Old tales, untold: Lu Xun against world literature.
Tensions between global and local, history and modernity were crucial to the formation of modern Chinese literature, and have taken on exciting new dimensions as the economic power of China's domestic market grows. What has developed far less, I argue, is our recognition of the assumptions of centrality implicit in most understandings of world literature, which the canonization of Lu Xun illustrates. (2) The parallel (and in many cases overlapping) growth of world literature and translation studies represents a powerful theoretical evolution of comparative literature, but perennial questions of who compares and what world remain salient. These seem particularly important in discussing contemporary world literature as the very term suggests homogeneity. Difference can be assumed when dealing with works of the remote past, especially those predating imperial contacts. (3) However, the emergence of a world literary market suggests the possibility of a singular world literature. This could be the totality of global literary production, but it isn't. Nor is it consistent: much work is done by scholars, translators, and editors to establish the worldliness of a particular author or work. Lu Xun is part of world literature, but what Lu Xun and why?
The scholarly discourse on world literature has postulated that a world literary market exists and that it favors a cosmopolitan style dictated by metropolitan tastemakers. Pascale Casanova (2004) attributes this to the role of major cities as entry points into aliterary network through which peripheral authors must pass. David Damrosch (2003) sees voguish academic interests allowing some works to circulate beyond their points of origin, shaping a mutable canon of world literature. Taking an economic view, Francesca Orsini (2004) argues that some literatures lack the publishing capacity to reach audiences beyond the local (319-33). (4) Writers can exploit these various mechanisms of world literary circulation to reach wider audiences. This can be as simple as writing in French or English, or seeking out a partnership with a translator. Alternatively writers can write specifically for metropolitan consumers of world literature. Graham Huggan (2001) looks at the desires of those audiences for potentially orientalizing narratives about the local in The Postcolonial Exotic. More recently, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009) has warned about the limitations of those cosmopolitan reader-friendly narratives. Adichie's advice is for both readers and writers in that they should neither look for nor inscribe reductive narratives about the local in works destined for the global market; however, we might extend it to ask why that market need be so reductively singular itself.
The means of Lu Xun's entree into this world literature belies its singularity, or at least that of its metropolitan center. By looking at how Lu Xun is made intelligible as world literature through translation and scholarship, I argue that we can see the artifice at play in the production of a worldliness that conveniently resembles Anglophone aesthetic norms and is deracinated from all but the most superficial local histories. World literature is a powerful, even Utopian political project, but implicitly equating economic dominance with cosmopolitan aesthetics does little more than affirm an aesthetic analogue to neoliberalism. By turning our attentions to those works that have resisted canonization as worldly despite their intimate engagements with supranational literary discourses, we may be able to envision a decentralized world literature--or literatures--that retains the dialectical tensions between local and global, past and present that animate Lu Xun's most biting critiques by challenging intellectual complacencies.
Scholarship on Lu Xun has recently seen a welcome surge in books and articles on the writer. Distance from the official, ideologically over-determined hermeneutics combined with Julia Lovell's excellent new translations of his fiction are likely partial contributors (Lu Xun 2010). The greatest beneficiaries of this wave of scholarly publishing have been those works of Lu Xun's that are lesser-known in translation. Nicholas Kaldis (2014) and Nick Admussen (2009) have illuminated the obscure Yecao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and Gloria Davies (2013) has called renewed attention to the zawen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] that make up the bulk of Lu Xun's corpus. Eva Shan Chou (2012) has recontextualized important artifacts from the writer's life, while also highlighting Lu Xun's involvement in the nascent woodcut movement. However, despite the new paths revealed by this research, Lu Xun's last work of fiction, Gushi xinbian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or Old Tales Retold, remains largely unexamined. This general lack of attention elicits statements of apology from those whose projects lie elsewhere, but not much in terms of sustained engagement. Still, G. Andrew Stuckey (2010), Wilt Idema (2012), and Eileen Cheng (2013) have made significant contributions to the study of this text, if as components of larger projects with other focuses. In a boom period for the study of Lu Xun's work, the relative absence, or marginal presence, of the Old Tales in the wave suggests that the text is difficult to reconcile with the larger theories of Lu Xun's authorial development being deployed.
Alternatively, the work just might not be very good. This was Lu Xun's (2010) assessment: "Most of the pieces are only sketches, and certainly not literary fiction" (296-97). Yet issues of aesthetic merit as rationale for a lack of engagement are unconvincing for a writer of Lu Xun's stature, even more so for what constitutes a third of his prose fiction output. The dearth of scholarship on what might otherwise appear to be a major text is even more confusing considering the attention lavished on his ephemera in recent work: for example, Chou's (2012) long but rewarding analysis of the famous photograph featuring the young writer queueless (52-98). What is more, interrogations of the "facetiousness" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (youhua) (5) that Lu Xun finds problematic in the Old Tales have animated much of the limited conversation on the work thus far, as in Cheng (2013) and Marston Anderson (1993).
Beyond Chinese literary studies proper, the Old Tales is entirely absent. Lu Xun, however, appears in all major anthologies of world literature, as well as in survey textbooks of modern Chinese literature. In these, the selections are drawn almost entirely from the first two collections of short stories. Columbia's standard. Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature admirably includes two pieces from Wild Grass in its "Essays" section. "A Madman's Diary" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is usually present in these anthologies--Bedford's used "The True Story of Ah Q" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Q [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--which reflects the story's historical significance. Other inclusions--"Soap" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "A Small Incident" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "Upstairs in a Tavern" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "Medicine" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the "Preface" to Call to Arms [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--are similarly indicative of the intellectual fervor of the 1920s. Although many subtle, complicated readings of these pieces exist, they do not appear to serve the purposes of the anthologies. Indeed the placement of the stories in the "Modern" sections of the multivolume anthologies emphasizes their contemporaneity. Columbia's begins its collection of modern Chinese literature with the "Preface" to Nahan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and "Madman." Again, this makes good if simplistic historical sense, but privileges a narrative of rupture in Chinese literature over one of continuity.
Of course, Lu Xun's early works do signify a rupture in Chinese literature, as they were the harbingers of the baihua revolution, but this is a reductive reading. Much work has been done to rethink the primacy of Lu Xun's role in promoting baihua, ranging from the ambitious, such as Ming Dong Gu's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (2006) work on the early Chinese novel, to the meticulous, such as Milena Dolezelova-Velingerova's (1977) account of Shanghai's newspaper scene. Lu Xun's preeminence as a language reformer also comes at the expense of the extant popular literature, derisively termed "Mandarin Duck and Butterfly" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] fiction, on whose vitality Perry Link (1981) and Rey Chow (1991) have written extensively. Ironically, this aspect of Lu Xun's fiction is least visible when read in translation. William Lyell and Julia Lovell's efforts to distinctively render the wenyan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] introduction to "Madman" notwithstanding, in an anthology of works in translation, Lu Xun's vernacular appears little different from the European modernist texts that surround it (e.g. Kafka and Pirandello in Norton), or earlier Chinese texts in other volumes.
