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The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 23, Issue 1/4, 2007

Semiotics in the Chinese Umwelt

Hsien-hao Sebastian Liao
Pages 147-171

A Chinese Sinthome
Chan, Modern Subject and Politico-Semioticizing Dream of the Red Chamber

Aiming at the long repressed politico-semiotic dimension of Dream of the Red Chamber, this essay employs Lacanian theories of discourse and subjectivity in conjunction with the Chan Buddhist idea of enlightenment to analyze the coming into being of the what Zizek defines as a “modern subject” at the historical juncture of the Manchu conquest of China. Attempting to come to terms with the historical trauma caused by the Manchu conquest, the novel re-examines the fate of the emerging Chinese modernity founded in the discourse of qing or “feeling” by re-visiting the last forty years or so of the Ming resistance against the invasion. The examination, however, reveals that the subject involved in this nationalist struggle unwittingly becomes a “modern subject” because of what Zizek describes as a “redoubled renunciation”: he who sacrifices his particular attachment for the purpose of bolstering the universal Cause ends up losing both. Also unprecedented in classical Chinese literature is that this “modern subject” eventually is able somehow doubly to “identify with the symptom/ sinthome” as his only consistency: “man” on the level of the “framed story” in the metafictional structure of the novel, and “contingency” on the level of the framing story.

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