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The Sensibilities of Semicolonial Shanghai: A Phenomenological Study of the Short Stories by Liu Na’ou


This chapter looks at the examples from the late 1920s and early 1930s Shanghai new sensationist (xin’-ganjuepai) author, Liu Na’ou 劉吶歐, to offer a reading of his short stories in reference to the philosophy of perceptual experience and the literary history of the texts. It argues that literature written with a focus on sensational responses is a genre resistant to representation. The more exhaustively the city is portrayed with an emphasis on sensations, the more perceptual knowledge the reader seems to have of the city; but paradoxically, the less she knows the city itself. To read such literature, it requires a rigorous philosophical analysis of the problem of perception, such as what this chapter develops by borrowing from study of Cézanne’s paintings by the phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty. This study discovers that while the sensationist literature poses a challenge of interpreting the narrated urban reality for the reader, it also suggests a new epistemology of the city in literature, as well as explores a different framework of understanding the city in terms of sensations.

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