Dissertation in Literature
First supervisor: Prof. Ulla Haselstein
Second supervisor: Prof. Henning Klöter
Third supervisor: Prof. Winfried Fluck
The past two decades have seen a proliferation of Chinese American narratives departing from the earlier discourse of “claiming America” and focusing on the historical and sociocultural China as the primary subject as represented by émigré writers like Ha Jin and Anchee Min. In this paradigm shift often traced to these writers’ traumatic experiences during times of political turmoil in their native country China, young writer Yiyun Li distinguishes her fiction through her nuanced take on Chinese politics and history. With her kaleidoscopic stories often set in post-Mao China but sometimes also in America because the new China’s open-door policy allows migration, Li develops a style of slowly and quietly painting the complex psychic landscape as an aftermath of history—an extreme artistic detachment from her articulation of memory, which she refers to the impact of globalization and argues as transcending any political or cultural identification and thus makes her a noteworthy writer among the post-Tiananmen Chinese literary diaspora.
Based on the premise that Li may represent a new kind of post-Tiananmen diaspora that does not fit so neatly the classical model of exilic or diasporic as represented by her predecessors, this dissertation intends to discover her creative evolvement towards a transnational aesthetics—an “in-between” consciousness derived from her émigré life that creates artistic distance and new lenses for her perceptions of both cultures. It examines four aspects of her works: her microcosmic representation of the intercultural encounters in post-Mao China; her narratives of diaspora, cultural memory and amnesia; the politics of her choice of English as her working language; and her representation of America.