This is not to understate Lu Xun's importance, but to recall that his baihua [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] was not alone, nor was its supposedly novel content all that original: though a prodigious translator, Lu Xun was only one of many bringing foreign, aesthetically modern (viz. romantic, realist) stories into China. And "Madman" owes a clear debt to Nikolai Gogol and only slightly less obvious ones to Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Darwin (Cheung 2001; Pusey 1998). This enthusiasm for translation dates to the later nineteenth century, (6) so again Lu Xun was working out of fertile ground.
Hailing "Madman" as the point of rupture is also somewhat anachronistic. Looking back it is indeed a significant work, but this requires the context of what followed, which, naturally excepting Columbia's, does not appear in the anthologies. Recognizing the story as decisively modern is a proleptic gesture, as it was hardly recognized at all upon publication: Eva Shan Chou (2002) reports, "several years elapsed before the fiction was widely recognized as the significant landmark it is today. In terms of the written record, it took five years before Lu's writings began to be noticed" (1043). This is consistent with Lu Xun's 1924 assessment of the new fiction just after those five years: "As for the new fiction written since the republic was founded, this is still in its infancy and no really important works have appeared" (Lu Hsun 1976, 419). His comment may be self-deprecating, but is consistent with his later comments about the weaknesses of Chinese literary production and the ongoing necessity of translation and criticism (Lu Xun 1985, 3:51-56, 109-11; Lu Xun 2005, 5:274-5, 312-7). (7) Moreover, the melancholy of the second collection of stories is rooted in what appears as a failure of the cultural reform the new literature was supposed to herald. The narrator of "Upstairs in the Tavern" asks his interlocutor "in surprise" about his return to teaching premodern texts, to which the latter responds, "I don't even teach maths: not because I don't want to, but because they don't want it" (Lu Xun 2001, 187). Lu Xun took a dim view of rupture, and of his place in it.
The question remains, then, why continue with the selection of Lu Xun as the paradigmatically modern Chinese author. The foregoing objections break no new ground and are well established within Chinese literary studies, so conceivably those responsible for selecting works in world literature anthologies could produce a more nuanced view of the modern in China. (8) The rupture between the modern and premodern in these anthologies applies beyond the Chinese example, which suggests that the logic of rupture may be guiding selections rather than anything specific to Lu Xun. His selection as the primary representative of modern Chinese literature may rest more on tacit assumptions about modernity than about Lu Xun.
The difficulties of rendering Lu Xun and indeed all of modern Chinese literature commensurable with a homogeneous, modern world literature have been apparent from the outset of their academic study in the United States. C.T. Hsia [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the field's founder, recognized that contemporary Chinese and Euro-American literatures were markedly different in their definition of modernity. Although his investment in this difference may have been conditioned by his anti-Communist stance during the Cold War, Hsia's (1999) observation that Europe and America's "most significant literature betrays little joy in those positive achievements that have been the envy of every Chinese patriot. If anything, the concern of modern Western literature with the individual psyche has betrayed its rebellious stance against the modern environment" (535). He critiques this enthusiasm for technological and political development as "sentimental," implying an immaturity by comparison with the lionized West (543). That his examples bear out to some extent this sentimentality is perhaps more indicative of the limited scope of the discipline in its early days: Yu Dafu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is an easy target (543). The extensive scholarship of the intervening half century reveals a far more complex picture of the literary scenes in early Republican China than Hsia's "Obsession with China" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]; nevertheless, his identification of these scenes as qualitatively different from other centers of global literary production need not be taken solely in the negative.
Hsia, however, sees these differences as something to be overcome, as his criterion of excellence remains European literature. He cites Lu Xun's formative literary interests as "Nietzsche, Darwin, and such Russian writers of fiction as Gogol, Chekhov, and Andreyev, all of whom remained the most vital influences on his career as writer and thinker" (Hsia 1999, 30). This is accurate, but the superlative excludes Lu Xun's deep investment in Chinese literature of all eras, which gets obliquely glossed in the description of the author as "the eldest son of a somewhat impoverished family which had nevertheless retained the tradition of learning" (30). Lu Xun's "sentimental" attachment to China's youth "disqualifies him from joining the ranks of true satirists from Horace to Ben Jonson to Aldous Huxley, who have no compunction in lashing alike the vices of old and young, rich and poor" (54). By contrast, Hsia believes "Eileen Chang is not only the best and most important writer in China today; her short stories alone invite comparisons with, and in some respects claim superiority over, the work of serious modern women writers in English: Katherine Mansfield, Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers" (389). Gendered qualifier aside, Hsia positions Chang as the supreme modern Chinese writer because of her similarities with Anglophone contemporaries.
The emphasis on a standard of global literary modernity in Hsia's critique leaves little space for works like Old Tales Retold in either modern Chinese or world literatures. Whereas he praises Eileen Chang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] for her scholarship into Hongloumeng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], attributing to it "principally a mastery of dialogue and a corroboration of her insight into peculiarly Chinese behavior" (397), he excoriates Lu Xun's redeployment of myth. Ignoring Lu Xun's own pioneering scholarship into traditional Chinese fiction and overstating his political commitments, Hsia denigrates the Old Tales: "In his fear of searching his own mind and disclosing thereby his pessimistic and somber view of China at complete variance with his professed Communist faith, Lu Hsiin could only repress his deep-seated personal emotions in the service of political satire. The resulting levity and chaos in Old Legends Retold mark the sad degeneration of a distinguished if narrow talent for fiction" (46). The contrast in Hsia's treatment of Chang and Lu Xun's engagements with premodern Chinese literature suggests a conception of a literary past that is inviolable. Chang may draw positive inspiration from it, but Lu Xun's "malicious caricature" of Chinese mythology is the product of a repressed degenerate. He locates this malice in Lu Xun's having "Confucius, Lao Tzu, and Chuang Tzu parade before us in the guise of clowns, mouthing equal portions of modern colloquial speech and their recorded aphorisms" (46). The Old Tales, for Hsia, profanes history by making it speak to the present as buffoon rather than sage.
Lu Xun is hardly exceptional in this, but he is somewhat unmodern. Relishing its intertextuality, the Old Tales positions itself less within a synchronic global modernity, here characterized by Hsia as Euro-American, but in a diachronic locality. As the name suggests, all of the constituent Old Tales are drawn from Chinese mythology. The retellings are sometimes quite literal, as in the case of "Forging the Swords" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which mostly expands on the ancient zhiguai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] version of the story; others, however, such as "Curbing the Flood" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] feature overt commentary on contemporary politics interleaved with the expanded mythological narrative. T.A. Hsia [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1968) sees similar allusive practices throughout Lu Xun's work, which makes classical reference "an important feature of this rhetoric" (147). The resulting texts are intensely contemporary due to their engaging in what might now be considered ephemeral factional battles among intellectuals, but they resist total subsumption into a global modernity by demanding that readers have a command of Chinese literary history. Undoubtedly C.T. Hsia had this knowledge, but still took issue with the incommensurability of the Old Tales with contemporary Euro-American works. The modernist's structural allusion becomes in Lu Xun the classicist's monumental edifice, making history and mythology in the Old Tales primary rather than supplemental.
