A Precarious Independence: The Neo-Romanticist Element in the post-Cultural Revolution Rediscovery of the Past

(FROM E:\James Documents fr June 13\external drive\Romanticism Files since sept 03\41_1_1 Essay on music in film.doc)
editing in progress, upload as below)

1. The Neo-Romanticist Element in the the post-Cultural Revolution Rediscovery of the Past

It has become almost a cliché to “read” much of current cinema in China as a bitter comment on the repressions of the “old” (pre-1949) society. As well, of course, as angry refutation of the core notion of the Cultural Revolution: that the creative artist is, by dint of individualism /and/or of loyalty to some variety of art-for-art’s sake purism, is a neo-bourgeois sprout that must be trampled out and permanently broken by exile. Most often cited as an instance of condemning the unliberated past is the issue of arranged marriage; but there is also frequent reference to the harshness of school discipline and also to the demeaning snobbery and depraved sexuality of the traditional sponsor of the arts: the court and/or the unfettered literati in search of entertainment.
I here suggest that such a reading of end-20t century cinematic output is superficial, and perhaps entirely off target. Taking as our cue the pilgrimage of 19th century Romanticism in Europe and England, I will argue that we would do better to appreciate this new found fascination of Chinese film with the performance arts and literary past in terms of the Euro-Romantics’ search to capture the unsullied, even religious, voice of the VolkStimme of Europe. In both situations it is believed that here, and here alone, lies the only true alternative to the dogmatic classicism of the traditional elites, on the one hand, and the commercial vulgarity of the “mass” urban audience on the other.

To elaborate: it has been very often pointed out that the starting point of Romanticism in England (from which it emigrated to the Continent) was the discovery (reexhuming: these were regions where indigenes and their culture had long eroded away) of a truly archaic people(s) on the geographical margin (or inaccessible inner recesses) of the nation-state, and with their presence a tradition of musical and/or balladic art that was unadulterated by the elite or the commercial, and could therefore be grasped as true voice of the unlettered (hence “natural”) collective past.

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