Surface aesthetics of the Story of the stone


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Gailan WEI

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Awarding Institution
Award date2 Oct 2013


This dissertation aims to present an alternative reading of the 18th-century Chinese prose fiction Hongloumeng (a.k.a. The Story of the Stone or Dream of the Red Chamber, henceforth HLM), a work regarded by many to be the highest achievement in classical Chinese literature as well as the fountainhead of numerous studies that extend beyond the literary. Departing from existing studies, this dissertation attempts to shift away from the pursuit of "depth" or deeper meaning and place its focus on the novel's "surface aesthetics. Rather than relying on conventional analysis of narrative techniques employed in both Chinese and Western criticism to date, I will demonstrate how it is, rather, elements on the surface of narrative, such as the sensory world and plot-related arrangements that makes the novel an accessible and pleasurable reading experience to a wide range of readers. I argue that it is precisely these elements that make the work easy to remediate and connect to today's reader/viewer. In order to do this, I will draw on illustrations and case examples from the novel as well as theory from visual and cinematic studies. Chapter one is a thorough discussion of the theoretical issues - traditional and modern, western and Chinese - centering on the surface aesthetics of the novel. Chapter two draws on perspectives from comparative media studies and comparative literature studies in order to address what I call the art of navigating within the novel. Chapter three focuses on the emotional situations of the characters and how they might be considered the key to what drives and governs the art of navigating. Chapter four emphasizes the differences between the poetics of HLM and traditional narrative poetics. It particularly discusses the incompleteness of the fiction and argues that while Gao E's writing of the last 40 chapters departs from the first 80 chapters aesthetically, it accomplishes the task of completing the fiction in a conventional storytelling sense. Chapter five gives conclusion of the thesis, and extends to discuss the ways of rereading and remediating the novel.

    Research areas

  • Cao, Xueqin, approximately 1717-1763 Hong lou meng, Aesthetics, Cao, Xueqin, approximately 1717-1763