As much as the content of the Old Tales suggests an inconvenient continuity between modern and premodern Chinese literature, its form further challenges easy periodization. The paratactic presentation of the mythical and the contemporary is a defining feature of classical Chinese political discourse. In the Mencius [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], for example, we see many dialogues between the eponymous sage and a ruler in which the former responds to political conundrums posed by the latter through historical and mythological parables. The ruler usually would divine the upshot of the story and derive the appropriate solution to his contemporary problem. Cloaking political commentary in myth had the advantage of being indirect and thus safer for the critic; the veiled critique could easily resemble the scholarly activity of premodern intellectuals. (9) This may account for the enduring popularity of Qu Yuan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as a subject or model for poetry and commentary--Lu Xun was a fan (von Kowallis 1996, 7). However, the safety of historical reference risks obscuring the critique: this sort of allusive practice demands much of its readers.
But obscurity is in part the point. The linguistic opacity of ancient Chinese literature is such that some glosses require glosses. Given the great distance from ancient Chinese to even Middle Chinese, basic readability requires interpretative commentary. This can vary substantially: Kong Yingda [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] versus Zhu Xi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] on the Shijing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Despite the difficulty and the scope of this material, generations of scholars mastered the unwieldy classical tradition. This is due at least in part to the homogenizing effects of the examination system on literary education (Miyazaki 1981, 14-16). What this means is that the canny political commentator can count on having a savvy audience to parse any veiled claims. As seen in the Rulin waishi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], varying degrees of classical mastery among audiences could lead to scholarly one-upmanship: savvy was unevenly distributed. Thus even among the small literate population of premodern China, the intended audience for this kind of political writing could be intentionally limited based on the relative obscurity of a reference. The reading community for premodern-style political commentary was not universal by design, and participation in that community was contingent not on an investment in the contemporary, but on a command of the historical.
So too with the Old Tales. Lu Xun's use of an earlier form of political commentary limits its potential audience. This is not to say that the work is inaccessible for those outside its initial audience. Its references are hardly arcane; in the Chinese context they are garden variety. However, Chinese mythology is not especially well known by Anglophone audiences. Perhaps this is due to its complexity and dearth of narrative systematization--the Shanhaijing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is a vastly different animal from Homer's Odyssey--or, as Anne Birrell (1993) suggests, because of generally weak efforts on the parts of translators and popularizers (8). Whatever its cause, this lacuna roots the Old Tales in a local discursive tradition. Elsewhere in the corpus, T.A. Hsia (1968) notes Lu Xun's collage effects achieved through the admixture of wenyan and baihua styles, which "places the past and the present on the same plane" (151). In the Old Tales we see not only linguistic pastiche, but also narrative. Form and content conspire to resist deracination and global circulation because of the demands they put on their audience, modest though they may be. World literature thus has difficulty admitting a modern text that is decidedly unmodern in its realization.
Analyzing this difficulty requires tackling the assumptions underlying the concept of literary modernity. First, dating the modern essentially names what comes before as premodern--sometimes explicitly so. While the rise of early modern studies has productively complicated this periodization, the suggestion remains, etymologically, that what is not modern is out of step with the present (Porter 2010, 299-306). That we can name as premodern a Chinese literature that was contemporary with ostensibly modern European literatures reveals implicit political hierarchies imposed by the term. That this period coincided with the era of unequal treaties in China demonstrates that these aesthetic hierarchies had political counterparts. Although beyond the scope of this essay, these hierarchies lend themselves to analysis through postcolonial or Orientalist lenses, and have been taken up by Ming Dong Gu (2013) in his recent Sinologism. However, as Lydia Liu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1995) has shown, Chinese intellectuals at the turn of the last century, including Lu Xun, were very much aware of the aesthetic and political hierarchies at stake in the discourse of modernity (45-76). Local literary discourses in Republican China, as argued by C.T. Hsia above, conceive of modernity differently from those of transnational or world literatures.
Second, then, the modern becomes a goal, albeit an ambiguous one. Coincident with the formal adventures of the circum-May Fourth writers were the critiques of China's social and political premodernity. Yu Dafu, Ba Jin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Ding Ling [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Mao Dun [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and Lu Xun all write characters who desire modernity. Although following Tang Xiaobing (2000), their paths are tortuous and unclear at best (74-106). We need only recall Lu Xun's titular Madman, whose enlightenment is revealed to be pathological and who retreats from advocating a Nietzschean/Darwinian modernity after his recovery. Despite these complications, overcoming premodernity's implied problems remains a central concern of modern Chinese literature at its canonical inception.
This leads to a paradox. These modern Chinese writers are modern because they recognize that they are not modern but want to be so. Under the logic of rupture, the paradox resolves itself through the vaguely Kantian move of modernity being a repudiation and overcoming of the premodern; the writers no longer contort between inadequacy and success, but have liberated themselves from premodernity by aligning with the Enlightenment narratives of political and social development that imposed the distinction in the first place. Doing so does not guarantee them the same stature in world literary discourse as a contemporary high modernist, as suggested by Fredric Jameson's (1986) contentious third world literature hypothesis (65-88). Nevertheless, the homogeneous empty time of modernity in Walter Benjamin's philosophy of history places all national literatures in the same sphere of modern world literature, even if its center goes unquestioned (261). (10) Lu Xun's comments about the value of recent Chinese fiction are less sharp when taken with his belief that practice will make modern Chinese writers better: measurable progress. This conception of modernity foregrounds the transnational over the local; participation in the former, even if only through consumption, admits the participants to a qualitative modernity, while problematizing their quantitative position therein.
For all the criticism heaped on Jameson's "Third-World Literature" essay, its most contentious points--national allegory, hierarchical stylistics--have proven remarkably tenacious in world literature. Reading it thirty years on, the piece remains surprising not for the shock of its argument, but for its prescience. Opposing realism and modernism while linking the former to local political aims and the latter to transnational circulation encapsulates a central debate in world literature: for what world is world literature? In Born Translated Rebecca Walkowitz (2015) examines the subversive potentialities of taking the world Anglophone market as audience, though her examples, excepting Harry Potter, are largely drawn from an already existing canon of international (post)modernists, in keeping with Jameson's hypothesis. The sign of literary modernity to the younger Lu Xun, by contrast, was nationalist romanticism. His 1908 essay "On the Power of Mara Poetry" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] sees a transnational element to his so-called Mara poets: "The character, words, deeds, and ideas of all these men--despite the many differences produced by the variety of nationality and background--are united in one school" (Lu Xun 1996, 107). The worldly for Lu Xun here is decentralized, resting on the strength of local commitments. It is aspirational, coming as part of a larger discussion over the use of literature for political and social reform in China. In contemporary practice, though, Lu Xun's model falls on the wrong side of Jameson's binary. His privileging of modernism has been criticized for its reductive triumphalism in that it flatters those who name it, but it persists as a major standard of worldliness (Ahmad 1987, 11).
