Leaking Silver, Semen, and Sound: Rumor, Gossip, and the Early-Modern Information Economy of a Chinese Erotic Classic

Photo for Leaking Silver, Semen, and Sound:
Talk by Pieter Keulemans, Princeton University

Given our (twentieth-century) tendency to associate eroticism with visuality, the sixteenth-century erotic classic Jin Ping Mei comes as a surprise: many of its erotic scenes are told with a remarkable emphasis on its sound. How are we to interpret the sighs and sounds, whispers and overheard conversations the novel portrays in such remarkable detail? In this paper, I will argue that the novel employs such sounds as a way of creating an acoustic economy of intimacy. This acoustic architecture of intimacy should moreover be understood in the broader context of seventeenth-century Chinese print-culture. In an age where the printing press produced an ever in increasing flow of information to an ever broader public of alienated readers, the simulated orality of gossip and hearsay allowed the vernacular novel (and those who whispered about such novels) to create a sense of intimacy amidst an increasingly anonymous mass-readership.

Paize Keulemans is an assistant professor at the Department of East Asian Studies at Princeton. His first book, “Sound Rising from the Paper: Nineteenth-century Martial Arts Fiction and the Chinese Acoustic Imagination,” was published in 2014. His second project tentatively entitled, “Idle Chatter: The Productive Uses of Gossip and Rumor in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Literature,” investigates the local, imperial, and global information networks of the early-modern age. He is also interested in the remediation of late-imperial literature, in particular the way the great novels of the Ming have been turned into a variety of video-games.

Photo provided by Paize Keulemans.

Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies

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Published: Tuesday, April 21, 2015