Academic journal article CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture

Mapping out Chinese Modernity and Alternative Modernity

Academic journal article CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture

Mapping out Chinese Modernity and Alternative Modernity

Article excerpt

Marxist aesthetics is an important part of the edifice of Chinese Marxism, as its related, extended realms of ideology and culture have always been central to Chinese Marxism. Liu Kang's Aesthetics and Marxism: Chinese Marxist Aesthetes and Their Western Contemporaries is a ground-breaking work not only in the study of modern Chinese intellectual history, but also Marxism in general, particularly Chinese Marxism and twentieth century Western Marxism. Liu examines the intellectual trajectory of Chinese Marxism from its inception to its post-Mao phases of transformation, by comparing it with cultural and aesthetic thinking of Western Marxists, including Gramsci, Adorno, Benjamin, Althusser, Williams and Jameson.

The book was first published in 2000 by Duke University Press as a monograph of the author's major research since the beginning of his intellectual pursuits in the 1980s. Liu was among the first select group of Chinese students in post-Mao China to pursue graduate studies in the West, the U.S. in particular. His study of humanities and social sciences made him an even rarer member of this elite group, since most of his peers pursued the study of engineering and natural sciences. Liu received his doctorate degree in comparative literature from the University of Wisconsin--Madison in the summer of 1989, a year with historic bearing for both China and for Liu Kang himself. Liu's intellectual trajectory has been largely shaped by the turbulent years spanning from the 1960s to the present, particularly in China. During his time in the U.S. Liu has been reminiscing and reflecting on his earlier memories within the context of postmodern America. Meanwhile, China's own cultural emphasis has rapidly turned from revolutionary heroism to Western-style individualism, liberalism, consumerism, and postmodern chic.

Ultimately, what emerged from Liu's particular blend of experience and knowledge was a sense of both displacement and synchrony--displacement of space and time which is underscored by a deeper sense of historical connectedness and continuity. Liu's years of graduate studies in the United States exposed him to French theories of poststructuralism and deconstruction, Frankfurt School Critical Theory, and the academic discourses of Chinese Studies in the West, which he studied alongside Edward Said's critique of Orientalism and theoretical work bearing the imprint of French Maoism. A significant catalyst for Liu (and for a large number of the Chinese students studying literature and culture in America) was Frederic Jameson's work, which bridges Chinese and Western Marxist cultural studies. Undaunted by the enormous disparities in social and cultural life between China and the United States, Liu Kang and his cohort of fellow Chinese students in social sciences and humanities have tried to connect the different worlds by writing and speaking in both Chinese and English to different audiences.

Revolution is at the center of China's passage into modernity and attempts at alternative modernity, but within intellectual circles in the last two decades of the twentieth century, a growing distrust of revolutions in China and elsewhere was the order of the day. Chinese studies in the West hastened to reinvent modernist paradigms to discredit Chinese Marxism and revolution, echoed by the Chinese state and intellectuals who embraced modernism, postmodernism, and neo-liberalism in search of new ideological legitimacy for "socialism (capitalism?) with Chinese characteristics." Liu Kang's Aesthetics and Marxism: Chinese Aesthetic Marxists and Their Western Contemporaries is therefore an attempt to reexamine the Chinese Marxist experiment of constructing an alternative modernity through cultural revolutions and ideological hegemony within the context of the twentieth century worldwide Marxist movements, particularly the traditions of Western Marxism.

Liu chooses aesthetics as the central motif of the book primarily for historical reasons. …

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