However, like all generic classifications, modernism is recursive and flexible. Through critical reappraisal Lu Xun has become, in large part, a modernist writer. This was perhaps a ground-clearing gesture in response to earlier ideological classifications of Lu Xun's work as realist (Tang 1992, 1223). Tang Xiaobing argues for Lu Xun's modernist status through a rigorous philological and theoretical approach that extends Jameson's logic to a specifically Chinese modernism: "it is a modernism that both displaces the myth of a homogeneous native culture and interrupts any dominant parent tongue of history that readily pigeonholes the experience of history. It is a modernism that of necessity complicates and problematizes one's understanding of the modern" (1232-33). This definition of an indigenous modernism is productive for reading the Old Tales, but Tang chooses the self-consciously modern "Madman's Diary" as his example. His linguistic analysis deployed rests on poststructuralist moves of demonstrating language deconstructing itself. This highlights the extent of "Madman's" critical project, and aligns it with common understandings of international modernisms. Despite his stated intention of defining a Chinese modernism, Tang regularly juxtaposes Lu Xun with European modernists. Similarly, much of the recent attention to Lu Xun's Yecao has focused on establishing it as world literature. Nick Admussen (2009) establishes Wild Grass as being in conversation with Baudelaire's Le Spleen de Paris (7). Nicholas Kaldis (2014), in his book-length treatment of the collection, employs a dense citational practice that juxtaposes Lu Xun with canonical modernist writers and critics. Guilt by association.
These are acts of appropriation as much as canonization. They assume a monocephalic world literature. Recent theorizations like Walkowitz's offer exciting accounts of the plurilingual nature of worldly literary production--even of individual texts--but still assume a relatively homogeneous readership. For contemporary literature, this is above all an Anglophone audience: hence Walkowitz's notion of works that are "born translated." Moreover, many of the works she analyzes practice an internal polyglossia or employ creative resistances to translation. Although she mobilizes these practices as symptomatic of transnational--worldly--creative communities, this kind of linguistic play is a hallmark of avant-garde modernisms, which she acknowledges by tracing trajectories from James Joyce through Junot Diaz (Walkowitz 2015, 35). This is not to accuse contemporary authors of being mercenary, or rather not to condemn them for it; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009) speaks candidly about the realities facing the working writer of literary fiction. Instead, I want to call attention to how texts are made to speak for a worldly audience through common critical practices. Highlighting unconventional language use and complex translation histories appropriate texts for world literature.
The Old Tales, though, has so far resisted these appropriations. Despite its seeming aptness for this kind of critique, it remains outside most discussions of world literature. It features extensive pastiche, which Ming Dong Gu (2014) characterizes as "a distinct practice of postmodern narrative: the shattering of conventional narratology based on the traditional sense of time, history, genres, and style" (108). For Gu, it is archetypically postmodern avant la lettre. Formally the text lends itself to a (post)modernist mobilization, but for the pastiche to work, readers need to be familiar with the content. This is not to say that the work represents a productive aporia for translation, after Emily Apter (2013), in which "The Untranslatable comes into focus as that x-factor that disqualifies presumptive knowability in matters of linguistic definition" (121). Nothing about the Old Tales is untranslatable in the manner of a philosophical keyword, or even untranslated; it is just little circulated. Nor is it "particularist" in Doris Sommer's (1999) definition. Its complex presentation assumes a certain level of audience sophistication, but the crucial historical content is anything but obscure to a Chinese audience. That material exists in accessible, if infrequently read translations. Unlike "Madman," though, Old Tales cannot be made to speak to a global audience without extensive preparatory work. Its linguistic and formal play is inseparable from its historical content.
Old Tales Retold is born translated, but for a different world. As invested as it is in Chinese literary history, it is at least equally conversant with a (relatively) contemporary world literary discourse. As such it appropriates techniques that came to be classified as modernist for a Chinese audience. Although it does not respond directly to the worldly discourse that informs it, it is not incompatible with that discourse, only inconvenient. Still, it speaks to a worldly audience, but a Chinese one. This possibility lies in Pascale Casanova's concept of the World Republic of Letters, in which centers of literary authority--cities--constitute entry points into world literary discourse. Casanova's formulation, though, is symptomatic of many understandings of world literature in that it takes Paris and New York as the capitals of this World Republic. For those writing within or for that Euro-American space, not to mention the economic power of its literary market, this perspective is easy to assume and certainly not inaccurate--just incomplete.
To Casanova's New York and Paris we might add Lu Xun's Tokyo, Beijing, and Shanghai. Though Lu Xun looked to Europe and Japan for literary inspiration, he was throughout his life a scholar of Chinese literature, and China's is not one of Kafka's small literatures. The Old Tales, in its historical dimension, positions itself in a world literary discourse centered on China but global in scope. The work is not unique in this regard, even if it is an extreme example. Ding Ling's celebrated "Miss Sophia's Diary" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], though deeply indebted to Flaubert's Madame Bovary, casually references Pu Songling's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Liaozhai zhiyi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Ding Ling 2009, 14). The literary revolution heralded by "A Madman's Diary" may recontextualize Chinese literary production, but it did not--it could not--entirely subordinate the new literature to a Eurocentric world literature. As much as the early calls for literary reform suggest this (Hu Shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 1996, 123-39; Chen Duxiu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 1996, 140-45), the move to the vernacular opens up new spaces for the polyglossia privileged by Walkowitz. Lu Xun plays with the classical/baihua divide in "Madman," problematizes the selection of vernacular through the portrayal of regional languages (e.g. "Soap"), and considers the possibilities of foreign orthographies in "Ah Q." Similarly, Lao She [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], who is not Han Chinese, masterfully employs regionalisms in Luotuo Xiangzi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. Modern Chinese literature is intensely worldly from its inception according to contemporary definitions. Its admixture of the local and the global in contemporary and historical perspectives gestures toward autonomy in its worldliness.
