Speaker: Maciej Kurzynski @daron
Affiliation: Stanford University
Title: The Sublime as a Narrative Technology - A Perspective from Modern Chinese Literature
Abstract (long version below): Combining word embedding, topic modeling, and network analysis, my paper sheds light on the “technology of the sublime,” a narrative mechanism that synchronizes plot development with vocabulary distribution in the novel. Using modern Chinese texts as a case study, I provide a techno-cognitive interpretation of how a gradual accumulation of words and phrases describing grand and awe-inspiring natural phenomena leads to a climactic, boundary-crossing experience narrated in a novel’s plot.
The growing scholarship on the sublime in non-Western contexts makes it necessary to reconsider the possibility of this peculiar experience from a broader cross-cultural perspective. The point of convergence among the many existing interpretations is a narrative pattern that can be disassembled into three distinct components: rising motion, boundary, and sequentiality. Given that digital humanities provide tools to detect patterns, rhythms, and repetitions in texts, my paper employs methods of computational criticism to explore the aesthetic of the sublime in modern Chinese narratives. Combining word embedding, topic modeling, and network analysis, I aim to shed light on what I call the “technology of the sublime,” a narrative mechanism that synchronizes plot development with vocabulary distribution in the novel. The first part of my paper introduces the computational theory of the sublime to encapsulate the process whereby a gradual accumulation of words and expressions describing large and powerful natural phenomena culminates in a boundary-crossing experience narrated in a novel’s plot. In the second part, I read two modern Chinese texts—“Second Sun” by Liu Baiyu (1987) and “Soul Mountain” by Gao Xingjian (1990)—and reveal how both authors avail themselves of the narrative mechanism thus defined. The discovered similarity is noteworthy given the ostensibly divergent aesthetics and antagonistic ideals conveyed by the two texts. Finally, I show the ways in which writers negotiate with the sublime meta-narratively to contain and redirect its powerful emotive thrust.