New Publication: The Liberating Masculinity of Goethe’s Werther and Its Repression in Modern China

Guo Moruo’s translation of Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werthers) in 1922 triggered a large-scale “Werther fever” in China. As “the bible of modern Chinese youth,” Werther soon became an icon of the New Culture Movement, an intellectual movement of the 1910s and 1920s that turned against the traditional feudal ways of Chinese society.

In this chapter, recently published in the volume Gendered Encounters between Germany and Asia: Transnational Perspectives since 1800, I trace the rise and demise of Werther in modern China through the lens of gender. Quite surprisingly, gender, and in particular masculinities, is a perspective that has been almost entirely neglected in studies on this crucial moment of German-Chinese literary relations so far.

Re-reading Chinese literary works of the period, I argue that  Werther’s uncontrolled emotionality dangerously trespassed both traditional Chinese concepts of masculinity, wen (cultural attainment) and wu (martial valor), and thus represented a liberating counter-image that needed to be contained. First replaced by female Werther figures, Chinese writers of the 1930s harshly parodied the sentimental man.

Mao Dun’s Midnight (Ziye) and Ba Jin’s Family (Jia), two of the most influential modern Chinese novels, are among the key texts of the analysis. The repression of Werther’s masculinity in these works, I conclude, sheds light on a more complex and even paradox process of negotiating gender roles at a historical crossroads.

Gendered Encounters is the second volume published in the newly launched Palgrave Series in Asian German Studies. Dedicated to this new interdisciplinary field, it focuses on the multi-faceted dimensions of ties between the German-speaking world and Asian countries over the past two centuries.

See:

Arnhilt Johanna Hoefle, “The Liberating Masculinity of Goethe’s Werther and Its Repression in Modern China,” in Gendered Encounters between Germany and Asia: Transnational Perspectives since 1800, edited by Joanne Miyang Cho and Douglas T. McGetchin, 151-169. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

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“Imagology”? An Interdisciplinary Workshop at UC Berkeley

“Imagology” or “Image Studies” is the critical analysis of intercultural imagery, of ethnic stereotyping and of the discursive construct called “national identity”. It was developed in France after the Second World War as a sub-discipline of Comparative Literature. Rejected by aesthetically-oriented literary critics, mainly in the US, it received more attention by scholars of French and German Studies in the 1980s. The so-called “Aachen School” around the Belgian comparatist Hugo Dyserinck played a leading role in this. More recently, Image Studies have come to the fore again, as new publications from a range of disciplines and area studies testify.

“Imagology” as a critical approach in literary and cultural studies will be the topic of an interdisciplinary workshop hosted by the Department of German at the University of California, Berkeley, later this month:

‘Imagology’ as Critical Approach in Literary & Cultural Studies
Workshop | April 24 | 2-4 p.m. | 282 Dwinelle Hall

Clemens Ruthner (Trinity College Dublin / UC Berkeley) will give a brief theoretical and methodological sketch, followed by two project presentations. I will introduce my current research project on the negotiations of masculinities in Chinese and German-language literature and Josef Sveda (Charles University Prague / UC Berkeley) will talk about his project on images of the USA in Czech literature and culture. The workshop aims to raise and discuss theoretical as well as practical implications and controversies of Imagology as a research approach.

All welcome!

RESEARCH RESOURCES:

Clemens Ruthner. “Between Aachen and America: Bhabha, Kürnberger and the Ambivalence of Imagology”. In Imagology Today: Achievements, Challenges, Perspectives, edited by Davor Dukic, 137-160. Bonn: Bouvier, 2012. – a critical introduction to the history of Imagology

Imagology: The Cultural Construction and Literary Representation of National Characters, edited by Manfred Beller and Joep Leerssen. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007. – 500-pages encyclopedic compendium of Image Studies comprising more than 120 articles and entries by 75 contributors from 15 countries

IMAGES (www.imagologica.eu)an online platform dedicated to the critical study of national identity and national stereotype by Joep Leerssen, featuring introductions to Imagology, key texts and an interactive bibliographical database

Manhood VS. Marriage: A Quick Film Tip

Yesterday The New York Review of Books published “Manhood Against Marriage” by Francine Prose, a review of Ruben Östlund’s new film Force Majeure, that I would like to share here as both, the film and the review, refer to an issue that I am intensely working on in my research at the moment: representations of masculinities in different forms of art and cultural contexts.

Force Majeure won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and will be showing in different cinemas across the US later this month. The review certainly promises an exciting insight into contemporary Swedish cinema tackling issues of masculinities and their compatibility with modern middle-class expectations of marriage and fatherhood.

Beyond Gender: Current Activities and New Resources in the Field of Intersectionality Studies

I recently received a call for papers that caught my attention. eDhvani: UoH Journal of Comparative Literature is inviting papers that analyze the category of gender and its overlap with the institution of religion (deadline: 30 Nov 2014). This issue will therefore continue the topic of gender, which has also been the focus of its previous issue on the intersections of gender and travel.

The journal, which is hosted by the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Hyderabad in India, was launched in July 2012 with the objective of “lending a new dimension to the area of research and studies of Comparative Literature in India and providing a new platform to the comparatists”. The format of the journal is certainly innovative. As in its previous issues, eDhvani is particularly encouraging alternative forms of writing to engage with the topic, such as interviews, translations of literature, creative writing and reviews.

Furthermore, with its focus on the contentious category of gender and its negotiations, contradictions and intersections with other categories, in this case concepts of travel and religion, the journal touches upon a new and intriguing field that will also play a role in my ongoing project on the mutual literary representations of masculinities in German and Chinese literatures: Intersectionality Studies.

