“When is a traditional Chinese ‘poem on things’ (yongwu shi) not a poem on ‘things’? When the perceived and, eventually, constructed nature of the particular thing being described is at odds with, or somehow exceeds, its prescribed function as a discrete object of perception. One such object is the mirror, which appears in some of the earliest Chinese historical and philosophical documents in our possession, before entering the lexicon of classical poetic expression some time around the third century—at the very moment when the tradition of individual lyric expression as such was beginning to take shape. At that point, although it carried with it centuries of discourse relating vision to questions of knowledge of self and others, its capacity for creating meaning would soon exceed anything that could rightly be called symbolic or even metaphorical. The mirror would become one salient thing that would reflect and shape changes in the very notion of the lyric subject over time.” –Paula Varsano
In her new essay “Disappearing Objects/Elusive Subjects: Writing Mirrors in Early and Medieval China” (Representations 124) Varsano examines changes in the philosophical and literary representations of mirrors—and mirroring—in a foundational period of Chinese history beginning with the pre-classical period and ending in the medieval Tang Dynasty. Inspired by the peculiarity of this object, which acts upon subjects at least as much as it is acted upon by them, this study of the literary mirror, of reflection and reflexivity, provides a glimpse into the larger issue of the construction of subjectivity in premodern China.
In “Cartesian Robotics,” now available in Representations 124, David Bates looks at Descartes’s physiological theory, and especially his theorization of the nerves and the brain as an information-processing system, in order to offer a new interpretation of cognition within his philosophy. Rather than opposing mind and body, Descartes showed how the operations of the soul interrupted the automatic cognitive processes of the body to provide adaptive flexibility for the human organism as a whole. Bates is Professor in the Department of Rhetoric at UC Berkeley, where he teaches intellectual history.
The UC Berkeley Consortium on the Novel presents The Immigrant Novel in America Wednesday, November 13, at 4 pm in 315 Wheeler Hall (The Maude Fife Room) at the University of California, Berkeley. Presentations include “The Void and the Missing: Memory’s Trace in Monique Truong’s Bitter in the Mouth” by Karl Britto (UC Berkeley French and Comparative Literature), “The Future as Form: Imagining the Abolition of Social Categories in Ana Castillo’s Sapogonia” by Marcial Gonzalez (UC Berkeley English), and “Office Stories” by Colleen Lye (UC Berkeley English and Representations editorial board). Katherine Snyder (UC Berkeley English), respondent.
Washington, 1923. “Stamp Division, Post Office.” National Photo Company Collection glass negative, Library of Congress.
McAleavey’s article traces a single plot—the plot of bigamous return—through a range of genres and texts, including Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1862) and Alfred Tennyson’s “Enoch Arden” (1864), concentrating on Elizabeth Gaskell’s Sylvia’s Lovers (1863). Arguing that plot is a more productive heuristic than genre, this article investigates the intersection of literary currents in one historical moment with the long durée of a recurring story, powerfully present in nautical ballads and melodrama. (Representations 123, Summer 2013)
Eitan Bar-Yosef writes on “Zionism, Apartheid, Blackface: Cry the Beloved Country on the Israeli Stage” in Representations 123
Numerous theatrical productions in 1950s Israel employed blackface to simulate negritude on the stage. Focusing on Habima’s 1953 production of Lost in the Stars—the musical drama based on Alan Paton’s best-selling novel Cry, the Beloved Country—and reading it in the context of Israel’s involvement in postcolonial black Africa, this essay demonstrates how, by reflecting the slippery nature of Jewish whiteness, blackface performances on the Hebrew stage captured the complex relationship between Zionism and apartheid.
Image: You Can’t Take It With You (1947), courtesy of the Yehuda Gabbai Theater Archive, Sha’ar Zion Library—Beit Ariela, Tel-Aviv
Inge Hinterwaldner on visualizing turbulance with parallel lines; David Bates on robotics according to Descartes; Hall Bjørnstad on Pascal’s Mémorial; Paula Varsano on mirrors in Chinese poetry; Virgil’s Eclogue V translated by Paul Alpers, along with a remembrance of Alpers by four of Representations‘ founding editors; and FIELD NOTES, featuring a column by Japan scholar Carol Gluck on fiction and reality in contemporary history and literature.
Coming in November 2013.
Paul Alpers, a founding member of the Representations editorial board and a broadly influential scholar who changed how a generation of readers thought about pastoral poetry, passed away on May 19, 2013. In his honor, Representations 124 features a collective remembrance by four of the original members of the editorial board and reprints Alpers’s fine translation of Virgil’s Eclogue V.
Resemblance did not come naturally to photography. Soon after it became a public medium in 1839, photography’s ability to produce resemblant images—and therefore portraits—was widely challenged. Proponents of photography quickly responded to those challenges by developing more complex concepts of the new medium. Jan Von Brevern, in his “Resemblance After Photography” (Number 123, Summer 2013), argues that photography played an important part in evolving debates on resemblance.
Charles Nègre, self-portrait in a miroir de sorcière, c. 1845-50 (details). Copyright Sammlung Herzog, Basel, Switzerland.