“Art Is to Sacrifice One’s Death”: The aesthetic and ethic of the Chinese diasporic artist Mu Xin

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2021

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Abstract

In his five-year-long world literature lecture series, running from 1989 to 1994, the Chinese diasporic writer-painter Mu Xin (1927-2011) provided a puzzling advice for the group of emerging Chinese artists living in New York: “Art is to sacrifice.” Reading this advice in tandem with other comments on “sacrifice” that Mu Xin provided throughout the lecture series, this study uses the concept of “art is to sacrifice one’s death” to examine the intricate relationship between aesthetics and ethics in Mu Xin’s project of art. The question of diasporic positionality is inherent in the relationship between aesthetic and ethical discourses, since the two discourses themselves were born in a Western tradition that was once foreign to Mu Xin. Examining his life together with his works in different medium, I trace the intellectual genealogy of his works to the legacy of Lu Xun and Lin Fengmian’s debate in the late 1920s. Then, I examine how Mu Xin reinvented their aesthetic-cum-ethical project to shape his role as an artist in the world. Finally, through comparing him to a similar Chinese diasporic artist Gao Xingjian, I put the artistic image that Mu Xin established for himself in relation to the political position that he inhabited as a diasporic artist working across cultural boundaries. I argue that Mu Xin not only vigorously forwarded an ethical project in pursuit of humanness with his advice on art but also envisioned such humanness to be a mediative process of social activity instead of any essential state of being or sentimentality in a singular mind. Through such an artistic project, Mu Xin managed to participate in reforming the static boundaries of culture and nation-state, such that he carried out a political project though fictional means, making the world more adaptive to individuals living within it.

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Zhou, Muyun (2021). “Art Is to Sacrifice One’s Death”: The aesthetic and ethic of the Chinese diasporic artist Mu Xin. Master's thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/23322.

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