And why not. The idea of a single world literature would be out of keeping with other uses of the word world. The Cold War era designations of first, second, and third worlds indicate the possibility of autonomous but interacting, sometimes even overlapping, worlds. Updating Erich Auerbach, Eric Hayot (2012) goes even further in tying worlds to individual texts (42-47). Such granularity is refreshing and productive as an optic for close reading. This has the added advantage of allowing worlds to emerge autochthonously from texts rather than placing texts in worlds, with all of its political baggage. Following Hayot's lead, I would like to strike a middle ground between the totality of a world literature and atomic worlds of literature. A thinking of world literature that emphasizes multiple, potentially opposed centers has the potential to remind readers that not all texts need to be made commensurable with local experience, however economically powerful it may be, while recognizing the impact of broader cultural and political circumstances. This is not incompatible with prevailing disciplinary theories of world literature, only offering a more--after Hayot--telescopic application. Acknowledging multiple networks of circulation means acknowledging the possibility of multiple cultural hegemons.
In this, rather its absence, we find the insidiousness of the world literature anthology. Grouping together diverse texts under the rubric of the modern flattens the playing field. Some pieces may be better than others, but they have all arrived at a singular modernity. Conveniently, that modernity tends to look aesthetically realist or modernist, and politically democratic. Timothy Brennan (2014) accounts for this flattening by appealing to blunt economic realities: "Modernity, if it is singular, is so not because of any theoretical declaration, or because theorists of a different persuasion find totality attractive or find comfort in a simple-minded formula about the universal. Rather, modernity is singular because of the overdeveloped and interlocking systems of capital, always the prime movers of colonialism and imperialism" (13). Of course the modern "Madman" concerns itself with anxiety over an atavistic premodernity: China's semi-colonial condition, following Shu-mei Shih [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (2001), enabled writers to participate in a cosmopolitan discourse that, thanks to the political domination on which their participation was predicated, set the terms of what constituted modernity. What the flattened space of the modern in the anthology obscures is that its condition of possibility is violence.
The interest in ascribing to works a national origin--the nation-state itself a signifier of a particular modernity--elides the fraught formations of those nations. In a postcolonial context, many modern nations exist solely as legacies of empire. China does not neatly fit this model, but the national struggles leading up to the 1911 Revolution and through the Republican era, often occurring in response to foreign aggression, make the existence of the Chinese nation anything but given. Its formation was intentional and traumatic. For Eileen Cheng (2013), Lu Xun's persistence in foregrounding literary and historical pasts in his writing "challenges both the tenets of traditional historiography and the modern narratives of nationhood" (21). Although his work concerns China, and many have used it metonymically for the nation--from Mao at Yan'an [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] to contemporary textbook publishers--it resists the totalizing effects of national narratives. Cheng construes this as an ethical move in his writing: a "vigilance against historical amnesia and his refusal to package the life of the deceased into a totalizing narrative" (35). The China that appears in his work is fragmentary and constructed in diachronic depth rather than synchronic breadth. This unwillingness to produce a narrative totality aligns him more closely with traditional historiographers than with his May Fourth contemporaries. His works revel in the episodic, the local, and the personal. Even in "Ah Q" the world-historical events of the Xinhai Revolution [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] become fodder for a parody of local types. Unlike Mao Dun's peasants in "Spring Silkworms" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] who find themselves at the mercy of economic shifts they can neither understand nor manage, "Ah Q's" revolutionaries foreclose a grander narrative of development by reinscribing existing systems of discrimination.
More dramatically, the Old Tales does not fit neatly into a flattened, national modernity. Its loyalties lie not with cosmopolitan discourse under the thumb of empire, but with the atavistic. As a result, it has an odd savor to it when approached with the modern, cosmopolitan palate. This seems to have been Lu Xun's initial reaction upon seeing part of it in publication. The first story in the collection, "Mending Heaven," had originally appeared as part of the first edition of his celebrated Nahan, from which several of his most anthologized works are drawn including "Madman" and "Ah Q." However, upon reading a critic's praise of "Mending Heaven" and condemnation of the rest of the work, he declared that "the second half of 'The Broken Mountain' [the story's original title] is an extraordinarily sloppy piece of work;" and that "only a fool would find anything to recommend in it" (Lu Xun 2010, 296). He then excised it from future editions of Nahan.
The story's genesis is an odd pastiche of cosmopolitan discourse, mythology, and local pettiness. Lu Xun identifies Sigmund Freud as an inspiration for the piece in his preface to Old Tales (295). Nicholas Kaldis (2014) identifies Kuriyagawa Hakuson's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Symbols of Mental Anguish [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as the source of Lu Xun's understanding of psychoanalysis (36). Lu Xun translated this work in 1924, not long after its posthumous publication that same year (Lu Xun 2005, 10:258). Although this postdates the original publication of the story in Nahan, his invocation of Freud is indicative of his participation in a cosmopolitan literary scene not only as a consumer and translator of foreign literature, but also as a producer of works that are self-consciously engaged with a contemporary, global intellectual project. (11)
Mythology emerges as an odd choice for subject material given the rest of Nahan's content and its anxiety over traces of the premodern: the Madman's cannibal histories, the abject bodies of Kong Yiji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and Ah Q, or the horror of superstition in "Medicine." It's an odd resurgence of what the rest of the book aligns itself against. Finally, he accounts for the inclusion of a moralizing Confucian literatus in the story as a joke at the expense of an unnamed contemporary critic (Lu Xun 2010, 295). The story is formally modern in its use of baihua and its narrative style, consistent with the other stories in Nahan, but its content is out of step with the rest of the collection in that it does not reject the premodern. Moreover, its critique is not targeted at social ills caused by the persistence of the premodern, but at a specific individual.
In this last regard, this story, as with many of the stories in the Old Tales, resembles Lu Xun's polemical zawen essays. These mordant pieces reveal an extraordinary range of emotion from Lu Xun, ranging from the elegiac to the rebarbative. However, with the exception of a few chestnuts--"What Happens When Nora Leaves Home" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], (12) "'Hard Translation' and the 'Class Character of Literature'" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "In Memory of Miss Liu Hezhen" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--these essays are difficult to access for the reader of modern world literature. Most of them are occasional pieces commenting pointedly on issues in the local literary or political scenes, and so require a familiarity with those worlds. The chestnuts are such because they resonate with contemporary, cosmopolitan literary critical problems. We are far more likely to read the "Hard Translation" essay because of its resonances with Lawrence Venuti in its defense of fidelity in translation rather than for its attack on Liang Shiqiu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], even though the latter is the occasion of the former. What these essays point to is Lu Xun's participation in a local literary discourse that generally cannot, for reasons of accessibility, be subordinated to the logic of monolithic modern world literature.
Moreover, these local discourses, while certainly conversant with the cosmopolitan discourse that had initially been the benchmark of modernity, developed their own standards for literary modernity. By 1928 Lu Xun was not wholly accepted as a modern figure by some of his contemporaries, as his "antagonists in the Creation and Sun Societies took particular delight in mocking him as a laggard not least because of his reputation as China's foremost modern writer was bound up with the idea of 'speed'" (Davies 2013, 359). (13) These literary cliques were openly aligned with more radical politics and thus antagonistic toward Lu Xun's wariness of outright revolution. The fragmentation of these local discourses meant that they could respond to each other--and they did--rather than the hegemonic cosmopolitan discourse.
