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Saturday 04 December 2021
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Viva voce examinations of PhD Thesis

“The Literary Animal”. An investigation into politics in the work of Simon Leys (27-nov-07, 15:00)

14/11/2007 11:34 Age: 14 an(s)
Category: Political Science PhD, CERAPS, Michel Hastings

By: Matthieu TIMMERMAN

This Political Science PhD thesis was realised inside the CERAPS and supervised by Michel Hastings

There is now a consensus about Simon Leys’ political writings which, paradoxically, people endeavour to analyse only in polemical terms. The image of the pamphleteer accurately describes the man who for several years denounced the so-called Maoist experts. But by focusing on one context and on these skilful diatribes, are we not disregarding the essential? Reading Essays on China is not purely an excuse to inveigh against the blinkered views of scholars, it questions a course and an expertise constructed in reaction to a political stance. The Essays should be seen therefore not as a lecture detached from the rest of his work, but as an inextricable part of it. This thesis aims to engage with the issues raised by Simon Leys’ critique of Chinese totalitarianism. The first concerns his analysis of the “Cultural Revolution”. For the sinologist, the event is characterised by a drastic loss of cultural identity depriving Chinese society of its referents. Doubts over the ability to come through such an upheaval increasingly predominate in the writings. The second concerns the distance which Simon Leys deliberately maintains in regard to politics. The relevance of the Essays can be understood through this specific position of the artistic critique, namely a view which becomes evident from a world of real life and ambiguity. However this insight, perceptive because it is off-centre, questions this defiant reaction against politics - these antipolitics - as a consequence of the totalitarian upheaval.

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