The Cultural Production of Controversy: Feminism, Women Authors, and the Mapping of China

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2005-04-27

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This project deconstructs the controversy of globally located Chinese women authors trapped in a dilemma between feminism, nationalism and neocolonialism, a dilemma complicated by the sometimes liberating yet voyeuristic, even pornographic, global popular culture. It attempts to negotiate a space for the female body in the age of economic and cultural globalization between feminism that celebrates it, nationalism that disciplines it and the flourishing global consumerism that profits from it.

The project argues that the controversy of differently located Chinese women authors, especially the contradiction between women and the nation/community, is culturally produced, as much by their works as by literary and cultural criticism of limited theoretical paradigms. It also argues that this controversy almost always goes hand in hand with the cultural production of an often reductive and distorted version of feminism. The ambition of the project is to un-produce the controversy through an alternative feminist framework of criticism beyond current theoretical entrapments.

Focusing on four controversial contemporary women authors at different Chinese locations, this project emphasizes a politics of literary criticism or reading. Reading is crucial not because it understands an author's intended meaning but because it actively and aggressively produces different and often times conflictary cultural and political meanings of the text and the author. The project challenges the notion of "representational inevitability," a pervasive but seriously flawed reading practice that reduces creative texts to documents that essentialize the social, cultural or political conditions of their racial or national communities. Instead, it accentuates the more flexible concept of "cultural production." Instead of "representing" a preconceived essentialized totality of national realities, texts by Third World women authors produce part of national landscapes, which are constantly being produced, reproduced, revised or changed by different texts, authors and critics.

The goal is not just to provide a different feminist production of the texts by women authors of different global Chinese communities, but it is also to participate in the cultural production of feminist discourses, bringing attention to the often neglected negative representation of feminism in contemporary culture and to revise the feminist project in such a way as to detangle feminist critics from theoretically produced dilemmas. The controversy of Chinese women authors does not mean contradictions between women and the nation but tensions between feminist and nationalist discourses. It is necessary that feminism should be envisioned from outside, not of the nation but of (masculinist) nationalist discourses, in order to maintain its critical edge.

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