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

By Ban Wang | Go to book overview

6
The Cultural Revolution: A Terrible Beauty Is Born

Yes, the Revolution was disinterested. This is its sublime side and its sign of divinity.
-- Jules Michel


The Aesthetic Dimension

I have been exploring the connections and the tensions between the aesthetic and the political in a number of literary and aesthetic writings. Yet nothing in theory and literature, nothing that springs from a writer's head and gets into print, can match the intensity, the poignancy, and the passion and violence enacted between these two realms of human life during the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution compressed and intensified much that had laid dormant in Chinese culture in the twentieth century. This ten-year-long catastrophe brought to light a new brand of cultural politics that is not confined simply to power struggles and politicking but is played out through a gamut of aesthetic formations, psychic transformations, and symbolic expressions in numerous spectacles of tragedy, comedy, or melodrama.

This unprecedented movement cannot simply be seen as a sequence of sociopolitical events engineered by a handful of policymakers in Maoist China. The word "cultural" in Cultural Revolution merits fresh attention and careful inquiry. It implies more than the banal fact that the revolution started in the cultural realm of the bureaucracy and social structure. The movement's initial attack was directed at how things looked to the eye, how names, phrases, and music sounded to the ear, how people dressed and bore themselves -- superficial things that may nevertheless reveal a specific kind of cultural

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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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