Western influence and the place of music in the works of Shen Congwen
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Shen Congwen [沈从文] (1902 – 1988), the famous Chinese writer most active from the late 1920s to the end of the 1940s, took particular interest in music throughout his literary career. From Shen’s earliest works, folksongs feature in his regional stories about West Hunan, his home region. These songs not only provide the stories with a special local colour, but also indicate Shen’s strong connection with Western anthropology and psychology. From the mid-1930s, Shen developed a passion for Western classical music. He stated on several occasions that he wished he could use the method of musical composition in his writing, even though he never attempted to learn to compose. This thesis will investigate Shen’s insistence on the assumption that the method of musical composition – especially the use of ‘harmony’ – would make literary works more beautiful and infinite. Shen’s discussion of Western classical music also points to the connection between music and abstraction. In Shen’s later career, he seems to be consistently pursuing the beauty of abstraction. At the same time, he writes about ‘soundless music’, which goes beyond concrete music such as folksongs or Western classical music. In the analysis of Shen’s ideas on music, one question remains: what are the possible sources of these ideas? Shen started writing after May Fourth Movement, a movement that massively involved learning from the West. His career thrived while socialising with a group of Chinese writers whose works bear evident marks of Western literature, and some of whom were also the translators of many Western works. Furthermore, Shen’s ideas on music appear to reflect those of Western literature, especially modern literature. This thesis will consider possible influences on Shen, starting with an examination of what Shen might have read or known about Western literary ideas. Finally, according to the evidence uncovered in my research, this thesis will propose a comparative study between possible Western sources of influence and Shen’s ideas on music, focusing on the influence of Western anthropology, psychology, Goethe (1749 – 1832), French Symbolism, Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), and Joyce (1882 – 1941).