Symptoms of an Unruly Age

Li Zhi and Cultures of Early Modernity

Rivi Handler-Spitz

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  • Published: April 2017
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; Literary Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 256 pp., 5 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Symptoms of an Unruly Age compares the writings of Li Zhi (1527-1602) and his late-Ming compatriots to texts composed by their European contemporaries, including Montaigne, Shakespeare, and Cervantes. Emphasizing aesthetic patterns that transcend national boundaries, Rivi Handler-Spitz explores these works as culturally distinct responses to similar social and economic tensions affecting early modern cultures on both ends of Eurasia.

The paradoxes, ironies, and self-contradictions that pervade these works are symptomatic of the hypocrisy, social posturing, and counterfeiting that afflicted both Chinese and European societies at the turn of the seventeenth century. Symptoms of an Unruly Age shows us that these texts, produced thousands of miles away from one another, each constitute cultural manifestations of early modernity.
Rivi Handler-Spitz is associate professor of Chinese language and literature at Macalester College.

"One of those rare books that put different individuals from different cultures and languages, their lives and ideas, their writings and complex interactions with their times, into a global context that reveals astonishing affinities where least expected, across huge gaps of the usual East/West divide."
-Zhang Longxi, author of From Comparison to World Literature

"A bold book. Rivi Handler-Spitz brilliantly shows that Montaigne and Postel were not alone in the world in thinking that they were living in an age of uncertainty. Li Zhi and others in Ming China were struggling with many of the same doubts about language and value."
-Timothy Brook, author of The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties

Note on Names and Translations
1. Transparent Language: Origin Myths and Early Modern Aspirations of Recovery
2. The Rhetoric of Bluff: Paradox, Irony, and Self-Contradiction
3. Sartorial Signs and Li Zhi's Paradoxical Appearance
4. Money and Li Zhi's Economies of Rhetoric
5. Dubious Books and Definitive Editions
6. Provoking or Persuading Readers? Li Zhi and the Incitement of Critical Judgment
Glossary of Chinese Characters

"Handler-Spitz sets herself two discrete tasks: to describe societies that were undergoing critical, parallel changes; and to justify the comparative approach itself. . . . As Handler-Spitz makes clear, simply recognizing the parallels can safeguard us from inappropriately narrow, single-culture-specific notions of causality."
-Katherine Carlitz, Journal of Asian Studies