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Tsing Hua Journal of Chinese Studies
ISSN 0577-9170; DOI 10.6503/THJCS


On Literary Form: The Interaction between the “Aesthetic-oriented," the “Social-oriented," and the “Aesthetic-social" Balanced Literary Form

Vol. 35 No. 2   12/2005    


On Literary Form: The Interaction Between the “Aesthetic-oriented," the “Social-oriented," and the “Aesthetic-social" Balanced Literary Form


Kun -yang Yen









Key words

literary form, aesthetic-oriented, social-oriented, “aesthetic-social" balanced literary form


      Since the late Qing Dynasty, it has been a common critical practice to divide Chinese prose writings─modern as well as ancient─into two categories: the prose of art and the prose of utility or, in another set of terms, the pure literary writing (chunwnxue) and the mixed literary writing (tsawenxue). This framework of discussion views literature as essentially divided by a binary opposition between the artistic and the useful, a binary that results in the perpetual rupture between art and society as if the former existed in an inner realm isolated from the external realm of society without any interaction. This framework is problematic either as a theoretical formulation or for creative writing─and , in itself, are embedded the elements of deconstructíon.

      This paper takes this classification of styles as its point of departure. After deconstructing its framework, we have to ask: is there an essential distinction of literary styles between the artistic and the useful? My argument is that such a distinction-the artistic in opposition to the useful, or "chun" in opposition to "tsa"─does not exist as the eternal essence prior to the actual practice of writing. The classification of literary styles is only a mediating common ground made in and by language for the social interaction among critics and writers; it is only a "principle" established on the basis of a literary tradition and the consensus of the academic community. There is no ready-made “ artistic nature" or "social nature" in literary styles, but there is the instrumental structure and function for writers to crystallize artistic and/or social possibilities in their works. Therefore, there are only two potential dimensions: that is, the "aesthetic-oriented" and the "socialoriented." Any literary style must simultaneously possess these two dimensions, forming a co-existent relation, "aesthetic-social" balanced literary form.




Author: Kun-yang Yen
Genre: Article
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