The subversive China in twentieth-century French literature
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation examines an anti-West and anti-humane role played by China in the works of Claudel, Segalen, Malraux, Michaux and Sollers. I argue that the search for different values in China makes their works a homogenous discourse, which reflects the crisis in subjectivity and in language in modern Western society. China serves as a reference in criticizing Western humanistic tradition, and also offers a model of "deja-la moderne" in the search for a new aesthetic, in an age of token-language (Jean-Joseph Goux, 1984). Thus, focusing on the inadequacy of the Western heritage rather than on Western power over the other, this discourse reveals some features that Edward Said failed to discuss in his Orientalism (1978). In part one, I first outline the motifs in the praise of the Chinese writing by Claudel, Michaux and Segalen, and point out the connection between their admiration of Chinese sign and the development of a no-representative aesthetic. Then I look at the ways in which those writers bring Chinese writing in their works. I argue that their effort to create the effect of simultaneity of signs intends to break with the linear constraints of writing. It also leads to the emergence of an anti-ideological "ecriture" in Sollers' works that completely breaks with the representative literature. In part two, I discuss Segalen's expectation of a "transfer from the Empire of China to the empire of self", and Malraux's rejection of the oriental wisdom in his search for a new concept of man. I also examine whether Segalen, who insists on the search for a secret self, or Claudel, who dedicates himself to the glory of God, turn of God, turn to the Taoist notion of emptiness, which leads to the break with the Cartesian cogito. Finally, I focus on the two different stages of Sollers's use and depiction of China. From revolution to "no action", China is linked to his dream of an anti-West "logical turn-over" that comes true, in his later works, in an individualized, yet emptied space.