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Fables for the Patriarchs by Jowen R. Tung
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Fables for the Patriarchs

by Jowen R. Tung

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Recently added bySimaYu, Jakujin, rpeckham

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Because this book has almost no reviews in support, I’m going to quote one from historian Beata Grant: “A completely engrossing, truly extraordinary work. There exists nothing in English on gender in Tang dynasty literature and culture that even remotely resembles this book, whether in terms of comprehensiveness, originality, or analytic depth. No one before has so confidently and persuasively applied feminist critical theory to the topic.”

I go along with that. Not that I am in the slightest acquainted with what else is written on the topic. But it’s the first time I’ve met this sort of radical critique as extended to Chinese culture. Nor am I up with French critical theory, and when at the start she expressed her indebtedness to Derrida I cringed, because from the year he invaded my English Dept at university I have believed I am allergic to Derrida (style & substance). I did read Nomadology: The War Machine, because it has a tenuous connection with real nomads. Whereas this book has more than a tenuous connection to Tang: I read it without much context except for standard Chinese histories; it wasn’t difficult or diffuse (as, for example, Nomadology) and as far as I’m concerned it was devastatingly on target. It isn’t only about women; as she says in her preface, “… the dualism of masculinity versus femininity damages both genders. Envisioning an emancipation of women through which men will also be liberated is an integral part of feminism that has not been sufficiently understood.”

It is written not as objective, dispassionate scholarship; on the contrary, it is passionate. I wondered whether I should call it protest scholarship. Added to that, it is written with craft – not in journalese, but in the passionate wish to persuade and in the conviction that the art and eloquence of sentences is not an irrelevance in her arguments. She even has brief fictions, from her own pen, at the heads of her chapters, and guess what? for me, these worked.

Its latter chapters focus on Tang poetry. ‘In Feminine Voice’ looks at what the female voice adopted by male poets meant, both for these poets – what of themselves did they so express? -- and for women who to an extent accepted these voices written for them, which influenced how they lived and felt.

I had to take a few leaps of faith to open this book (Derrida, lack of reviews, the ill-advised book description that to my chary eyes looks like a travesty of ‘feminist theory’). As soon as I did open it, I was astounded, and utterly seduced. ( )
  Jakujin | Aug 16, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0847695123, Hardcover)

Exploring issues of gender in Tang-dynasty literature and culture, Jowen R.Tung draws on a comprehensive range of historical, literary, and social texts to unravel the complex mechanisms of one of the world's oldest patriarchal systems. The author reveals the profound damage inflicted by the masculine state ideology on its subjects by illuminating the problematics of male sexuality under the hovering phallus of the emperor, the construct of male and female psyches within the pseudo-monogamous household, the logic of the collective unconscious in the literati's writings, and a female tradition desperately trapped inside the law of the father. Tung poses urgent questions about a civilization that builds itself upon the sacrifice of human lives and arrives at a rather dark interpretation of the Tang_for many the epitome of the Chinese empire. As such, the book moves beyond the confines of gender studies to propose a heightened agenda for feminist studies, which the author argues now stand at a critical conjecture.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:47 -0400)

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