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Cultural poetics offers alternative methods of literary research

Author  :  SU PEI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-03-06

Scholars in cultural poetics consider a literary phenomenon, literary work, writer, school or style as something based on a specific cultural context, and consequently connect its emergence and development with various social and cultural factors.

A trend in literary criticism in the 1970s in the Western world, cultural poetics advocates analyzing literary texts according to their original historical context. This comprehensive form of study attempts to establish a relationship characterized by heterogeneous isomorphism, interaction and mutual benefit. In the 1980s and 1990s, Chinese scholars brought forth their own ideas based on the Chinese experience, demonstrating strong academic vitality.

Growing maturity

Cultural poetics entered China in the late 1990s as Chinese culture underwent structural changes, said Wu Zilin, a research fellow from the Institute of Literature at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. At that time, popular culture, visual culture in particular, was rising rapidly, and Western theories of cultural studies were imported in large quantities. Against this backdrop, Chinese scholars paid more attention to cultural poetics, the theories of which matured over two decades of development.

Zhao Yong, a literature professor from Beijing Normal University, said cultural poetics emerged when literary theories encountered a bottleneck. Literary theories were once effective at interpreting traditional literary works that were relatively simple. However, as literature became commercialized and market-oriented, it was increasingly affected by non-literary factors, like popular culture. In this case, classic literary theories became unable to explain new literary works and phenomena. In addition, literary theories are facing challenges from cultural studies, also promoting the formation of cultural poetics.

Wu said cultural poetics is the result of decisions made by Chinese scholars facing challenges from Western cultural studies. It abandoned the excessive emphasis on intrinsic studies in literary research, and combines extrinsic study, emphasizing the cultural, social and political perspectives in literary texts and interdisciplinary efforts.

Dynamic research

Li Qingchun, dean of the Academic Committee of Literary and Art Research Center at Beijing Normal University, pointed out that cultural poetics evaluates a research subject as a growing process. It closely connects the subject with a specific cultural context and probes into the intrinsic value, thereby investigating the ties between various social and cultural factors and presents the complexity within.

Cultural poetics disagrees that a research subject is isolated, static or established. On the contrary, it takes the subject as dynamic generation process with broad ties connected to all kinds of social and cultural elements. Therefore, an interdisciplinary, comprehensive academic view is required in related research.

Cultural poetics reveals the implicit dimension of literature and creativity of culture, constituting a possibility for poetic studies after global cultural transformation.

Hu Jihua, dean of the Cross Culture Research Institute at Beijing International Studies University, said cultural poetics claims that history is the construction of a metaphor system, and the essence of metaphor is poetics. Therefore, cultural poetics assumes that there is a more complicated and hidden relationship than the connection between an aesthetic object, such as a literary text or any artistic work, and history and culture. An effective textual interpretation aims to discover this complicated and secret relationship.

Zhao indicated that cultural poetics represents a connection and interaction between literary research or literary theories and cultural research. In other words, it represents continuing aesthetic analysis of literary research while using ideological analysis in cultural studies for reference. This dynamic literature requires a combination of cultural and literary studies.

Modern uses

At present, cultural poetics has become a widely used research method in literary research. Li said the method has been applied to ancient literary theory, and ancient and modern literature. In general, cultural poetics has become a popular form of study. Scholars often consider a literary phenomenon, literary work, writer, school or style as something based on a specific cultural context, and consequently connect its emergence and development with various social and cultural factors to identity the connection between those factors.

Zhao said he has read many papers and found some research hot spots. These include finding ways to broaden the theoretical space of cultural poetics, the “reality” of cultural poetics, cultural poetics and behavior structures, the relationship between literary activities, cultural poetics and Marxist literary theory, ancient Chinese literary theories and Western literary theories.

Editor: Yu Hui

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