Kempf Lecture: Andrew Jones| Slow Reading or Not at All: Fei Ming’s Poetics of Reticence

Event time: 
Wednesday, March 27, 2024 - 4:00pm
Humanities Quadrangle (HQ), 107 See map
320 York St
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 

In this presentation, I will discuss close-reading (and translating) the modernist fiction of Fei Ming (1901-1967). Widely appreciated for the odd and sometimes recondite lyricism of his prose, Fei Ming’s work has been chided for his “obscurity,” lauded for his refusal to accede to the nation-building imperatives of the new literature of the May 4th era, seen as a “pastoral modernist,” and interpreted in terms of his immersion in Buddhist thought and premodern Chinese poetics. I propose here that the stylistic obscurity of Fei Ming’s short stories may voice an ethical as much as an aesthetic impulse. At a syntactic and a semantic level, Fei Ming’s work often pulls us up short, gives us pause, omits critical information, or leaves us out of the picture entirely. Fei Ming’s opacity forces us to read slowly, or not at all. Fei Ming’s early stories “Peach Orchard” 桃園, “The Story of the Bamboo Grove” 竹林的故事, and “Mr. Zhang and Mrs. Zhang” 張先生與張太太 — all of which enter into, and yet shy away from representing the lives of illiterate rural women — appeared alongside the writings of May 4th luminaries such as Lu Xun and Zhou Zuoren in the pages of Word Threads 語絲. Is it possible to read Fei Ming’s aesthetic reticence not as a repudiation of contemporary debates about enlightenment, literary realism, and the woman question, but as an ethical response to the dilemmas of literary representation?

Andrew F. Jones, Louis B. Agassiz Professor in Chinese, received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1997. Professor Jones teaches modern Chinese literature and media culture at Berkeley. He is the author of a trio of books on modern Chinese music: Like a Knife: Ideology and Genre in Contemporary Chinese Popular Music (Cornell East Asia Series, 1992), Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age (Duke University Press, 2001), and Circuit Listening: Chinese Popular Music in the Global 1960s (University of Minnesota Press, 2020). He was co-editor of a special issue of positions: east asia cultures critique entitled The Afro-Asian Century, and translator of literary fiction by Yu Hua as well as Eileen Chang’s Written on Water (New York Review Books, 2023). He has also published Developmental Fairy Tales: Evolutionary Thinking and Modern Chinese Culture (Harvard University Press, 2011), and a volume co-edited with Xu Lanjun, 儿童的发现 — 现代中国文学及文化中的儿童问题 [The Discovery of the Child: the Problem of the Child in Modern Chinese Literature and Culture], (Peking University Press, 2011).