07/12/08_1 Occidentalism

Last week's reading was dominated by theories, which has been extremely illuminating for a theoretically-ignorant person like me. It was started by going over the introduction of Shih Shu-mei's The Lure of the Modern and Chen Xiaomei's Occidentalism (with the preface written by Dai Jinhua) on Monday, both comparative literature monographs. Shih analyzed "modernist" novels in the Republican period and emphasized the semi-colonial environment that played into the favored representation of the West in Chinese writings. Chen investigated into largely the same problem by choosing the late 1970s and 1980s, and described an important yet questionable "Occidentalism" among the Chinese intelligentsia. Both could be considered as response to Said's Orientalism, applying (or reversing) his theory into the idiosyncratic context of modern Chinese literature. What intrigued me most, however, was Chen's questioning into herself's role as a Chinese-born scholar writing in the essentially-western academic world. What significance does our writings bear to the people whom we claim to represent? Reflecting over the writings of the Chinese overseas diaspora after 1989, she pointed our to a gap between the imagined community and the real China, the "subalterns" out there. What is the point of doing social science research, other than painstakingly producing a couple of books which will soon be buried into an obscure corner of libraries? We gotta make some true noise out of this. We gotta investigate theories not for theories' sake. We gotta recognize our own prejudices and standings without pretending to know everything. It's the everlasting dilemma for choosing to distance yourself from the "moral economy of the crowd" while trying to make sense of the very phenomena.

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