Affective Landscapes, Spatial Selves

Catherine Stuer, Denison University


In this talk I trace connections between 19th century pictorial life narratives and their 17th and 18th century antecedents to analyze structural changes related to the spatialized imagination of self in a time of momentous change. I argue that these picture-texts manipulate the spatial form of their narratives in various ways, and in so doing, reconfigure their authors’ bio-geographies into multilayered affective landscapes.

I focus on the image-text produced by Zhang Weiping (1780-1859), and show how this text retools received modes of self-narrative through a “language of vision,” in which landscape images and spatial figures stand central. Doing so allowed this poet, scholar and sometime official, against the grain of his personal and social predicament, to (re-)claim subject identities that had become foreclosed to him.

I propose that Zhang’s publication is part of self-representational projects that engage deeply with historiographical values, without however submitting to history. These projects each clearly show engagement with representational practices in narrative literature, both in features associated with the logical structure of their narrative and in terminology used in the paratext to their images. As such, they not only ask us to revisit how we understand historical configurations of the relation between self-writing, historiography, and literature, but demand that we attend more closely to the “the language of vision” in mediations of subjecthood through landscape in late imperial China.