The Pain That Connects: A New Perspective on the Chinese Health Humanities
1: Tempering Steel, Forging Gender: Spiritual Transfiguration in the Socialist Bildungsromans of Nikolai Ostrovsky, Yang Mo, and Leslie Feinberg
Friday, March 25, 2022
3:30pm – 5:00pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
University of Oregon, United States
Contemporary discussion about gender and sexuality is often bound up with concerns about mental health, particularly with regard to traumas caused by social and familial pressures, oppressive cultural and legal norms, and heteronormative violence. I propose to look at a series of three socialist Bildungsroman narratives, Ostrovsky's How the Steel was Tempered (1936), Yang Mo's Song of Youth (1958), and Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues (1993), to speculatively explore how themes of spiritual transfiguration, revolutionary commitment, and gender transformation potentially link together in ways distinct from contemporary understandings of gender and sexuality under neoliberal individualism. Yang Mo was directly influenced by Ostrovsky; Feinberg was a socialist activist in the Workers World Party that claimed inspiration from the PRC. While our reigning concepts of mental health and trauma were not explicitly invoked under socialism, I argue that alternative categories of Bildung (education) and spirit, mobilized through narrative dialectic, always engaged with affective and psychological terrain, including trauma and other forms of emotional distress. Moreover, in all three novels, this sentimental dialectic is embodied, to various degrees, as a gendered process; Stone Butch Blues presents the most explicit link between gender and revolutionary transfiguration. By linking these narratives of transfiguration in novels spanning the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, and the US, I seek to outline the contours of an alternative, transnational structure of feeling that forged connections between spirit, gender, and social revolution.