Working group on the novel

National form as spreadable media:
The poetics of mimetic performativity in Zhao Shuli’s socialist fictions

The Herderian revolution in the 19th century European republic of letters brought about an equivalence of national culture with the language of the people, be it a disappearing language under political domination or an oral patois of peasant speech (Pascale Casanova, The World Republic of Letters). The “invention” of popular languages and literatures was posited as the crucial means to define a distinctive national character in the struggle against culture hegemony. The period of decolonization after WWII, a continuation of the Herderian spirit, witnesses the newly independent nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America proclaiming linguistic and literary identities of their own in the name of the People. The erection of the peasant writer Zhao Shuli as a model of the “People’s writer” in the Chinese communist regime has to be understood in this international literary space.The “national form” debate in the 1930s-40s China reveals an intellectual dissatisfaction with both the traditional literati’s antiquarianism and the bourgeois elitists’ westernization, as the political imperative of national form is to mobilize the mass audience into struggle against the lingering feudalism and the encroaching Japanese imperialism. Instead of approaching the “national form” solely as a political call to a folk standpoint, I examine it as a communicative effect afforded by the illocutionary force of the storyworlds that people love to hear and see. In other words, the “national” popularity of certain literary forms has to be achieved in a geographical sense through their continuous remediations among the people, by the people, and for the people. It is an ongoing project or an agenda to be constituted within the acts of communication instead of a product fixed in advance. By investigating scenes of persuasive or empathetic communication depicted in Zhao Shuli’s fictions, I try to distill a poetics of mimetic performativity both within and without Zhao’s storyworlds.


fall 2017


16 October Renren Yang and Peggy Phelan Comp Lit Literary fame in socialist China 6:00pm to 8:00pm Terrace