False Liberty, True Politics: Lu Xun’s Essayistic Representation of Reality in the 1930s

Event time: 
Wednesday, April 17, 2024 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm
Henry R. Luce Hall LUCE, 203 See map
34 Hillhouse Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
Xudong Zhang - Professor of Comparative Literature and Chinese, New York University; Founding Driector, International Center for Critical Theory (ICCT)
Event description: 

The last phase of Lu Xun’s (1881-1936) literary career started in 1933 with a bang. Emerging from a five-year hiatus as a translator, mostly of Russian and Soviet literature and theory, and after completing a patient reorientation toward Shanghai metropolitan landscape, Lu Xun re-engaged with the essay as the chosen mode of writing suitable for representing and intervening into reality. The notion of false liberty (weiziyou), which Lu Xun appropriated to name his collection of short essays published in the “Free Discourse” column of Shenbao, captures the centrality of the heightened rhetorical strategies and stylistic sophistication of the writer vis-à-vis a harsh reality under even harsher political regimes in China at that time. The freedom of thought and the unfreedom of speech led to sustained allegorization, which in turn give rise to an explosive, wide-ranging representation of reality. In so doing, the writing machine that is zawen defined and redefined itself as the privileged mode of literary production not only within the writer’s own ouvre and arsenal of genres, but in the historical and literary historical contexts of Chinese New Literature as a whole.

Xudong Zhang is Professor of Compartive Literature and Chinese at New York University and the founding Director of International Center for Critical Theory (ICCT), a research consortium based at NYU and Peking. He is the author of Chinese Modernism in the Era of Reforms; Postsocialism and Cultural Politics; and, in Chinese, a five-volume collection of essays and lectures ranging from critical theory, critical analysis of modern Chinese literature and culture, film and political philosophy in the age of contested modernity and globalization. He is currently at work on a trilogy of re-reading of Lu Xun, the first volume of which came out in 2023 under the title of The Becoming Self-Conscious of Zawen: The Second Birth of Lu Xun Literature, 1924-1927. He is currently (for academic year 2023-2024) a Fellow at The New Institute in Hamburg, Germany.