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The Logic of the Phantasm: Haunting and Spectrality
in the Contemporary Chinese Literary Imagination

by Jianguo Chen

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 231-265


This article studies the discourse of the phantasm, one that remains critically neglected. By examining a curious proliferation of ghosts in contemporary Chinese literary imagination since the mid-1980s, particularly those in the representative works of Mo Yan, Yu Hua, and Chen Cun, the article argues about the logic of the phantasm with regard to such critical issues as the originary, nostalgic desire, phantasmal speculation, and representation. It discusses how this recovered discourse relates to the complex Chinese realities both in terms of the epistemological and the social in a meaningful manner. Deleuze's discussion of the phantasm is illustrated and discussed as one of the important theoretical hypotheses for the argument. The article asks and tries to answer such questions as: Why do ghosts continue to occupy such a conspicuous position in contemporary Chinese Literature? What does it mean to talk about ghosts in the seemingly disenchanted world of the postmodern? What can the spectral and haunting say about history insofar as the relationship between spectrality and historiography is concerned? How does the discourse of the phantasm work towards a revealing understanding of Chinese realities?