Afterword: The Possibilities of Abandonment
Paul A. Bové
T
he literaryand cultural humanities are not veryold disciplines, and in t
not too distant past they were marked by high passion, intellectual rig
and cultural ambition.These disciplines have declined; it is not just that t
status of their objects—literature and culture—have lost value; the pra
tionersinthefieldshaveadoptedfacilemodelsofprofessionalwork.Mos
this decline means little except in the fact of teaching poorly; mostly, it
sults from and extends a professional model, especially but not only wit
the United States, according to which what matters is to ‘‘take a positio
on an already recognized continuum of legitimate positions, thereby id
tifying oneself with a faction, a mode of talking, a professional cadre. Oft
there is nothing at stake and so this matters little. Symptomatically, it rep
sents real reasons to worry about the state of the university as an instituti
capable of seriously studying or thinking about our world, its needs, a
the needs for any future. Sometimes a great deal is at stake, not just p
fessionally but immediately for the political and intellectual future of la
institutions and numbers of people. At times, in other words, and to pu
simply, the kinds of knowledge produced and the standards according
which they are produced—these things can matter.
Rey Chow’s edition of essays revising and laying bare the working
modern Chinese studies has, I believe, as one of its legitimate motives an
at the intellectual laziness and normal practice of ‘‘critics’’—wherever th
are to be found—who mouth inherited, commonsensical, and (professi
ally) normal phrases that are patently unsupportable byanyonewho pau
for a moment to think clearly about the words and their apparent referen
Reimagining the field of Chinese studies in the current geopolitical clim
matters enormously to virtually everyone now alive or soon to be born
there is a fact of life inescapably consequent upon globalism and the e
of the Cold War it is simply what appears to be the ‘‘fact of China,’’ t
idea for two centuries in such proximity to U.S. power and the history
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