Lu Xun recognized the link between imperial power and cosmopolitan literary discourse. This is not to say that he retreated from that discourse, but he saw it differently from when he began writing. For him, those in its thrall are essentially handmaidens to imperial power:
Indeed, the success of the Crescent brand in Shanghai led Lu Xun to remark caustically in 1929 that just as "the Creationists have their revolutionary literature," the Crescent Moon Society appeared to be also vigorously marketing its wares. He wrote: "Liang Shiqiu has his Babbitt, Xu Zhimo has his Tagore, Hu Shi has his Dewey--oh yes, Xu Zhimo has Katherine Mansfield too, for he wept at her grave." He sneered that, in advertising themselves as sole agents for their chosen foreign luminaries, the Crescent Moon members resembled the "cordon of interpreters, detectives, police 'boys' and so on" who served their European masters in Shanghai's foreign concessions. (Davies 2013, 108)
Despite this alleged connection between foreign literature and empire, Lu Xun saw the value in reading foreign works and participating in cosmopolitan literary discourse, not to align with imperial power but to resist it. In the same essay cited above by Davies, "Some Thoughts on Our New Literature" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] he concludes by challenging his readers to "read more foreign books, to break through the cordon around us" (Lu Xun 1980, 3: 56). This does not place an externally defined modernity as the goal; it instead calls for an equal footing with the imperial powers.
His resistance to empire also emerges through his intertextual practices with contemporary Japanese literature. Although his allusions to European literature and philosophy are well known, his appropriations of Natsume Soseki's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Ten Nights of Dreams in Yecao show his participation in a regional literary network (Thornber 2009, 357). Karen Thornber argues that "The Passerby" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and "This Kind of Warrior" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "portray colonial and semicolonial characters as continuing to fight, but they also intimate that if the struggle never actualizes its possibility, then it might be in vain" (361). Lu Xun looked to Japan at many points during his life, but his grounding an anti-colonial argument in a regional rather global discourse, despite his familiarity with the latter, demonstrates the autonomy of an East Asia-centered world literature among others. Regional reference also informs the creation of the Old Tales: "Lu Xun intertextualized Japanese literature at most stages of his career; Gushi xinbian (Old Tales Retold, 1935), written shortly before his death, contains distinct reworkings not only of Chinese predecessors but also the historical fiction of Akutagawa [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]] and Ogai [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]], further problematizing networks with textual predecessors near and far" (Thornber 2009, 214). These references indicate that for Lu Xun, the globalizing modernity represented by Japan was not incompatible with local literary history. Yecao and the Old Tales thus represent a regionally and historically oriented modernity for Chinese literature.
This intense locality renders these texts relatively inaccessible to the uninitiated. Their reliance on regional, historical discourses challenges the hegemony of a totalizing world literary modernity implied in much criticism of the Old Tales. What is more, the Old Tales unapologetically enables the resurgence of the premodern. Whereas the zawen angrily contest which modernity is right for China, if with far less of the hand-wringing over China's lack of modernity than in the May Fourth era works, the Old Tales eschews the logic of rupture in favor of continuity. If we look at "Mending Heaven" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as a sort of early experiment, then Lu Xun's final story, "Resurrecting the Dead" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], is a fully formed expression of literary continuity that draws on cosmopolitan literary discourse without relying on it, choosing instead a wholly indigenous ground for its critical position.
1935's "Resurrecting the Dead" nominally draws on an episode in Chapter 18 of the Zhuangzi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], in which the eponymous sage encounters a skull, and with whom he has a typically Zhuangist conversation. (14) Lu Xun's piece differs significantly from the original version, however. Wilt Idema (2014) attributes this to the author's engagement with a version in the Ming Dynasty novel Xu Jinpingmei [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (59). Lu Xun owned at least two versions of the Zhuangzi (Lu Xun 2005, 15:37, 204) and wrote about the novel in his Brief History of Chinese Fiction [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Lu Hsun 1976, 227-31); he likely knew the story well, and in at least these two versions. The story has many incarnations, which Idema relates in The Resurrected Skeleton. Even if Lu Xun's knowledge of the tale was limited to these versions, they render his version deeply intertextual. Moreover, these intertextual links are exclusive to premodern works, including both the arch-canonical--Zhuangzi--and the relatively marginal--Xu Jinpingmei. Within the work itself, additional citations appear from the Qianzi wen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and the Baijia xing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], both premodern textbooks (Idema 2014, 259). Yet for all its weighty allusions, the text does not take them seriously.
By contrast, it undercuts the gravity of the references by rendering them in a comic mode. The two textbooks are mashed together to form a magic spell (Lu Xun 2010, 394). The character of Zhuangzi appears as a buffoon and as distant from the sage of the Zhuangzi as possible: he is obsessed with fame and taking up government office (399-400). That such behavior would be unthinkable in the Zhuangzi is the point: much of the critical effect of the piece comes from playing historical texts against themselves. Lu Xun's ability to deploy an anti-Zhuangzi reflects his mastery of the classical Zhuangzi. This playful deployment of premodern texts demonstrates that one can be invested in the past without being bound by it.
The format of the piece is entirely modern. Rendered in dialogue as a play rather than a prose narrative, the text could not have been expressed this way prior to contact with a Eurocentric cosmopolitan literary discourse. This type of drama did not exist in China prior to the twentieth century (Idema 2014, 256). Laden with premodern, indigenous content, in a modern, imported form, the text reveals the hierarchical distinction between modern and premodern to be artificial or at best easily surmounted. Nor can the modern appear any longer as teleology, since it has no existence in the text without the premodern content. What is more, the modern--imperialistically speaking--becomes subordinate to the premodern: Idema (2014) offers a speculative but plausible reading of Zhuangzi's initial address to the skull as an allusion to Hamlet (258). Idema (2012) also suggests that in addition to formal appropriation from European literature, "Resurrecting the Dead" participates in an indigenous tradition of experimentation in drama (27). The pastiche achieved by the admixture of foreign and domestic, premodern and modern elements makes it difficult to pin down on either side of a historical rupture. Chronologically, the text is only possible during a period permeated by cosmopolitan literary discourse, but that does not reject local literary history as incommensurable with that broader discourse.
