- The Spatiality of Emotion in Early Modern China: From Dreamscapes to Theatricality by Ling Hon Lam (review)
- CHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature
- University of Hawai'i Press
- Volume 38, Number 2, December 2019
- pp. 165-170
- View Citation
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEWS The Spatiality of Emotion in Early Modern China: From Dreamscapes to Theatricality . By Ling Hon Lam. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018. xiii + 339 pp. 18 illus. Cloth $60.00. Electronic $59.99. The Spatiality of Emotion in Early Modern China: From Dreamscapes to Theatricality is a bold reconceptualization of fundamental questions in ontology, epistemology , and ethics. Ling Hon Lam proffers a new methodology for philosophy in our global age, bringing an in-depth study of early modern Chinese culture to bear on Western theories that tend to ignore China or position it as an extreme contrast . He does so by arguing that “theatricality” has been the dominant mode for experiencing the self and the world in China beginning in the early modern period: a mode shared with the West that remains dominant even today. While Lam considers many well-known works of premodern Chinese literature, his object of study is not simply premodern Chinese culture, but also the foundations of knowledge production about it. In historicizing the experience of emotions in China, Lam proposes three distinct though interdependent historical modes, each characterized by a unique spatial organization and furnished with a distinct mode of subject formation. The first, ancient winds, is characterized by embedment and patiency; the second, medieval dreamscapes, by deliverance and dreamerhood; and the last, early modern theatricality , by faceoff and its concomitant spectatorship. Lam’s conviction that emotion is fundamentally a spatial structure, exterior to bodies, permeates all three. He insists on emotion’s exteriority to avoid resorting to a conception of emotion as originating from within a subject, which he describes as an erroneous conception common in both the Chinese and Western traditions. To foreground emotion’s exteriority in a Chinese context, he offers a new interpretation of the common term qingjing 情境 (“situation”), which he translates as “emotion-realm.” Lam’s decision to draw out the emotion lodged in this phrase is at variance with its usual definition as “situation.” For Lam, qingjing, though translated as “emotionrealm ,” still means situation, albeit in a longer definition: he describes it as “a situation we find ourselves involved in [in the ancient winds mode], delivered through [in the medieval dreamscapes mode], and coming upon [in early modern theatricality ]” (p. 5). These emotion-realms, as Lam explains in Chapter Five, are developed from Heidegger’s notion of “mood, or attunement (Stimmung)” (p. 197) as the way in which humans are situated (Befindlichkeit) in the world (as Da-sein, “Being-in-the-world” ). But Lam does not borrow the notion wholesale; instead, he faults Heidegger for “isolating moodlike situatedness from spatiality […] thus reducing spatiality to ‘making present,’” (p. 201). As a consequence, Heidegger ’s Stimmung, Lam explains, is limited to his first spatial dimension—the ancient mode of winds-embedment-patiency—which is associated with presence, CHINOPERL: Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature 38. 2 (December 2019): 165–176 and which, consequently, does not adequately explain the persistent exteriority of emotion. In developing this theory of emotion and spatiality, Lam relies upon a counterintuitive definition of theatricality that divorces it entirely from theater. For Lam, theatricality “signifies not the essential origin of theater but, ironically, a historical deviation from theater, at the moment when drama became increasingly consumed through printed texts” (p. 6), reflecting “a notion of intermediation that is beside and beyond theater” (p. 11). He traces his conception of theatricality to the Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle in the nineteenth century, who used it to describe his own spectatorial relationship to major political events that he would record in writing. In this vision, theatricality is defined by “a somewhat detached spectator whose experience is marked by reading and writing” (p. 211). Lam links this “new sense of self-displacement”—spectatorship—that “alienate[s] subjects from their feelings, producers from products, writers from readers” to the “combined sway of commerce , print, and theater” (p. 6). He does not dwell on the contours of these causes, which have been treated exhaustively elsewhere. Instead, he uses this definition of theatricality as spectatorship to effect a major reworking of the concept of sympathy. Because theatricality is defined as a mode of distance or alienation from even one’s own...