Eileen Chang$S Non-Numanist Modes of Sympathy: Theatricalized Details and Traumatic Mimesis

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entrenched in people’s general impression of this renowned author, so much so that hardlyany reader would come to associate the relations between her narrators and characters, andbetween her characters and readers with the notion of sympathy. This is because the humanistthinking underlying a great many critical interpretations oftentimes defines sympathy interms of excessive sentimentalism. Contra the above sentimentalized underpinnings, thistwo-year project aims to employ a non-humanist framework to address Chang’spossession-like affective penetration and adhesiveness. It is my contention that Chang’ssympathy is not only embodied in the various psychological details of her characters, but,most importantly, in her theatricalized representations of a myriad scenes, dialogues, andgestures which turn humans into things. The performative reiteration of these materializedentities paves the way for the reader’s sympathetic identification as thingly objects. Thisperformative mechanism, furthermore, is premised upon the anti-humanist logic of trauma,whereby both Chang’s characters and those readers who have come in contact with heralluring texts are thrown into a trance as if they were dead, inanimate objects. During the firstyear, I intend to tackle the theatricalized details in Chang. Through a close reading of “Lovein a Fallen City,” I argue that in contrast to most novelists who confine their representationsof affect to a psychological enclosure, Chang’s sympathy counters this depth model byassuming a queer, campy attitude in its embrace of various theatricalized scenes, gestures,and dialogues, whose janus-faced duality harbors an ambivalent attachment to theatricality atthe same time that it criticizes the Chinese paternal law that forces women to masquerade.Such camp duality departs from conventional simplistic understanding of sympathy, insofaras the suicidal violence inherent in its anality has rendered obsolete the logic of(self-)referentiality. Through the detailed representations of the pointed theatricality of hercharacters’ petty affectations, she produces an campy occasion of affective resonances whichreveal the affective transmissibility of such affectations, thus showcasing a mechanism ofnon-humanist sympathy. In the second year of my projected study, I intend to employ traumaas my analytic lens. For that purpose I will appropriate Ruth Ley’s understanding of this veryaffect’s mimetic structure. Through a juxtaposition of Chang’s “The Golden Cangue” andEighteen Springs, my study will proceed to delineate the dialectics of mimesis andanti-mimesis at work in these two stories. While the former has its heroine Qiqiao, victimturned victimizer, mimetically simulate, as if in a hypnotic trance, a primal scene that in itsrepeated staging has continuously subjected anyone who comes close to the same scenario ofsuffering, the latter, on the contrary, comprises an anti-mimetic register which manifests itselfin Manzhen’s depressed, inanimate state, whose rejection of the mimetic drive to haunt theprimal scene time and again ultimately transforms a series of still frames constituted by herrepeated poses as inanimate objects into an animated picture of inanimation, culminating inthe celebrated “beautiful yet desolate gesture.” The continuous mimetic repetition of such agesture in the reader’s inanimate state caused by the gothic thrill of the novel gives rise to avirtual potentiality whereby an indeterminate space and time will emerge through thecontagiousness of sympathy and make possible forceful critique of the root cause of thenovel’s traumatic structure. The dialectic of sympathy constituted by the above mimetic andanti-mimetic structures suggests a radical affective politics that mobilizes potentialantagonism against Chinese communitarianism.
Effective start/end date1/08/1631/07/17

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals


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