Earlier this month, I attended the conference Exploring the China Dream at Stockholm University – glorious good fun including more inspiring and informative presentations than I can mention here, so just a few samples:
At the panel on film and visual culture chaired by eminent organizer Elena Pollacchi, Prof. Paola Voci introduced us to different types of virtual soft power with hilarious and scary examples of short internet films like this one (》低头人生《 about what can happen to people who live with their heads glued to small screens).
Prof. Irmy Schweiger chaired my panel on dreams in literature, in which Martin Winter (who is much quicker on the keyboard than I am and has already blogged about it here and here) read us a poem by Xu Jiang and talked about his translations of Yi Sha’s dream inspired poetry. It reminded me of Jack Kerouac’s Book of Dreams as well as Nietzsche’s argument in The Birth of Tragedy that good art combines the Apollonian act of dreaming with Dionysian drunkenness.
My own presentation was a comparison of the dreamscapes in two short stories by Jorge Luis Borges and Can Xue. I talked about writing as a kind of literary incubation, the dream as a space of transgression/multiplication/splitting of the individual, and the Zhuangzi-like uncertainty about the reversible relationship between dreamer and dreamed pervading both stories. (Read my abstract here)
The conference convinced me that, even if the official China Dream campaign seeks to promote the kind of dream that pretends to look forward while really looking back (not unlike Trump’s rhetoric of “making America great again,” or the cultural conservatism of European neo-nationalisms), there exists an undercurrent of uncontrollable visual and literary dreams, which move in many direction at once, expressing anything from sharp political criticism to plain individual confusedness to aesthetic and existential curiosity.
Tales of snake women, cinematic phantoms and apocalyptic comets filled the small meeting room at one of the top floors of Fudan‘s Guanghua Towers, when I took part in a panel on the role of the Uncanny in Chinese literature and film organized by Charles Laughlin and Zhange Ni at this years ACCL conference in June. Our aim was to discuss how fictional narratives might make use of uncanny elements to push the limits of scientific and enlightenment discourse.
First speaker Jessica Imbach from University of Zurich, talked about ambiguous gender roles in republican era ghost stories from Shanghai writers such as Zhang Kebiao and Xu Xu. Kenny Ng from City U. of Hong Kong showed us beautiful film clips from 1930s Hong Kong ghost movies, Yizhi Xiao from Brown University found supernatural elements in the otherwise rational and scientific comet writings of early 20th century Chinese sci-fi and I presented my analyses of uncanny places as sites of both trauma and self-realization in the works of Can Xue (read abstract).
Other presenters included Ping Zhu on Lu Xun and the ‘Ghost question,’ Shuyu Kong on ghosts in Liu Suola, Heng Chen on Anti-rationalism and Lu Xun’s take on fiction, Liang Luo on the legend of the White Snake, Vivien Wei Yan on Qing detective stories, Mengxing Fu on Wang Tao’s Zhiguai writing, Peng Liu on Buddhism in Lü Bingcheng’s writing and Lei Ying on the transformations of Guanyin in Li Yu’s fiction.
I want to thank the organizers (not least Shengqing Wu and the student assistants!) and participants for a wonderfully inspiring conference.
Currently I am rereading Can Xue’s amazing short stories with a focus on uncanny places: Places where quotidian life has an unnerving backside and insects crawl within the dilapidated walls of home.
The research is for a paper I am going to present at this years conference for The Association of Chinese and Comparative Literature, to be held June 18-20, 2015 at ICSCC Fudan University, Shanghai. I am really looking forward to join the panel ‘Modern Chinese Culture and the Uncanny: “Superstition” as a Critique of Enlightenment’, organised by Charles A. Laughlin and Zhange Ni, and see what eerie and interesting discussions come out of it.
For more information about the conference, please go here (scroll down for English).
Read my full abstract here.