This research project continues two trends of Asian American studies in the past two decades: the rise of Asian American “new formalism” and Asian American literature’s intervention into the conceptions of Asian histories and cultures. Since the coinage of the term “Asian American” in the 1960s, Asian American literary studies have placed more emphasis on literary texts’ contents—their representations of Asian American immigrant histories and pursuits of racial equality—than on literary forms. This focus on literature’s “aboutness” is nonetheless balanced out by the increasing attention to forms and language after the millennium. Colleen Lye pinpointed the rise of “new formalism” in Asian American studies in her essay “Racial Form” (2008). She also made clear that this “new formalism” is not after an aesthetics independent of social reality but considers “form” as embedded in and exerting forces on the “formation” of ideological structures and social relationships. In this context of “new formalism,” Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016) stands out in that it gives western classical music and its form an integral position in an epic novel that spans China’s history from the time before the Cultural Revolution to the aftermath of the Tienanmen incident. Classical music is not only played by the main characters in the novel but its polyphonic potential is drawn upon to be a model of literary creation and subject formation. The process of composing and performing music by adding individual interpretations further enables the transferals of power, the transference between individuals, and the transmutations of community. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of classical music as a trigger in cultural formation, this project draws upon, in addition to Thien, Edward W. Said’s publications on music: Musical Elaborations (1991), On Late Style: Music and Literature against the Grain (2006), Music at the Limits (2008), Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society (co-author with Barenboim; 2004). Said was one of the few contemporary literary-cultural critics who studied classical music and attended to the connection between literature/culture and classical music. His essays on Bach and the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould’s interpretations of Bach offer invaluable insights to the role of Bach’s and Gould’s music in Do Not Say We Have Nothing. His cooperation with the Jewish conductor Daniel Barenboim in the establishment of the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra in 1999 further pushed classical musical performance to the contested stage of Isralie-Palestine political and cultural conflicts. Briefly, by drawing together Thien and Said, this project explores the form and nature of classical music, studies the function and implications of classical music in Do Not Say We Have Nothing, analyzes the role of classical music in relation to human rights and subjectivity formation in China and Asian America, in addition to meditating on the increasingly important position that classical musicians of Asian descent have achieved in the world.
|Effective start/end date||2018/08/01 → 2021/07/31|
- Madeleine Thien
- Edward W. Said
- Asian American literature
- Do Not Say We Have Nothing
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