Journal Articles

December 2008 - Vol.39/No.1
Terraculturation, Political Dissolution, and Myriad Reorientations
Author : Patrick D. Murphy
Keywords : Terraculturation, Political Dissolution, Myriad Reorientations
Starting with the idea that in science fiction many plots use the device of terraforming of alien planets to make them more suitable for human inhabitation, this paper argues that more recently new works take this macroplot in a different direction: the need for reforming human beings on Earth to make them more suitable for inhabitation through terraculturation. Further, the work of terraculturation would necessarily lead to significant political dissolutions of national and state formations in order to make political structures more supportive of inhabitory practices. Cultural changes from terraculturation would then interactively precipitate and be pushed along by myriad reorientations taking place at every level of human activity. Examples are provided of literary works already modeling and encouraging this cultural reorientation.
Discoursing on Disaster: The Hermeneutics of Environmental Catastrophe
Author : Kate Rigby
Keywords : Ecocriticism, catastrophe, climate change, Lisbon earthquake, Heinrich von Kleist, Kant, Rousseau, Voltaire
How individuals, communities and societies respond to environmental catastrophe, whether in the event or as a potentiality, is crucially informed by the culturally mediated interpretative frameworks within which such disasters are perceived. In this regard, the challenge of confronting ecocrisis is as much hermeneutic and discursive as it is scientific and social, practical and political. Literary and cultural studies have much to contribute towards meeting this challenge through the examination of those interpretative frameworks—variously mythical, religious, philosophical or political in genesis—which could either hinder or enable our preparedness to act effectively and ethically in the face of immanent or unfolding disaster. This will be demonstrated here through a reading of Heinrich von Kleist’s short story, “The Earthquake in Chile” (1807). Although the narrative is set in Chile at the time of the massive earthquake that devastated Santiago in 1647, it responds to the philosophical and religious debates concerning the relationship of the divine to nature and society that followed the more recent Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Rather than endorsing unequivocally any one position that was taken in these debates, Kleist undertakes a narrative investigation of the practical and political implications that are shown to arise from differing discursive enframings of environmental disaster. While the catastrophe caused by an earthquake clearly differs from one that is predominantly anthropogenic in origin, such as climate change, Kleist’s narrative discloses the inevitable entanglement of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, word and world, in the context of environmental disaster.
“Transformed by the Land’s Rolling Green”: Ecological Consciousness in the Poetry of Shirley Geok-lin Lim
Author : Agnes S. K. Yeow
Keywords : ecological consciousness, identity, place, apocalypse, women, nature.
A significant range of Shirley Geok-lin Lim’s poetry dwells on place and the fraught relationship between self and place: a relationship often expressed in terms of the land and the biotic community. This essay will focus on the ecological consciousness which underlies Lim’s poetry and the poet’s treatment of the nonhuman world as material reality which must be recognized as such and ultimately cared for. In her work, Lim interweaves identity, place and gender with ecology and reveals an environmentalism which has yet to be fully explored and appreciated by critics.
Frontier Exceptionalism: The Representation of Nature and Race in Thomas Cole’s Art and PBS’s “Frontier House”
Author : Tzu-I Chung
Keywords : frontier, environment, art, media, representation, ecocriticism, nature and culture
In this paper, I juxtapose and connect the vision of nature on the frontier in Thomas Cole’s paintings and that in the 2002 PBS program Frontier House. In doing so, this paper reveals the relationships between the cultural construction of nature on frontier and its referent, America’s natural environment, at its most dramatic transformative stages during the early nineteenth century and at the turn of the millennium. At those transformative moments, Cole’s frontier paintings and the PBS program each attracted large contemporary audiences as they spoke to their audiences’ imagination of and aspirations to the frontier and its backdrop of pristine nature. I explore the popular visions of the frontier in Cole’s artistic expression and in the PBS program as a contested and a reconciling place where past and present meet. The appeal of both visions of nature in Cole’s frontier paintings and the PBS Frontier House for their contemporary audiences, I argue, comes from their proposed solutions to the conflicts between nature and culture when environment was rapidly transformed by the progress of civilization. Both visions resonate with the nostalgia for a pre-industrialized world, while they simultaneously endorse the contemporary material comfort and industrial improvement in light of the environmental hardships, thereby upholding the status quo and the infrastructure that made the conquest of nature possible. This paper thus explores the interdisciplinary possibilities in the field of ecocriticism, reveals curious results about the clear link between the past and present predicaments in the relationships between nature and culture, and testifies to the frontier as a contested place of both lasting charm and continuing dispute in the American lives.
