Monday, January 3, 2011

Reading Lolita in Beijing

I won't make a habit of posting every article I read about China (though it's tempting, now that I'm paying attention and there are five or six articles about China in the Times every day), but will confine myself to articles I find especially interesting or that raise some good ideas in my mind.  This is one of them. While the world's attention is focused on China's attempt to control Internet access, the publishing industry is letting a hundred flowers or more bloom. Now I can see why Pace's publishing program--as offered in China--is booming.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

And what exactly does this have to do with 18th-c British literature, Rebecca?

I've come a long way from my dissertation topic--The 18th-c English Gothic Novel--but many of my current interests can be traced back to the Gothic. The horror film, detective fiction, Victorian sensation fiction, contemporary Gothic, literature of the supernatural...all are traceable to the Gothic. Of course, I know next to nothing about Chinese film or fiction, and I look forward at least to clawing my way to a beginner's level of learning in these subjects. I'm especially interested, though, in finding out whether China's contemporary genre writing includes detective fiction of any kind.  My only experience is with the very fine Inspector Chen novels written by Qiu Xiaolong, who now lives and teaches in the US.

Detective fiction isn't just crime and punishment (and the accompanying gore and violence). It's also social commentary on the culture that produces it and it's a gauge of the fears, obsessions, tensions and contradictions of the culture. It's a production of popular culture, not high culture.  Does this genre exist in China?  For whom is it written?  In what ways does it differ from American detective fiction in its production, audience or characteristics? I have wanted for quite some time to add to my detective fiction teaching repertoire by creating a course on global detective fiction.  I've done quite a bit of reading in European and Latin American detective fiction and some (random and unsatisfying) reading of Indian detective fiction, so investigating detective fiction in China will make an important contribution to my course work and my understanding of the practice and place of this genre in a wide range of cultures. 

This is just one of the subjects I hope to be researching in the coming months.

How did I find myself here?

In January 2006, I went on a Pace-sponsored student-faculty trip to India.  I came back incredibly excited about both the new India and the traditional India and wanting to let that energy carry me toward learning more about India.  Pretty soon, I was daunted and overwhelmed by the fact that India is such a vast and complicated culture that I could never begin to know anything in any detail about the culture--there was just too much to know and understand.  Yes, the more I tried to learn, the less I seemed to know.

But, I went ahead and created a course, Literature and Culture of Contemporary India, and taught it a couple of times.  In the process of researching, teaching, and relying on the curiosity and personal experiences of my students to teach me more, I got a much better feel for the parts of Indian culture that I could know more about and I gained some really eye-opening insights into the Indian diaspora culture that's right under my nose here in New York.  I remain very interested in Indian culture in its many manifestations and I hope to return to India some day.

I mention all of this because I'm taking my inspiration from my experience of India and its culture (however limited my experience of it) and I'm going on My Road to China. I am thrilled to have the unique opportunity that's being offered through Pace's Confucius Institute for selected faculty to learn more about China and integrate that learning into their courses. Throughout 2011 I'll be learning about China's history, language and culture through formal instruction and a trip to China.  This blog is where I will share some of that experience (and excitement)(and maybe some trepidation!) with you and track some of my thoughts and plans.