Similarly, the story appears to draw on local and global discourses to satirize its Zhuangzi. On his first attempt at resurrecting the dead man, ghosts attempt to dissuade him from meddling in powers beyondhis control: "You idiot Zhuangzi! You ought to know better, at your age. Death has no master but infinity. Space is time--an emperor would not be so reckless. Mind your own business and get on to Chu" (Lu Xun 2010, 394). This echoes Faust's encounter with the Spirit in the first part of Goethe's play. Lu Xun was familiar with Goethe, owning several books and mentioning him in his 1908 "On the Power of Mara Poetry" (Lu Xun 1996, 97). He had Faust on his mind late in his life as well. Writing concurrently with "Resurrecting the Dead," Lu Xun mentions in the postscript to the second volume of Qiejieting zawen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] that Rou Shi's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] translation of Anatoly Lunacharksy's play Faust and the City had been banned in 1934 (Lu Xun 2005, 6:467). Lu Xun had written a postscript to that work in 1930 (7:369-74). He also discusses Faust in January 1936: writing comments on a collection of Kathe Kollwitz's works, he provides a brief summary of Gretchen's fate to accompany an engraving of her (6:490). Unlike Faust, though, this Zhuangzi does not check his hubris and proceeds with his ill-advised plan to raise the dead. Parodying the Zhuangzi's wordplay, he insists, "You're the idiots! You know nothing about dying. Life is death, death is life; its slaves are its masters. I've traced life back to the very source--I'm not going to be put off by a few squitty little spectres" (Lu Xun 2010, 394). Where Faust saw the limits of human understanding (Goethe 2010, 15-16), Lu Xun's Zhuangzi arrogantly proclaims his omnipotence. To his delusions of mastery the ghosts only warn, "It's your own funeral" (Lu Xun 2010, 394). In addition to serving as source material, the multiple literary discourses at play here enable a contrast between Zhuangzi and Faust that sharpens the criticism of the former.
Stylistically the stories of the Old Tales also perform their conversation with a broader world literature. Patrick Hanan (2004) traces Lu Xun's ironic technique in his earlier stories to his reading of Eastern European literature (226). Given the stated aims of these works, this serves as further evidence of Lu Xun's participation in global literary discourse while appropriating it for local concerns. The stylistic similarities with their European antecedents and generally contemporary setting of the stories in the first two collections, which Hanan discusses at length, make them a much better fit for a cosmopolitan world literature than the atavistic, intensely local Old Tales. Still, Hanan (2004) notes that the stories in Old Tales mark a return to the learned "ironic symbolism" of the early fiction (236). Unlike the globally circulating early stories, though, the Old Tales resist cosmopolitan appropriation through their atavistic localism.
That localism is central to the political power of the story. "Resurrecting the Dead" deploys irony to stinging effect: the text is kind to neither Zhuangzi nor the patrolman. The former has no interest in aiding the man he brought back to life, while the latter is too cowed by celebrity to do his job. His inviting Zhuangzi to relax at the stationhouse recalls the dangerous alliance of intellectuals and state power that Lu Xun lambasted in the 1929 zawen (Lu Xun 2010, 400). The plight of the resurrected man is irrelevant: "In this way, Lu Xun turned the old tale of Master Zhuang lamenting the skeleton into a biting satire of the state and of the intellectuals who, despite all their lofty talk, fail to be of any benefit to the poor--even worse, by their self-righteous meddling in their affairs, they only increase their misery" (Idema 2014, 40). Lu Xun does not spare himself in this critique: Tang Fuhua [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (2003) sees in the fate of the resurrected man Lu Xun's ambivalence regarding the efficacy of his own intellectual output (page range). These critical elements ground the text in local discourse, ensuring its primacy against that of the cosmopolitan.
Criticism of the local state apparatuses was never far from Lu Xun's mind. Specifically, the executions of young artists and activists, including his protege Rou Shi, on 7 February 1931 by the Nationalists, had a chilling effect on his writing, and he would dwell on the event for years, penning several zawen about it. As both Eva Shan Chou and Gloria Davies note, the political violence in Beijing and Shanghai affected Lu Xun deeply. Whether he was ever personally in danger varies by source, but he did spend time in the Uchiyama bookstore to hide out. That he chose premodern stories to express his criticism of the government is itself a premodern gesture: writing about analogous legendary or historical events to avoid incurring the wrath of the current powers that be. He was doing this long before he compiled the Old Tales. Lu Xun's 1927 lectures at Sun Yat-sen University [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Guangzhou on the Wei-Jin period [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] reflect his use of the literary past as a critical tool: "In speaking of the Wei-Jin, Lu Xun was thus engaged in the time-honored practice of tacitly comparing the villains of his day to those of ancient yore" (Davies 2013, 81). Davies further demonstrates the scope of Lu Xun's literary purview by offering his discussion of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove as moral exemplars for the contemporary moment (82). In both cases Lu Xun draws on Chinese literary history to weigh in on contemporary issues. That he likely did this as a form of self-censorship is consistent with earlier uses of historical allusion as guarded critique rather than as a unique consequence of his specific moment. (15)
What makes the Old Tales difficult to address as world literature is its slipperiness. It is not modern in the way that "Madman" is, because it conserves and celebrates literary history; yet cannot be dismissed as premodern because it undermines the authority of that history. It is not possible without the European encounter, but appropriates foreign forms for local content. It is responsive to both the cosmopolitan and the local. The text challenges the logic of rupture that enables the facade of a flattened, singular modernity. By privileging the logic of continuity, the Old Tales indicates that while modernity may be singular, it is not simply arrived at. Rather, it calls attention to the continuous, contested production of modernity--and to the violence of its production.
What is dangerous about the Old Tales is that it allows history to erupt in unexpected places. This is not unique to the Old Tales in Lu Xun's corpus, or in literature generally--history is everywhere. However, the collection's generic exceptionality and its constant destabilization of boundaries between past and present, local and foreign make it a limit case for world literature. The logic of rupture that animates much scholarship on contemporary world literature places local literary histories securely in the past, where they sit qualitatively different from the globalized modern. These eruptions of literary history that manifest in texts like Lu Xun's force us to contend with the possibility that modernity is not simply given--particularly to those who have historically been on the more fortunate side of the rupture. The real danger, though, is not one text, but the chance that such a text would, following Walter Benjamin's method of materialist historiography, reveal the contingency of all modernity, "Madman" as much as the Old Tales. World literature, in its current disciplinary configuration, would be exploded by this possibility, and thus the Old Tales must remain beyond its scope.
However, this is a problem of vision rather than substance--world literature remains an exciting project intellectually and politically--and not an insurmountable one at that. The prevalence of systems and networks as metaphors for world literature are aptly chosen, as circulation, exchange, and influence are practical and relatively objective analytical categories. Still, how we see our positions in these networks shapes how we construct them. Put differently, readers and critics of world literature seem to constellate these networks around themselves. These processes recall Immanuel Wallerstein's world-systems theory in which an economically and politically dominant center (core, metropole) interacts with peripheral and semi-peripheral regions. Moretti's work is perhaps the closest to this model of political economy, but while his critics may chastise him for his quantitative models of world literature, more traditionally qualitative, close reading-based theories are not too distant either. Writing from the metropole and operating in this descriptive mode, though, will necessarily place the Anglophone reader at the heart of the world literary network. In market terms this may be true, but the economically powerful reader does not need world literature to justify his privilege. Yet it does.
