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Women, Consumption and Popular Culture (Vol. 4 No. 1); Life, Community, and Ethics (Vol. 4. No. 2)

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Transatlantic Literary and Cultural Relations, 1776 to the Present (Vol. 11 No. 2). 


Be true to yourself. So urges the ancient maxim. In contemporary Western societies, this usually translates into the imperative of being in touch with your feelings. But sincerity and emotional authenticity have not always been first principles, and East Asian societies have traditionally subordinated emotion to ritual propriety. In this article, I propose a ritual theory of emotion that acknowledges the importance of codified rules of conduct, stylized modes of expression, and a shared subjunctive world as constitutive of a ritual social order that nonetheless admits of emotional plenitude.Beginning with a recent film about the renowned Peking Opera performer Mei Lanfang, I argue that we moderns have lost the art of presentation epitomized by classical theater and that the representational aesthetic, exemplified by film, has become hegemonic in modern life, from the intimate sphere of the family to the public arena of civic and political engagement. I draw on an emerging body of interdisciplinary scholarship on emotion and cognition as well as the continued, albeit misrecognized, role of ritual and its dialectic with sincerity. I then turn to a 19th-century memoir, Six Records of a Floating Life by Shen Fu, to sketch the outlines of an experimental aesthetic and lifestyle poised precariously yet playfully between presentation and representation, ritual and sincerity.

KEYWORDS:emotion, presentation, representation, ritual, sincerity

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