The Sublime Figure of History: Aesthetics and Politics in Twentieth-Century China

By Ban Wang | Go to book overview

4
Desire and Pleasure in Revolutionary Cinema

In revolutionary films, sensory pleasure has meaning only when it successfully leads to ideology. In other words, in new Chinese films after 1949, beneath the apparent display of pleasure flows a current of political discourse that guides the audience. This is the major feature and the effect of the revolutionary, Third World cinema in New China.

-- Ma Junxiang, Chinese film critic

Liang Zongdai's view of the sublime exults in an unbound and anarchistic abandon of libidinal energy unharnessed to any cultural program and political purpose. A marginal strand in modern Chinese culture, this aesthetic arose as a reaction to the ever-tightening and narrowing of passion and energy in Communist culture in the wake of May Fourth. By "tightening," I do not mean that Communist culture represses and rejects exuberant passions. In a way Communist culture courts exuberant passions rather than rejects them. Far from repressing the individual's psychic and emotional energy in a puritanical fashion, Communism is quite inclined to display it-with a political sleight of hand. It recycles the energy, as if it were waste products or superfluous material lying outside the purposive march of history, by rechanneling it into transforming the old and making the new individual. This method launches individuals on the way to a more passionate and often ecstatic state of mind and experience. Communist culture aims not just at changing the old society; it also engages in fashioning the right kind of character, constructing revolutionary subjectivity, giving birth to the new man of the future. In this regard, the emotional dimension of the individual has to be taken into ac

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The Sublime Figure of History: Aesthetics and Politics in Twentieth-Century China
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents *
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Sublimation Unto Death: the Aesthetic Search for Meaning in Cultural Crisis 17
  • 2 - Writing China: the Imaginary Body and Allegorical Wilderness 55
  • The Sublime and Gender 101
  • 4 - Desire and Pleasure in Revolutionary Cinema 123
  • 5 - The Sublime Subject of Practice 155
  • 6 - The Cultural Revolution: a Terrible Beauty is Born 194
  • Conclusion 263
  • Reference Matter 269
  • Notes 271
  • Character List 287
  • Bibliography 293
  • Index 305
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