Melancholy, Ambivalence, Exhaustion: Responses to National Trauma in the Literature and Film of France and China

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Melancholy, Ambivalence, Exhaustion: Responses to National Trauma in the Literature and Film of France and China

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Title: Melancholy, Ambivalence, Exhaustion: Responses to National Trauma in the Literature and Film of France and China
Author: Schlumpf, Erin
Citation: Schlumpf, Erin. 2012. Melancholy, Ambivalence, Exhaustion: Responses to National Trauma in the Literature and Film of France and China. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation exposes responses to national trauma in literature and film from France in the twenty-five years following the 1940-1944 German Occupation, and from China in the twenty years following the 1989 Tiananmen Square Incident. My study is unique in that it focuses on French and Chinese authors who lived through the two traumatic periods, but whose work does not present a conventional version of bearing witness. Instead of locating expressions of national trauma in narratives describing historical traumatic events, I detect three aesthetic concerns or symptoms--melancholy, ambivalence, and exhaustion, which can be read as the traces of traumas that seem to evade direct identification. I argue that trauma may make its presence known by an absence of reference to its source. Emerging during post-traumatic periods--the Trente glorieuses in France (from 1945 to 1973) and the Post-New Era in China (from 1990 to the present)--my dissertation argues that novels by Marguerite Duras and Wang Anyi, novellas by Samuel Beckett and Ge Fei, and films by Jean-Luc Godard and Jia Zhangke reveal a tension between present national circumstances and ghosts from the past. These two post-traumatic national moments in France and China share the state projects and dominant discourses of economic growth, consumption, individualism, and nationalism, which I claim aided in the repression of troubled recent histories. The works of fiction and film I discuss in this dissertation, marked by melancholy, ambivalence, and exhaustion, offer counter-discourses in that they fail to partake in the project of national "progress," instead exposing irresolution with respect to overcoming history. In these works, furthermore, I contend that such historical (re)negotiations prompt aesthetic innovations, allowing for a redefinition of the causes and cases of early postmodernism.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10288465
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