Performing the lyrical : lyrical essay and the written vernacular Mandarin tradition in postwar Taiwan
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Lyrical essay in Taiwan is arguably part of the most distinctive literary legacy of the Republican era of China. Despite its prominence in respective cultural contexts, the lyrical essay suffers from marginalization in the fields of modern Chinese and Sinophone literary studies, which suggests the lack of a proper framework for discussing this conservative strand of literary legacy. Emphasizing the performative dimension of lyrical essays, this dissertation probes how the lyrical essay functions by negotiating between personal emotions and common moral codes, and how it promotes a mode of literary practice that mediates moral judgments, emphasizes interactions with the society, seeks the reader’s approval, and celebrates the ritualistic repetition of specific themes. This dissertation emphasizes a period of transition in the 1980s and 1990s, during which Taiwan’s advance toward democratization and globalization created a discursive space within which the lyrical essayistis attempted to redefine a self between the new social reality and the generic conventions. The performativity of lyrical essays, for the most part, has been concealed by the belief that sincerity is the core of the style and that lyrical essays are stamped with the writer’s individuality. This dissertation includes four case studies, each exploring a different aspect of how lyrical essayistis cope with or challenge the lyrical essay’s conventions of performativity and sincerity, as well as the artistic expectations that work toward forming an ideal textual model. This study also probes how the literary virtue endorsed by the lyrical essayistic practice faced serious challenges after the 2000s, during which time the new sensibilities and digital institutions of diffusion changed expectations regarding how personal emotions should be produced and consumed. This dissertation offers an angle that highlights the unique nature of the lyrical essay and serves as a potential lens through which a comparative study of the lyrical mode of literary practices becomes more attainable.
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