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Residual Romanticism in a Contemporary Shanghai Novel

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Through a close reading of Wei Hui’s bestseller Shanghai Baby (1999), this article highlights five elements to delimit a post-romantic neoliberal literary sensibility and its ruptures: (1) a “melotraumatic” quest for exuberance, (2) denial of dependency, (3) a celebration of individual choice and market rationalities, (4) disillusionment and disappointment, and (5) a quest for intelligibility through narrative. Along the way I probe the narrator’s residual romanticism as a little-addressed foundation of the novel’s testimony to a generational sensibility. By examining the relationship between Coco the narrator and Coco the protagonist, I contend that the narrator’s sustained self-remembering evokes her growing unease with neoliberal values. The tension between post-romantic cynicism and residual romanticism suggests the extent to which a supposedly dissident novel may entice precisely for the ways its deep structure reinforces dominant discourses. Whereas Coco the protagonist follows a logic of consumerism, Coco the narrator gestures to non-commercial values—loyalty, care, empathy, trust, and solidarity. Appreciating the novel’s residual romanticism alongside its post-romantic cynicism sheds new light on the story, its context, ambiguous feminism, and reception.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Comparative Literature, Smith College dsknight@smith.edu

10.3868/s010-006-017-0005-2
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/content/journals/10.3868/s010-006-017-0005-2
2017-05-03
2018-07-16

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