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From Burke and Wordsworth to the Modern Sublime in Chinese Literature

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About the Author

Yi Zheng teaches literature at the University of Sydney. Her recent publications include Civility and Class in Contemporary Chinese Print Media (2010).


From Burke and Wordsworth to the modern sublime in Chinese literature. Zheng, Yi. (Comparative cultural studies) Purdue University Press, (c)2010 148 p. $39.95 PR575 978-1-55753-576-4 In this contribution to comparative cultural studies, Zheng (languages and cultures, U. of Sydney) examines Western influences on Guo Moruo (1892-1978), an important modern Chinese poet who credited Longfellow as his first poetic inspiration. After tracing the formulation of the concept of the sublime as part of late 18th to mid-19th century English Romantic aesthetics, he argues that, rather than simply adopting a new literary model, the New Chinese Cultural Movement was predisposed to the responses of Burke and Wordsworth to the crisis of modernity. (Annotation (c)2011 Book News Inc. Portland, OR) Jonathan Arac, University of Pittsburgh "Yi Zheng's book From Burke and Wordsworth to the Modern Sublime in Chinese Literature is brilliant, intellectually inventive, and morally serious. Zheng is a global comparatist at home in English studies and in Chinese studies. She structures her book by an argument about modernity and culture, taking England around the French Revolution and China in the early twentieth century. In both instances, the modern is registered and elaborated in an aesthetic practice of the sublime. Sublime textual discontinuities produce the psychic exaltation that defines the experience for readers. She locates moments of blockage, repetition, and fracture in the writings of Burke, Wordsworth, and Guo, and she relates these to both the mass and individual grandeurs that her topic also engages. Zheng's study captures the ambiguity of figures who run ahead of culture, taking risks both in life and art that bring them to the far edge, yet who do so in order to preserve values, as well as to transform them. The sublime has attracted some of the best minds in recent criticism and theory, and Zheng joins their company to strike fresh insights and constellate new patterns in a prose that is both taut and eloquent. This is a notably original work." Yingjin Zhang, University of California San Diego "In this rare revisit of East-West comparative literature, Yi Zheng takes us beyond the convention of influence study and tracks the parallel developments in European theories of the sublime (as formulated by Burke and Wordsworth) and in Guo Mouro's conceptualization of the sublime as a timely revolutionary spirit in early twentieth-century China. Attending equally to the aesthetics of the sublime and the historical conditions where different strands of theorization and creation arose in response to similar experiences of modernity, Zheng argues that the sublime possesses a special power in historical redirection and may thus serve as an aesthetic redemption of history. With its capacious and yet destructive force, the sublime endows literary agency and enables a modern Chinese writer like Guo (1892-1978) to create a new poetic form and a new poetic spirit at the same time. Examined through a comparative lens, the sublime proves to be eminently translatable across space and time, merging diverse cultural traditions, and generating new poetic personae. Zheng's From Burke and Wordsworth to the Modern Sublime in Chinese Literature is outstanding scholarship and sheds new light on modern Chinese and European literature and culture study. The book is an exciting addition to Purdue's series of books in Comparative Cultural Studies." John O. Jordan. "Recent Studies in Nineteenth Century" Studies in English Literature 1500-1900. The Nineteenth Century, Volume 52, Autumn 2012, Number 4: pp 947 A more ambitious and more theoretically grounded study is Yi Zheng's From Burke and Wordsworth to the Modern Sublime in Chinese Literature. Like Lussier, Zheng avoids claims for direct influence, arguing instead for the sublime as an aesthetic-historical category that applies equally well to the modernity crisis of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain, as experienced by Burke and Wordsworth, and to the analogous crisis of China's confrontation with the West during the early part of the twentieth century. Zheng focuses the second half of her book on the work of Moruo Guo, a leader of the New Culture Movement in Chinese poetry. For Guo, as for Burke and Wordsworth, she argues, the sublime offered a way to negotiate the terrors and disruptions of modernity and to give new form and expression to these traumatic experiences.

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