Department of Asian Studies
Department of Asian Studies

Dissertation Defense - Ming-Huei Wang

Performing the Lyrical: Lyrical Essay and the Written Vernacular Mandarin Tradition in Taiwan

Mon, August 13, 2018 | Meyerson Conference Room (WCH 4.118), UT Austin Campus

10:00 AM - 1:00 PM

Performing the Lyrical: Lyrical Essay and the Written Vernacular Mandarin Tradition in Taiwan

Ming-Huei Wang

The University of Texas at Austin, 2018

Supervisor: Sung-sheng Yvonne Chang

Lyrical essay in Taiwan is arguably part of the most distinctive literary legacy of the Republican era of China. The post-1949 political order in Taiwan provided additional legitimacy for the traditional sensibilities embodied in the lyrical essay, rendering a vibrant artistic form that incorporates the lyrical performance and classical Chinese motifs. 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 will probe 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 began to collide with some of the latent conventions of this genre. 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 study examines how writers with different ideological persuasions 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 a distinctive angle that highlights the unique nature of the lyrical essay as both a historical legacy and a locally informed artistic form. It also serves as a potential lens through which a comparative study of Sinophone literature and world literary practices becomes more attainable.

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