2003 Theses Doctoral
Contextually Speaking: Tibetan Literary Discourse And Social Change In The People's Republic Of China (1980-2000)
This dissertation examines literary debates initiated by Tibetan writers and critics in the 1980s and 1990s within the context of a rapidly modernizing society. My broader project is to illustrate how intellectuals position themselves in the field of literary production regarding questions of innovation, the function of literature, periodization, linguistic idiom, and the relevance of Indic kāvya theory, which dominated Tibetan belles-lettres for nearly seven hundred years. What discursive strategies do critics use to stake their literary claims? From what conceptual structures do they draw? How do they effect or resist, and ultimately shape literary change?
This dissertation presents a cultural history centered on the concept of discursive formations, while also drawing on theoretical insights in sociology and literary criticism. After demonstrating how translation, publishing and educational activities of monastically trained scholars since the 1940s lay groundwork for the advent of a "New Tibetan Literature," I examine the subsequent development of modem Tibetan literary criticism, focusing on topics of sustained debate. While the bulk of my findings are based on a broad survey of Tibetan-medium literary criticism in the PRC, my selection of significant texts for close reading was informed by seventeen months of fieldwork in Qinghai and Gansu Provinces, and the Tibet Autonomous Region. My research illustrates how Tibetan literary and other journals provide a proxy public forum for intellectuals to negotiate Tibetan literature and culture. Key debates in the 1980s, during which kāvya principles continued to prevail, regarded the criteria for defining Tibetan literature, periodization and the emergence of free verse. By the mid-
1990s, however, free verse was commonplace and western literary theory more available A growing number of critics altogether rejected the kāvya model, suggesting instead that Tibet's literary roots lay in pre-Buddhist writings. An alternate response lay in the nascent formation of a modernist literary movement.
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