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

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.