The Ambivalence toward the Mythic and the Modern: Wu Mingyi’s Short Stories
Author : Liang-ya Liou
Keywords : mythic, modernity, nativism, ecocriticism, shamanism, Wu Mingyi, Walter Benjamin, Ping-hui Liao
This paper is inspired by the power of folk beliefs and ecological concerns in the works of a young Taiwanese writer Wu Mingyi and by the notion of “mythic modernity” posited by Ping-hui Liao. Both rites of nature and occult practices of folk beliefs are aligned with the mythic and the native and set opposed to colonial modernity in Wu’s works. At the same time, one can also see that Wu’s very conception of Taiwanese nature writing shows ambivalence toward both the mythic and the modern, and that such ambivalence prevails in his short stories. This leads me to consider Ping-hui Liao’s idea of “mythic modernity.” Liao develops this idea from his reading of Walter Benjamin’s theory and the history of colonial modernity in Taiwan. Although the very term “mythic modernity” is problematic, some of Liao’s insights in his theorizing nevertheless shed new light on our interpretation of the mythic in relation to colonial modernity in Taiwan. Walter Benjamin’s theory of mimesis and language proves to be especially helpful in bringing out the significance and power of the mythic in Wu’s short stories. Since he is viewed as one of the greatest theorists of modernity, Benjamin’s interest in the mythic is often ignored; as a result, re-reading his theory of mimesis and language may help explore this eclipsed aspect of Benjamin’s oeuvre. This paper intends to discuss the ambivalence toward the mythic and the modern in Wu’s three short stories “Huyei” (Tiger God), “Cesuo de gushi” (A Tale of Men’s Room), and “Fuyanren” (A Man with Compound Eyes) and look into the way it is tied to Wu’s magic, nativist, and ecological vision. It is my argument that the ambivalence toward the mythic and the modern in Wu’s short stories constitutes a rethinking of Taiwan native resistance to colonial modernity, and that in engaging a dialogue between Benjamin’s theory and Wu’s stories one can see that such ambivalence toward the mythic and the modern is in Benjamin as well.
Mise-en-sens and Mise-en-scène: The Theatre of Testimony and Its Doubles in Emily Mann’s Annulla (An Autobiography)
Author : Tsu-chung Su
Keywords : Emily Mann, the Theatre of Testimony, mise-en-sens, mise-enscène, Annulla (An Autobiography)
In this paper, I argue that in addition to being a documentary playwright and a director who adheres to present verbatim testimony and tries every possible way to approximate truth and authenticity, in the sense of offering a verifiable account of the Holocaust, the Vietnam war, a murder trial, racism, or homophobia, Emily Mann is above all more an “auteur,” a playwright and a theatre director who is regarded as having some distinctively recognizable vision and personal quality in mise-en-sens and mise-en-scène, than a mere “metteur-en-scène,” a director whose job is simply to arrange the scenes and oversee the editing of materials without much personal imprint. In the meantime, I point out that Mann’s process of “mise-en-sens” is more than an act of interview transcription because documentary information needs to go through the process of selecting, condensing, formulating, and artful arrangement. It often involves what I call “mise-en-temp,” the arrangement of history or story in time. To complete the whole process, the play, which is created out of the process of “mise-en-sens,” needs to be aided by the stagecraft of “mise-en-scène” to be manifested on the stage. For our purpose in this paper, I concentrate on discussing Mann’s first documentary play Annulla (An Autobiography) (1977; 1985) rather than giving a survey of the four plays collected in Testimonies: Four Plays. By doing so, I hope to give an in-depth analysis of Emily Mann’s theatre of testimony and its doubles—mise-en-sens and mise-en-scène—at work in Annulla.
Whither China? Doubts about Constitutionalism in Late Qing Fiction
Author : Yunzhong Shu
Keywords : late Qing fiction, constitutionalism, revolution, utopian visions, national character, moral education, exposé fiction, political fiction
Constitutionalism, with its promise of a democratic, strong China, caught the attention of many late Qing writers who yearned to see China strengthen itself through reforms. As an important political movement at the time, it became one of the central topics in political fiction, a new literary genre promoted and practiced by reform-minded writers. It was also featured prominently in forward-looking utopian visions in late Qing fiction. However, keenly aware of the fundamental unpredictability of history, the existence of other historical possibilities for the future and, more importantly, the deeprooted flaws in the national character of the Chinese, including the moral degeneracy and inertia of both the masses and the officialdom, these writers became haunted by doubts about the feasibility and limitations of constitutionalism in China as they tried to offer their utopian visions with caution and an awareness of their illusory nature. Unable to shake off their doubts and questions through different projections of the routes to the future, these utopian visionaries ended up failing to imagine a meaningful future or to build a bridge between the troubled present and a utopian future.