Do the portrayals of objects in literary texts represent historical evidence about the material culture of the past? Or are things in books more than things in the world? Sophie Volpp considers fictional objects of the late Ming and Qing that defy being read as illustrative of historical things. Instead, she argues, fictional objects are often signs of fictionality themselves, calling attention to the nature of the relationship between literature and materiality. Volpp examines a series of objects-a robe, a box and a shell, a telescope, a plate-glass mirror, and a painting-drawn from the canonical works frequently mined for information about late imperial material culture, including the novels The Plum in the Golden Vase and The Story of the Stone as well as the short fiction of Feng Menglong, Ling Mengchu, and Li Yu. She argues that although fictional objects invite readers to think of them as illustrative, in fact, inconsistent and discontinuous representation disconnects the literary object from potential historical analogues. The historical resonances of literary objects illuminate the rhetorical strategies of individual works of fiction and, more broadly, conceptions of fictionality in the Ming and Qing. Rather than offering a transparent lens on the past, fictional objects train the reader to be aware of the fallibility of perception. A deeply insightful analysis of late Ming and Qing texts and reading practices, The Substance of Fiction has important implications for Chinese literary studies, history, and art history, as well as the material turn in the humanities.
Through sophisticated and brilliant close reading of selected texts, Sophie Volpp illuminates the significance of objects for early modern Chinese fiction from the point of view of material and visual culture. The Substance of Fiction is a must-read for students in early modern Chinese literature and culture. -- Shang Wei, coeditor of Dynastic Crisis and Cultural Innovation: From the Late Ming to the Late Qing and Beyond This is the most sophisticated engagement to date with the ' material turn' in literary studies as it applies to classic Chinese fiction. In its elegant exposition of how fictional objects are not literary instantiations of historical objects, The Substance of Fiction makes a significant intervention in current debates about textuality and materiality. -- Craig Clunas, author of Empire of Great Brightness: Visual and Material Cultures of Ming China, 1368-1644 Through a persistent excavation of the rich and often paradoxical meaning of fictional objects, Volpp reveals a previously neglected aspect of the vernacular fiction of late imperial China. She reminds us that far from illustrating reality, fictional objects acquire power and life from engendering unfamiliarity and confusion, thereby fashioning a material world interior to the text. A marvelous book. -- Wu Hung, author of The Full-length Mirror: A Global Visual History The Substance of Fiction adroitly navigates the material and literary worlds of Ming-Qing China to explore the centrality of things in vernacular writing. Examining new techniques of description and depiction, purposefully designed to question the nature of the "real" world and its unstable reflection in fiction, this book is a major contribution to scholarship on a transformative period. -- Patricia Berger, author of Empire of Emptiness: Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing China A pioneering work that firmly brings the study of things into the fold of Chinese literary studies. Volpp' s ability to read literary text with an eye for the material detail is unmatched. Moving through a rich host of late imperial texts, Volpp offers new and startling insights into texts we thought we already knew. -- Paize Keulemans, author of Sound Rising from the Paper: Nineteenth-Century Martial Arts Fiction and the Chinese Acoustic Imagination
Sophie Volpp is professor of East Asian languages and cultures and professor of comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Worldly Stage: Theatricality in Seventeenth-Century China (2011).
|Published: ||28 Jun 2022|
|Published In: ||United States|
|Imprint: ||Columbia University Press|
|Publisher: ||Columbia University Press|
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