultural studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-61249-174-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction to From Burke and Wordsworth to the Modern Sublime in Chinese Literature
    (pp. 1-11)

    Guo Moruo (1892-1978) is arguably one of the most important modern Chinese poets (see, e.g., Roy), whose career spanned the major part of the twentieth century. In an account of what had awoken his interest in poetry, he credited the nineteenth-century US-American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), whose poem "The Arrow and the Song" he had read in his high school English textbook, as his first poetic inspiration: "The poem struck me as exceedingly refreshing. It was as if I were seeing poetry for the first time. Now I can no longer remember the original lines … but the general...

  5. Chapter One Envisioning a Culture of the Sublime Aesthetic
    (pp. 12-23)

    In contemporary philosophy, aesthetics as an established philosophical enquiry has two applications: a restricted sense of the study of beauty in art and nature and a general reference to the whole process of human perception and sensation—those feelings of pleasure and pain that are not simply reducible to clearly defined intellectual concepts (Malpas 34). In his study of Lyotard's idea of art, the sublime, and the postmodern, Malpas also points out that as a particular discipline of inquiry, aesthetics emerged during the eighteenth century in Europe and since then formed a key part of the work of many Anglo-European...

  6. Chapter Two The Imperative of the Romantic Aesthetic and Burke's Inquiry into the Sublime
    (pp. 24-39)

    How, then, does Burke establish his aesthetic judgment? Upon what ground does he set up his explanatory system on taste, and does it accede to the Kantian dread of the proliferation, infinity, and rampant individuation that incapacitate "all censorship on tastes" and social agreement? Burke's introduction sets out to ground the argument for the universality or commonalty of taste: "All men are agreed to call vinegar sour, honey sweet, and aloes bitter; and as they are all agreed in finding these qualities in those objects, they do not in the least differ concerning their effects with regard to pleasure and...

  7. Chapter Three Wordsworth's Poetic Prelude to Modern History
    (pp. 40-67)

    The sublime desire for poetic limitlessness and historical redirection also features prominently in Wordsworth's modern poetics. It is a poetics that emphatically demonstrates a historical hyperbolization of literary agency and a longing for a cultural avant-garde as well as a legislative function for a new kind of poetry. In this chapter I explore Wordsworth's repeated attempts to figure a modern poetic beginning as an emblematic construction of the Romantic sublime. The said construction represents poetic practice as a hyperbolized cultural avant-guardism, which has since characterized modern European literature. I examine Wordsworth's multiple poetic beginnings as epitaph, as a search for...

  8. Chapter Four The Construction of the Sublime as an Aesthetic Movement across Time and Place
    (pp. 68-82)

    From the preceding chapters, one can argue that as demonstrated in Burke's and Wordsworth's (pre-)Romantic figurations, the sublime in its modern variation is always invoked with the sense of a historical destiny. It is formulated as something more than a self-referential aesthetic figure. What seem to begin as intra-aesthetic debates often turn out to involve a reformulation of the historical situation and destination of those aesthetic configurations. In fact, the protocol of the sublime, with its wide-ranging ethical, political, and epistemological implications, has also figured prominently as a focal point for conceptualizing the nature and direction of modernity itself. The...

  9. Chapter Five Guo Moruo and the Reformation of Modern Chinese Poetry in a Sublime Poetics
    (pp. 83-103)

    The search for the sublime, both in content and form, seemed to be the demand of the times and hence, indeed, one of the pervasive concerns of the early twentieth-century Chinese literary revolution. This is manifested sometimes in the aesthetic longing for the great, but more often in the willful poetic abandon in the savagely disruptive. The modern poetic revolution is at the forefront of this quest. And its process is most symptomatic of such a quest's cultural and aesthetic ambition.

    The newbaihua(vernacular) poetry movement of this period differed from the late Qing poetic reform in that this...

  10. Chapter Six Rewriting Qu Yuan and Towards a Sublime Denouement
    (pp. 104-123)

    How does one account for the traces of an unwanted origin and the "echoing" of the first "murmur" of the sources (Wordsworth, "Essays upon Epitaphs" 79) in the overwhelming iconoclasm that is generally seen to typify the spirit of the times? Guo's vision of a Chinese cultural modernity involved a project of regeneration. His ambition for cultural and historical redress, which characteristically proclaimed itself with self-incineration and devastation of the world, was in the end a program of transformation. As the "true" beginner of New Poetry, his quest for directions inevitably lead him to the traces of origins. Guo repeatedly...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 124-128)

    The modern refiguration of the aesthetics of the sublime—which propagates in equal measures the cognition and feelings for greatness and ferocity—is indeed a "historical aestheticism" with manifest cultural ambitions. It was emphatically so in the transformation of the Romantic sublime as a cultural reaction to modern history from eighteenth- to nineteenth-century Europe to early twentieth-century China. While the European and the Chinese transformations are different in geo-cultural interests and traditions of precedents, they are motivated similarly by a shared modern history with its attendant sense of crisis. A critical study of aesthetic treaties and literary texts as diverse...

  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 129-138)
  13. Index
    (pp. 139-148)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 149-149)