Modernist to Modern Matters – The first FAH Bentobox lectures of the academic year

25 Sep 2017


Contributing to this event, which was held on Thursday, September 21, 2017, were Professor Tan Seekam and Professor Matthew Gibson, both from the Department of English.

Professor Tan gave a well-documented presentation of the literary origins of the “three women” genre, and its development as a film genre in the cinemas of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, up to the present day. Seekam demonstrated how this genre has been adapted to represent changing cultural, social, gendered and political values. Drawing on the “much despised” butterfly and mandarin duck (literary) fiction, it first emerged in Shanghai, circa 1930s. The genre further developed in postwar Hong Kong, expanding in terms of themes and characterizations. Applying Rey Chow’s notion of “reading of by way of woman”, Seekam explored the shifting structures of feeling therein, from the traditional (Confucianist) to the revolutionary and then to the postmodern. Rather than merely focusing on the women’s appearance as image or images, it additionally explored their narrative positions or positionings in Chinese romantic films with particular attention to the changing positions of women in Chinese societies in the 20th century.

Professor Gibson’s detailed paper considered the “mythic method” as developed by W.B.Yeats as well as its influence on T.S.Eliot. Matthew argued that While the use of juxtaposition between a mythic past and a tawdry present in these poems is consonant with Eliot’s own practice in The Waste Land (1922), close observation of the similarities between both  ‘Fergus and the Druid’ (1892) and ‘The Grey Rock’ (1913), and Eliot’s ‘The Death of St Narcissus’, a discarded piece dating back to 1915, would suggest that Eliot fashioned the mythical method of The Waste Land initially by adapting the themes of metamorphosis and metempsychosis in Yeats’s poems, which proved a valuable ‘stepping stone’ towards the constantly shifting and polyphonic form of Eliot’s more mature and celebrated poem of 1922.  The paper will showed, in keeping with the views of the Taiwanese scholar H-L Chang, that Eliot’s own ‘mythical method’ is as much a set of mythpoeic metamorphoses,  as it is a contrast of mythic narrative and modernity, and also demonstrated more accurately the role played by Yeats’s work in the genesis and fomentation of Eliot’s own ‘mythical method’.

We look forward to the meeting next month. Details and a call for registration will be sent out shortly.