Thoughts on "Shanghai Foxtrot" and "The Golden Cangue"

Hi Everyone,

No doubt many of us will have a great deal they want to say about these two very rich texts. My plan for tomorrow's discussion is quite straightforward. Since I never had the experience of teaching either of these texts, and since it was only on the occasion of our seminar that I read them for the first time, I will abstain from presenting their historical background or discussing inter-textual references in detail. (I'll leave it to our resident experts to help us further with this information, and I'll rely equally on your memory of Frederik's specific introduction to Eileen Chang as part of his presentation on "Sealed Off.")

I wish to follow Mu's and Chang's stories along two parallel registers:

First, in terms of how they intersect with themes we have encountered consistently throughout the seminar. "Shanghai Foxtrot" allows us to return to questions concerning a) the significance of its fragmentary, cinematic form, b) the relationship between the feminine and commodification (including the exchangeability of women, as in the dance sequence), and c) the image of urban modernism as dangerous, threatening and seedy.

Obviously, the theme of the feminine's commodification continues in "The Golden Cangue," as well as the casting of the aristocracy's decline in terms of a bodily sickness or condition. In the case of the male body in "The Golden Cangue," there is a persistence of its image as paralyzed or disabled in some other way, which, as a traditional psychoanalytic figure, symbolizes a condition of castration.

The second register along which I would like to think "Shanghai Foxtrot" and "The Golden Cangue" is that of translation, specifically the problem of 1) how, exactly, these works translate the experience of urban modernism, 2) why literary works and works of art generally (or forms of mass media, if that distinction is meaningful) serve as a site of both transmitting and translating urban modernism, and 3) to what extent "Shanghai Foxtrot" and "The Golden Cangue" stage the problem of translation as part of their content.

I want to suggest that the character of the writer at the end of "Shanghai Foxtrot" is one moment in which the problem of translation appears self-reflectively in the story. In "The Golden Cangue," it seems possible to think of the problem of translation as appearing in two ways: in terms of the translation of modernity through the female body, with the female body performing a kind of reproductive labor for modernity's transmission, which often ends in the female body's suicide/self-destruction. Another way translation appears as an issue with "The Golden Cangue" is through the fact that Chang herself translated the story herself multiple times and in multiple ways, back and forth from Chinese to English, which does not seem insignificant.

Hopefully some of these issues I want to raise will resonate with you for our discussion. If anyone is interested in reading about the trajectory of Chang's translations of "The Golden Cangue," I've attached an essay by Jessica Tsui Yan Li that appeared in _Neohelicon_ last fall.

Have a nice evening and see you tomorrow.

Eileen_Change_and_Self-translation.pdf187.42 KB