Literature in masks: Katherine Mansfield, Eileen Chang and the possibilities of creative writing

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Shieh, Wen-Shan (2013)
  • Subject: PN3311

The thesis proposes that the figurative and extensive use of the ‘mask’—persona, masquerade, disguise, impersonation—provides a crucial literary device for the development and liberation of the expressive potential of Katherine Mansfield and Eileen Chang (1920-1995).\ud \ud Chapter 1, ‘Introduction’, elucidates the relationship between mask and language with respect to the writings of Mansfield and Chang by revising John Keats’s idea of ‘the chameleon poet’, Robert Browning’s conception of dramatic monologue, Oscar Wilde’s insights into truth and masks, and Ezra Pound’s adoptions of ‘personae’ in his poetry. The affinities between Mansfield and Chang will be explored by looking at their critical writing as well as criticism on them, revealing their shared awareness of the masks of a person in daily life as well as in fiction and drama. Chapter 2, ‘Katherine Mansfield’s Art of Changing Masks’, explores how Mansfield’s characters switch between three types of masks—speech and the non-verbal, gender, animality—to respond to changes in their situations. Particularly important for this exploration are Joan Rivi re’s ‘Womanliness as Masquerade’, Michael Goldman’s theory of masks in acting, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of ‘becoming-animal’. Chapter 3, ‘Prosopopoeia: Katherine Mansfield’s “special prose” ’, considers Mansfield’s attempt ‘to bring the dead to life again’ in what she calls ‘special prose’ as a ‘prosopopoeia’, or in Cynthia Chase’ phrase, ‘giving a face to a name’. In this chapter I will also trace how Mansfield’s work was first translated into Chinese in 1923 by the Chinese poet, Zhimo Xu (1897-1931), which made her one of the most widely-read foreign writers in the Chinese-speaking world. More importantly, I suggest that Xu’s use of quotations from Keats and other nineteenth-century poets in portraying Mansfield in his memoir calls our attention to her decisive and still insufficiently examined relationship to poetry. Chapter 4, ‘ “Hiding behind a foreign language”: Eileen Chang’s Self-Translation and Masquerade’, examines Chang’s penchant for translating her fiction and essays from Chinese into English or vice versa. Taking a cue from Pound’s view of translations as ‘elaborate masks’ and Deleuze’s idea of the writer being a ‘foreigner’ in their own language, I examine some of the ways in which that the mask of a foreigner / foreign language enables Chang, a bilingual fiction writer and essayist, to gain the emotional and spatial distance from which to reflect on Chinese culture and her personal life.\ud \ud Being inspired by Mansfield and Chang’s courage to get away from the notion of writing as self-expression and Dionysus’ gift of crossing boundaries through the assistance of the mask, the creative component of the thesis, Chapter 5, consists of 4 short stories. I conclude the thesis with a poem entitled ‘Gifts (for Katherine Mansfield)’ and a quick fiction called ‘The Functions of Theory’, considering theory and literary terms as a variety of make-up that I apply to the face of my thesis. While critical chapters contain embedded fiction, the creative component demonstrates and tests how the interior space behind the mask allows me to liberate my creative energy. In these stories, I attempt to cross the boundaries between male and female, Chinese and non-Chinese, human and animal, creative and critical writing.
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