Realism, Hot and Cold

Jing Tsu , Professor of Modern Chinese Literature & Culture, Yale University

"The pang, to secret sorrow dear," Adam Smith observes in 1759, is by no means an "undelicious sensation."  Writing in 1918, Chinese writer Lu Xun reverses the premise by famously complaining that the Chinese were incapable of feeling sympathy and, one might presume, the sensation it imparts.  One takes Smith's point that compassion does not necessarily equal altruism, but what about Lu Xun's claim?  Does the inability to empathize with the suffering of others preclude the possibility of deriving satisfaction from the outside? Or do the two statements exemplify fundamentally different logics in relating to the world?  Taking this question as a point of departure, this talk proposes a theory, and example, of how a certain way of reading and feeling for the world paved the way for twentieth century Chinese Realist literature.  Through new disciplines such as geography--as well as through the philosophical confrontation between the western concept of the "world" (shijie) and the traditional Chinese notion of "all under heaven" (tianxia)--distant pain and intimate knowledge, I argue, became the twin pillars of the modern Chinese literary experience in a global, comparative nexus. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 | 5:00 pm — 6:30 pm
Building 260 - Room 252, Main Quad

Department of Comparative Literature