- The Spatiality of Emotion in Early Modern China: From Dreamscapes to Theatricality by Ling Hon Lam
Emotion is a seemingly inseparable, self-evident element of literature. In recent decades, new insights of affect have been explored in disciplines as diverse as anthropology, cultural studies, geography, psychology, philosophy, gender studies, and sociology. Along with [End Page 498] scholars' increased interest in theorizing the affective logic, emotion also has become a major concern in literary study. How does drama provide readers insight into the ways emotions are produced, experienced, and judged in history? How can emotion link to other conversations happening in the humanities? How would the rethinking of emotion shed light on theatre studies beyond the script and the written text? How could it advance a consideration of the performing and spectating movement, the staging, the atmosphere, or the space?
In The Spatiality of Emotion in Early Modern China: From Dreamscapes to Theatricality, Ling Hon Lam challenges the assumption that emotion is an interior state of mind in response to external factors. Lam proposes a radical rethinking of emotion in terms of space. Instead of taking the external space as a projection of people's feelings or treating emotion as prior to the "realm," Lam argues that "emotion per se is spatial" (p. 4). By reconceptualizing emotion as not a state of mind within oneself but as a spatial structure Lam suggests this structure undergoes and indexes significant historical changes. He concentrates on a specific spatial structure of emotion—theatricality—pertaining to Chinese society during China's early modern period. Theatricality, according to Lam, refers to "an early mode of spatiality in which emotion is not interior to oneself but performed by others" (p. 6), and conversely, it was conceivable only as exhibited to an audience. The historical peculiarity of theatricality, however, must be understood in the sedimentation of earlier modes of spatiality—namely, "dreamscapes"—from which theatricality emerged.
Lam offers a new account of the term "emotion-realm" (qingjing) which centers on the idea of emotion as space. In the Chinese language qingjing describes the relationship between a subject's feeling and the object's reality, situation, or circumstance. This book focuses on how the emotion-realm underwent significant transformations from the dreamscape to theatricality in sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century China. Through figuring out the genealogy of emotion-realms, Lam remaps China's moral, theatrical, and knowledge production histories. These histories converge at the emergence of sympathy, redefined by Lam as the dissonance among the dimensions of the emotion-realm pertaining to theatricality.
The first chapter "Winds, Dreams, Theatre: A Genealogy of Emotion-Realms" looks into one of the most well-known Chinese drama, Mudan ting (The Peony Pavilion, 1598). Lam provides a revisionist history of emotion in Chinese literature and culture. Reading The Peony Pavilion in this "archaeological" way, Lam looks into the subtle transformation of Chinese theatre and subject formation. He explores the multiple layers of dreams and dreamscapes in the play by examining [End Page 499] the realization of dreaming after awakening, dreams shared between the two leading characters, and the projection of the heroine Liniang's dream in film. Lam believes that if The Peony Pavilion is the romantic play par excellence in early modern China, it is not because it celebrates emotion as the innermost essence of a liberated individual; rather, it is because the play eloquently encapsulates the three major historical regimes of the spatiality of emotion—winds, dreamscapes, and theatricality. In early modern China, "theatricality emerged as a new spatial mode of emotion following the ancient and medieval topoi of winds and dreamscapes" (p. 46). Incorporating these regimes, this play has deployed them in an anachronistic juxtaposition, obliterating their timeline and structural differences.
In Chapter 2 "The Heart Beside Itself: A Genealogy of Morals," Lam looks into the different relationships to theatre in The Water Margin and The Journey to the West; the former "derives the motifs of playacting from Yuan drama," and the latter "departs...