This concept actually goes back to the 19th century but was first developed and named as a feminist sociological theory by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw in the 1980s. The theory suggests that various biological, social and cultural categories, such as gender, race, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation etc., cannot be studied in isolation from each other. Rather we must assume multiple levels of interaction and, consequently, intersections between different forms and systems of social injustice, inequality, discrimination, oppression and domination.

Intersectionality and its multidimensional approach has also become an increasingly important paradigm for a variety of disciplines, including cultural studies. This is showcased, for instance, by the impressive range of activities at the Center for Race and Gender (CRG) at the University of California, Berkeley. The interdisciplinary research center aims to bring together researchers and local communities in innovative research and creative projects. Upcoming events include talks on “Homosexual Mutants! Biases in the neurobiological study of sexual orientation” (6 Nov 2014), “Family Routes: Transnational Adoption & the Production of Nationhood” (6 Nov 2014) and regular activities of its many research working groups, such as the “The Color of New Media: Race, Ethnicity, and Digital Culture”, “Muslim Identities & Cultures” or “Race & Yoga”.

A rich and inspiring online resource for anyone interested in Intersectionality Studies is the Portal Intersektionalität. Forschungsplattform und Praxisforum für Intersektionalität und Interdependenzen. Founded in 2012 at the University of Wuppertal, the platform provides a substantial collection of downloadable key texts of the field, informs about and documents ongoing research projects and conferences and functions as an interactive and experimental forum for researchers as well as “practitioners” of intersectionality in different realms, such as politics, pedagogy, social work etc. So far this “pilot project” has limited its focus to the discipline of social sciences and the German-speaking countries (which is why it is, unfortunately, currently available in German only) but aims to significantly broaden its scope in the future, which would be very welcome.

Kicking off this year’s conference season: the GSA’s Annual Meeting, feat. Asian German Studies

The new academic year is fast approaching and, as every year, the conference season will be kicked off by one of the largest of its kind: the GSA’s annual meeting (18-21 September 2014). Members of the German Studies Association, which was founded in 1976 in the US as the Western Association for German Studies (WAGS) and re-named in 1984, will meet for the 38th time. This year Kansas City will have the honor to host the academic invasion of over 1,000 scholars from the US and, though in a much smaller proportion, other places around the globe (see an interesting article on this issue by Jochen Hung). Kansas City, sitting on the border between the two states of Kansas and Missouri, has given its name not only to a more “beboppy” kind of jazz and a more “jumpy” kind of blues but also a particular kind of slow smoked barbecue. Sadly, Missouri has recently been in the headlines for completely different reasons of course.

This year’s program, which is itself a book of 233 pages, promises a stunning number of 326 panel sessions and seminars in the course of four days. Thus, even the pickiest of all conference-goers might find their session of choice, in particular as the GSA is devoted to a broad understanding of German Studies, encompassing all areas of German history, literature, culture, politics and any other discipline relating to the German-speaking countries in any time period. For conference enthusiasts like me, on the other hand, this is conference paradise.

One of the highlights of this year’s program is certainly the “Asian German Studies” panel. This young field of studies is dedicated to the long history of encounters between the two contexts and has just recently become more accepted within German Studies. Its regular presence at the GSA’s meetings since 2009 is certainly an indicator of this, as are an increasing number of recently published volumes on different topics, see for example Beyond Alterity: German Encounters with Modern East Asia (Berghahn, 2014), Transcultural Encounters between Germany and India: Kindred Spirits in the 19th and 20th Centuries (Routledge, 2013) and Imagining Germany Imagining Asia. Essays in Asian-German Studies (Camden House, 2013). Asian German Studies will also be represented by two panels at the IVG‘s (International Association for German Studies)  conference “Germanistik zwischen Tradition und Innovation” in Shanghai next year: Tradition und Transformation. Der Ferne Osten in der deutschsprachigen Literatur and Begegnungen zwischen den deutschsprachigen Ländern und Asien.

The field of Asian German Studies advocates multi-perspectival and interdisciplinary approaches, which is also demonstrated by this year’s sessions of the panel at the GSA meeting. They will present a variety of topics ranging from German-Asian interactions during the era of the world wars, images of the Other in literature and film, peoples in motion between Asian and Germany, German visions of China in the 19th and 20th centuries, the origins of Orientalism as well as the challenges to studying the Orient in the Orient.  Another session is dedicated to gendered views on German-Asian interaction, where I will have the opportunity to present a part of my new postdoc project on the negotiation of German and Chinese masculinities. In my paper I will discuss the ambivalent reception of Goethe’s Werther in modern Chinese literature from the perspective of masculinities.

Sexuality, love, masculinities: an interdisciplinary conference in Stuttgart is pointing the way ahead

Despite the bourgeoning of gender studies in recent decades, the question of masculinities has been widely neglected. Gender studies have indeed often become synonymous with women studies, exclusively. For this reason, scholars of different disciplines decided in 1999 to found AIM Gender, an international working group for interdisciplinary men studies.

The working group’s 2013 Annual Conference took place in Stuttgart in December 2013, bringing together senior as well as junior researchers from a wide range of disciplines within cultural studies and social sciences. Under the conference’s topic “Sexuality, love, masculinities” sociological and historical studies were presented, elaborating on questions of masculinities in self-help books, television, cultural artefacts, sexual science, court trials and fitness studios, spanning a time period from early modern times until today.

Furthermore, literary representations of masculinities were discussed in detail, including papers on the figures of the pick-up artist, Don Juan and Dionysus, as well as papers focusing on sexuality that deviates from accepted norms and cross-cultural studies, such as my contribution on “Sexuality, Love and Power: Negotiating Masculinities in German and Chinese Literature”.

As a truly interdisciplinary event on a timely topic, this conference therefore certainly points into the direction of a desirably more collaborative way of studying complex phenomena across disciplines.

The conference papers can now be read online.