By Kang Liu
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Extra info for Aesthetics and Marxism: Chinese Aesthetic Marxists and Their Western Contemporaries
In this classic Chinese novel, Wang saw a mutual illumination of the Schopenhauerian denial of desire and a tragic vision of life. Such a vision looks like an appearance of Heideggerian authentic being, through the wholesale immolation and abnegation of worldly desires, achievable by an unobtrusive Taoist-Buddhist poesis incarnated by the novel itself. The second characteristic of Wang’s modernism was his adamant insistence on the autonomy and separation of art and scholarship. This was posed against Western-inspired reformist or revolutionary ideologies that aesthetics, modernity, and alternative modernity 21 favored scientific reason.
Cai’s enlightenment aesthetic project, though not a Marxist formation, highlights the intrinsic contradiction between an urban, cosmopolitan vision of modernity and a rural, agrarian, nativist orientation. Cai’s aesthetic concept is twofold. First, the aesthetic was conceived as a preeminent discourse of enlightenment and cultural revolution, against China’s stagnant tradition; second, it provided a humanistic and utopian dimension to Chinese modernity, influenced primarily by Western scientific reason.
In fact, the absence of any consideration of China’s political or economic situation in Cai’s project much weakened its effectiveness and viability. Although Cai’s project of enlightenment and aesthetic education revealed serious predicaments in China’s modernity, it also signaled certain possible directions for an alternative modernity. The liberalist one, pursued mainly by non-Marxist, procapitalist intellectuals represented by Hu Shi, faced insurmountable difficulties and internal contradictions.