Cambria Press author Dr. Carolyn T. Brown, retired Director of the Office of Scholarly Programs and the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress, gave a speech about her book, Reading Lu Xun Through Carl Jung, at the Cambria Press reception at the AAS 2018 conference in Washington, DC.
Watch Dr. Carolyn Brown’s speech and/or read the transcript below.
“I always seem to do things a little bit differently from other people, so my questions are questions that I’ve asked myself over many years, and they are embedded in my comments.
My first encounter Lu Xun’s short stories occurred during my sophomore year at Cornell University in a survey course in modern Chinese literature in translation. We must have read several of his iconic stories, undoubtedly “A Madman’s Diary” and “The True Story of Ah Q”. One particular story sent me reeling. When I reached the conclusion of “The New Year’s Sacrifice,” my whole being recoiled in a physiological grimace. I knew something had happened to make me almost double over in pain, but I did not know what. No short story I had ever read had ever delivered such a visceral punch before.
In the decades that followed, I asked myself multiple times why I, a black woman from Queens, New York, would have found Lu Xun’s stories so compelling, why I would have returned to them repeatedly through the years, why their importance increased to the point of consuming hours of my attention through the hard times of my life, why during my career as an academic I would write about them, and why in my post-academic career I would still find the need to close the circle and write this book.
My presence in that Cornell classroom was, in the first place, a bit unlikely. When I entered college, I knew virtually nothing about China. I had never met anyone who came from China or who had lived there, as best I can recall; nor had I felt a particular urge to visit China myself, not that I could have because at that time Americans were barred from travel to “Red China” as it was called. But I had received a rigorous high school training in the “history of civilization,” which as it was then taught was the heroic history of the great white men of Western Europe and the United States. My immature intellect knew enough from my family’s history to know that black people were a full part of the American story even though the textbooks omitted that fact. From my mother’s chinoiserie home décor and a few books in our family library, I also knew that “civilization” included China, which had as much (or more) history and culture—art, literature, philosophy, and so forth—as Europe, and the quality was as good or better. Out of revenge for “the lies” I had been taught, once in college I turned to China, being too young and inexperienced to know that all nations lie to some degree about their histories. I wanted truth!
So there I was, studying Chinese history, language, and literature and reading stories by the man who, for much of the twentieth century, was considered modern China’s greatest writer. He was a central figure in the tumultuous decades of that century, both a product of his time and an agent giving it shape. He is still appreciated for his profound insights into the nature of Chinese society, his dedication to ending the suffering of his nation’s populace, his deep moral integrity, and his unrelenting commitment to self-scrutiny. He never relented in his struggle against the forces that stood in the way of a more humane China, even though he despaired of success. Whatever my initial motivation, there I was, sitting in that classroom, deeply moved by these stories from a different time and place. Why?
Lu Xun’s stories stories are clear-eyed critiques of the social norms and conditions of Chinese society that were, in his eyes and those of many of his reform-minded contemporaries, essential causes of China’s insufficient response to the calamities visited upon it by the forced encounter with Western imperial powers. Lu Xun took what was known, familiar, and accepted and exposed it to be cruel and inhumane, and so opened his readers’ eyes to seeing and understanding in new ways. I had felt the impact of that wrenching reversal of perspective without quite knowing what was acting upon me.
In later years, during my own hard times, I probed my own psyche in an attempt to understand unfortunate patterns of my own creation that were shaping my life and causing me considerable suffering. At the same time in my professional life as an academic I was also living with these short stories, searching below their surfaces for patterns that shaped them. As I was rethinking the narrative patterns of my life, I found myself drawn more fully into Lu Xun’s rewriting of the narrative of his contemporary Chinese reality, looking for the internally generated cultural patterns which had been bequeathed by that tradition and which, to his mind, accounted for dysfunctional dimensions of China’s interaction with external forces and events. In interrogating his texts, I found myself searching for embedded structures that were generating these manifestations, a process analogous to the tasks I was performing in my own life. Somewhere along the way, I encountered the work of Carl Jung and over time began to see the connections between his work, Lu Xun’s analyses, and my life’s journey. This book is the result of that process of inquiry and the best answer I can give to my wonderment about the capacity of these short stories to touch me so profoundly.
My thanks to Cambria Press and all the wonderful friends who have helped me over the decades to bring this book to fruition. Thank you.”
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About the book
Scholars who study Lu Xun’s modern short stories have usually focused on the content and used the stories to understand Lu Xun the writer or to sheds light on his times; they have attended to the structure only to the degree that it illuminates these concerns. This study executes a reversal, decentering the content and focusing on the structure as a primary means to understand the texts, and it seeks to understand the Lu Xun who presents himself through his work, not Lu Xun the full human being. The structure that emerges from a close reading of the stories does indeed present an implicit therapeutic model. Carl Jung’s theories of the normative human self articulate with some precision Lu Xun’s implicit vision of spiritual cure. Jung, one of three key founders of modern Western psychology, grounded his understanding of the human psyche in personal self-scrutiny and extensive clinical practice, and so his theories offer a validated psychological model for interpreting the textual evidence.
Reading Lu Xun Through Carl Jung thus deploys a new methodology and proposes a new model for interpreting Lu Xun’s two collections of modern short stories. Perhaps more important is that understanding Lu Xun’s psychological model opens new ways of imagining the relevance of his stories to timeless human concerns. Contemporary scholars increasingly ask about Lu Xun’s value now that the overt subjects of his concerns have receded into the past, and they have also looked to understand his role in the context of the international intellectual currents of his time. Although not primarily concerned with the sources of Lu Xun’s creativity, this study does suggest resonances between the structure of his thought as revealed in the stories and that of key nineteenth-century European philosophers and writers. Even while being firmly grounded in his own times, Lu Xun evoked universal themes and archetypes of the human condition. This book will appeal to scholars in Asian studies, comparative literature, and psychology.
Title: Reading Lu Xun Through Carl Jung
Author: Carolyn T. Brown
Publisher: Cambria Press
312 pp. | 2018 | Hardback & E-book
Book Webpage: http://www.cambriapress.com/books/9781604979374.cfm