Symptoms of an Unruly Age

"Symptoms of an Unruly Age" by Dr. Rivi Handler-Spitz, Macaster College

Time: April 9, 4:00-5:0030

Location: White Hall 205

Free and open to the public.

The sixteenth century radical intellectual Li Zhi (1527-1602) scandalized contemporaries by boldly flouting social convention and fearlessly attacking political authorities. In this talk, Rivi Handler-Spitz examines some of Li Zhi’s most provocative writings and actions and analyzes their effects on readers and observers. Highlighting themes of deception and discernment, which pervaded Chinese and European literature of the period, she argues that these concerns were symptomatic of social and economic tensions affecting early modern cultures on both ends of Eurasia.

About the speaker

Rivi Handler-Spitz studies and teaches Chinese literature and intellectual history as well as comparative literature at Macaster College. Her book Symptoms of an Unruly Age: Li Zhi and Cultures of Early Modernity (University of Washington Press, 2017) compares writings by the late Ming dynasty radical intellectual Li Zhi to works by several of his best-known European contemporaries including Shakespeare, Montaigne, and Cervantes. Although these authors wrote independently on opposite ends of Eurasia, their works grapple with remarkably similar questions, among them how to differentiate between truth and falsehood, genuine articles and fakes. By examining the historical context in which these questions arose, as well as the culturally specific responses they generated, Symptoms of an Unruly Age highlights correspondences between early modern Chinese and European literature.

Rivi Handler-Spitz has also translated a large number of Li Zhi’s essays from classical Chinese into English in a volume she co-edited with Haun Saussy and Pauline C. Lee, A Book to Burn and a Book to Keep (Hidden) (Columbia University Press, 2016). Her current research explores themes of imitation, innovation, and the use of vernacular languages in Chinese literary criticism of the sixteenth and early twentieth centuries as well as in Renaissance Europe. She is also at work co-editing a volume of essays that analyze Li Zhi’s writings from the perspectives of philosophy, women’s studies, book history, intellectual history, and literary criticism. Her articles have appeared in peer-reviewed journals including Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR), Prose Studies, Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies, and Compilation and Translation Review.