Appel à contributions : “Premodern Chinese Literature as an Archive of Vernacular Knowledge and Everyday Life Culture”
Workshop international en ligne 2-4 Juin 2022
Rainier Lanselle (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes EPHS-PSL & CRCAO)
Roland Altenburger (JMU Würzburg)
Barbara Bisetto (Université de Vérone)
Traditional Chinese vernacular literature, in particular fictionalized narrative (xiaoshuo 小說) and singing drama (xiqu 戲曲), including prosimetric forms (shuochang 說唱), has often been construed in the communicative contexts of entertainment and diversion, which were also considered the primary reasons for their popularity with audiences and readerships. Despite the modern reappreciation of vernacular literature and the inclusion of its masterpieces in the literary canon, there still are dimensions and potentials of this large body of literature that have been neglected and remained scarcely explored.
As a productive new approach, fiction and drama are being rediscovered as archives of knowledge. The acquisition of expanded world knowledge, including emotional knowledge, the techniques of social intercourse, or the insights into the hidden life worlds of other social spheres, such as elite domestic life, the bandit adventures, or the goings-on at the imperial court, have indeed been among the strongest attractions to readers of vernacular literature. Moreover, as commentaries and critical annotations indicate, vernacular literature has also been considered valuable for the transmission of ethical values and the lessons of history.
The mimetic aesthetics of vernacular literature, with its acute attention to the features and details of everyday life, has not only facilitated the shaping of rich tableaus and absorbing plots, but has, as an unintended side effect, also accumulated a unique archive of vernacular knowledge. Novels such as Jin Ping Mei 金瓶梅 (The Plum in the Golden Vase) or Honglou meng 紅樓夢 (The Dream of the Red Chamber) have been characterized as “encyclopedic” in their coverage of aspects of everyday culture and in this regard have been compared to traditional encyclopedias for everyday life (riyong leishu 日用類書, wanbao quanshu 萬寶全書). The reconstruction of everyday worlds in the late imperial past can partly rely on the extensive knowledge included in this archive. The literary representations of aspects of everyday life in vernacular literature nevertheless must not be mistaken for any neutral rendering or ‘data’, but, due to their inherent tendentiousness and construed nature, are always in need of contextual interpretation and cross-textual comparison. Therefore, this approach requires the development of an analytical methodology of its own.
As another innovative aspect of knowledge dissemination in vernacular literature, its linguistic medium calls for deepened analytical interest. While the culture of the literati elite, embedded in the literary language, continued to constitute the basis of any cultural processes, the vernacular forms innovated literary communication practices. Authors and publishers of the late imperial period engaged in a complex interplay with classical culture, which they disseminated in renewed ways, for example through rewritings and intralingual translation, but which they also subverted by drawing alternative mappings of knowledge and values. Authors and critics often showed an acute awareness of the diglossic character of the written expression.
For the outlined workshop we invite submissions on related aspects and questions, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Analytical approaches to and theoretical considerations of premodern Chinese literature as an archive of vernacular knowledge;
- Specialized studies of aspects of vernacular culture, including visual and material culture, as represented in premodern Chinese literature;
- Discourses of specialized knowledge on aspects of vernacular culture as included in premodern Chinese literature;
- Categories of vernacular knowledge in encyclopedias for everyday life as compared to corresponding representations in narrative and drama;
- Constructions of everyday life worlds and social milieus in premodern Chinese vernacular literature – and the misconstructions or distortions they include;
- Vernacular language practices, such as rewriting or intralingual translation, the discourse on the value and status of the vernacular, critical categories like su 俗 and ya 雅, diglossia, and registers;
- Theoretical and analytical approaches to contexts, agents and practices of vernacular rewritings and adaptations of literary culture;
- The spiritual dimension of the dissemination of vernacular knowledge, such as the propagation of ethical values, and the affording of moral or religious guidance.
Preference will be given to proposals with a clear focus on the late imperial period, mainly the Ming and Qing dynasties, and on the corpus of vernacular literature.
Prospective participants are invited to submit a proposal with an abstract of max. 300 words, including a short bio, by 15 January 2022. The candidates will receive notification of acceptance by 31 January 2022. Well-developed paper drafts are to be prepared for prior distribution among the participants by 1 May 2022. Discussants will offer comments on the papers. This workshop aims at the publication of an edited volume to be selected from the range of submitted papers.
The working language of the workshop will be English.
Roland Altenburger, Professor, Chair of East Asian Cultural History, JMU Würzburg
Barbara Bisetto, Associate Professor, University of Verona
Rainier Lanselle, Professor (Directeur d’études), Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, EPHE-PSL
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