World literature, as much as it is a productive space for theorizing, is a pedagogical project. Anthologies, though most have grown far beyond the "windows on the world" model critiqued by Damrosch (2003), still make the world available for a (usually) privileged reader (21). As long as our theories of contemporary world literature continue to rely on conceptions of modernity and modernism, that, if not drawn directly from European models, are through criticism made commensurable with them, world literature will flatter the position of a particular reader. The privilege conferred by his economic centrality is rationalized through a homogeneous, accessible--or at least conveniently explicable--literary presentation of modernity. Even more oppositional models of world literature, drawn from postcolonial studies still assume the centrality of the reader: the empire must write back to someone. Although we can make diverse texts speak to a central subject, doing so undermines the political potential of world literature. Facilitating easy access to the world, especially those parts marginalized by the economic might or imperial histories of the center, institutionalized world literature reinscribes the epistemic violence of empire, while teaching readers that they are already well equipped to parse difference.
The solution rests in exacerbating difference rather than glossing it. The challenges faced by a foreign reader of the Old Tales can be productive. It is a work that is deeply indebted to regional and global literary exchange, yet by virtue of its historically and locally inflected content resists access by a broad audience. It does not fit in world literature the way "Madman" does or has been made to fit. Certainly a reader could do the background research that would provide the mythological and political contexts for the Old Tales, but this gesture already goes beyond the capsule summaries contained in anthology headnotes. The interested reader must work to understand difference in the text, rather than subsuming it under a gloss or easy comparison. Lu Xun (1980) championed a similar commitment to reader labor in his translation practice: "instead of translating in order to give people 'pleasure,' I often try to make them uncomfortable, or even exasperated, furious and bitter" (3:78). This "hard translation" resists the efforts of the reader to passively consume a text, with the goal of effecting change in the reader's understanding of language: "And now that we are dealing with 'foreign languages' we may need many new forms of constructions--which, to put it strongly, have to be made by 'hard translation'" (3:81). He instead argues for an active and difficult consumption, which as Wang Pu (2013) points out is what can enable the production of new political subjectivities (334-35). Taking on similar labors in apprehending resistant texts like the Old Tales recovers the distance and multiplicity of world literatures from the position of the metropolitan reader.
The composition and reception of the Old Tales indicate that as much as literary exchange is global, audiences are not. While a global--largely Anglophone--readership exists and is economically powerful, taking its tastes as coextensive with world literature undermines the possibility for seeing texts as expressive of resistance, or at least as lacking engagement with such an audience. Just because a text does not speak directly to the metropole does not mean that it is disengaged from global literary discourse. Lu Xun's corpus offers many examples. This is not a call for the canonization of the Old Tales; anthologies are part of the problem in their subordination of local and historical differences to a global, utilitarian contemporaneity. Marginal as it is, the Old Tales may never circulate globally, but that's not the point. Its challenge is one of methodology, calling for an approach to world literature that restores the dialectical tension between local and global (Zhang 2015). (16) Like Lu Xun's translations, such a mode of reading would be procedurally hard because it would destabilize the easy cosmopolitanism of contemporary world literature. The Old Tales, with its demands to be understood locally and historically as well as globally, stresses that world literature need not be the mirror of the metropole. Instead, it reveals the limitations of an ostensibly cosmopolitan subject position by insisting on the plurality of world literatures. Some may at times overlap, but none is coextensive with all.
Lu Xun throughout his work, and especially in the Old Tales, positions himself at nodal points within these literatures. Though editors might subsume his work under the aegis of a universal world literature for reasons of representation or ideology, his works resist easy assimilation because of their polyvocality. Their participation in multiple literary discourses, present and historical, ensure that, like the resurrected man in the Old Tales, they will offer a discomforting remainder for a totalizing organizational logic. The text's Zhuangzi is a reminder of the inadequacies of systematic views, so rather than following him to articulate increasingly baroque, consumerist, or niche formulations of world literature, we might look to the remainder. Bewildered and naked, the resurrected man futilely struggles to stand in a world not quite his own. Just as his eruption of the past into an indifferent present resists the intentions of the satirical sage, so too does the Old Tales defy articulations of a cosmopolitan world literature. If we can speak of the text's privileged subject position, it, like the resurrected man's and Lu Xun's own, exists only as a site of struggle, yet this may redeem the Utopian impulse of world literature. Reading the foreign, for Lu Xun, could be a transformative if arduous process. The marginality of the Old Tales--its remainder--argues that world literature is not a panacea, but a continuous negotiation of difference. And despite Lu Xun's ambivalence to the possibility of social change, his lifelong work as a translator and the publication of the Old Tales at the end of his life suggests a belief that while potentially futile, such negotiations remain necessary.
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Daniel M. Dooghan
Department of English and Writing University of Tampa
(1) I would like to thank my research assistant, Maggie Poling, for her tireless efforts tracking down sources, and the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback. This research was supported by a David Delo research grant from the University of Tampa.
(2) Lu Xun has been canonized for many different purposes, perhaps most notably at Yan'an [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in 1942. I limit my focus here to his role in an institutional world literature, as it is illustrative of foundational issues within that discourse (Dooghan 2011, 120-225).
(3) Although as Victor Mair has repeatedly shown, such assumptions are hasty.
(4) The chart on 328 is especially informative.
(5) Translators are consistent on this, but "oiliness" or "slipperiness" may have some utility here.
(6) Cf. Lin Shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Liang Qichao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].
(7) These untranslated zawen significantly expand Lu Xun's conception of translation beyond the famous "Hard Translation" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] essay, covering topics such as translation criticism and retranslation.
(8) Full disclosure: Norton solicited my input for the third edition of their world literature anthology, and I made my recommendations based on the above. Their selection process is thoughtful but limited by the constraints of print publication, so any implicitly reductive selections are not due to a lack of care.
(9) Nick Admussen (2014) similarly discusses Lu Xun's use of allusion as political cover in Yecao (93-101).
(10) Benedict Anderson's (1991) deployment of the concept is germane in Imagined Communities (24 et passim).
(11) Nick Admussen (2014) makes a similar point in "The Poetics of Hinting" (84).
(12) Originally a speech.
(13) The "xun" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Lu Xun means fast.
(14) The authoritative if somewhat dated collection of Chinese language research materials on the Old Tales identifies this story's sources as Chapters 2 and 18 of the Zhuangzi and Chapter 63 of the Shiji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Gushi xinbian yanjiu ziliao 1984, 124-26).
(15) Nick Admussen (2014) makes a parallel argument for Yecao in "The Poetics of Hinting" (93-95).
(16) Zhang Longxi's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (2015) most recent book, From Comparison to World Literature, is deeply invested in this tension, offering a methodologically resonant reading of world literature that eruditely blends global thematic resonances with locally distinct philologies.
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|Author:||Dooghan, Daniel M.|
|Publication:||Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2017|
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