Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Essayisation in contemporary Chinese emigration literature

This project proposes to connect two discourses highly present in contemporary literary criticism in China, as well as on the world literary scene and academic circles: the discussion on emigration literature and the concept of ‘essayness’ derived mainly from (post)modern Western theories of the essay.

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The project focuses on theoretical trends that emphasize the unclear, inexpressible, disturbing, aporetic nature of this (non-) genre, and associate essayness with a particular existential condition (e.g. concepts of scholars such as Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Jean J. Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard). My aim is to explore essayisation in Chinese contemporary literature, taken as an evolution of the literary work towards essayness, from the perspective of the author’s emigratory experience and its cultural & sociopolitical background, considering linguistic, artistic, and other aspects that may constitute important components of the author’s identity and self-(re)definition. This is taken to include international and domestic physical emigration; inner or ‘mental’ emigration, i.e. into one’s own mind; virtual or online emigration, i.e. into the world wide web; and combinations and interactions of these various categories. (This terminology is tentative, and the respective notions and definitions will be elaborated early in the project, and fine-tuned along the way.)

The research will examine essays by Chinese writers in emigration, as well as their novels, short stories, poems, plays, blogs, occasionally also other forms of artistic or journalistic activity (performances, paintings, movies, photography) and translations of their work into English, Russian and Polish; the latter category is important since I wish to consider the notion of ‘translation as essayisation’. I will explore opportunities for comparison with emigration literatures in other languages, looking for saliency – in similarity and difference alike – rather than ‘systematic’ coverage.

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