East and West
I Write, Therefore
I Am: Writing as an Experience of Authenticity in Modernity and Postcoloniality
of Comparative Literature, Cornell University
March 30 - April 1, 2001
Heidegger, what constitutes authentic Being is an anxiety over the experience
of uncanniness, that is, a feeling of not-being-at-home (in a community
that may or may not exist). Some Heideggerian philosophers have pushed
the line further by contending that such an uncanny experience is foremost
and inevitably a linguistic one (by "Heideggerian" I include those who
write in response to Heidegger's system in one form or another). Emmanuel
Levinas, for instance, argues that it is language that maintains the
relationship between the same and the other; in other words, it is language
that grounds what he considers an ethical experience. Maurice Blanchot
sees literary writing as the ultimate form of authentic life. For him,
the question of writing borders on questions of possibility and history
in general, in that it addresses the relation between the one and the
this paper seeks to examine is the epistemological divergence and convergence
between modernity and postcoloniality. One devil that (post)coloniality
constantly has to fight is the secondariness of existence it is assigned
vis-à-vis colonial modernity. This paper will examine if colonial
modernity itself is not always already traversed by a self-crisis, by
the sense of uncanniness that Heidegger tries to manifest in his concept
of authenticity. I will use Baudelaire's poetry to address this question.
Then, I will discuss a contemporary writer from Taiwan, Chu Tien-wen,
to examine the stakes of authenticity in the postcolonial condition.
More specifically, I will examine the possibility of an ethics of writing
in face of the uncanny authenticity in both modernity and postcoloniality.
I will analyze Baudelaire's three "lesbo" poems to see how the male
poet has to give up his maleness and poet-ness to write about his lesbian
poetic personae – and what this may mean in terms of "the ethics of
writing." By the same token, the Taiwanese novel I will draw on also
manifests an anxious concern for the other in face of the crisis of
community – an "ethics" manifested in nothing other than the practice
paper seeks to examine what it is like to "be" in both colonial modernity
and postcoloniality, what it is like to "write" in colonial modernity
and postcoloniality, and, above all, how writing in both epistemes may
inform the ethical way of the authentic Being.
Chen is a Ph. D. candidate in Comparative Literature at Cornell University.
Her interests include postcolonial theory, twentieth-century Anglophone
literature, contemporary Chinese literature from Taiwan, literary theory,
and psychoanalysis. Already published, she is working on a dissertation
entitled Community by Way of Writing, Community by Way of Death:
Exigency of Community in the Postcolonial Condition.
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