Abstract

This article offers a reconstruction of the intellectual dialogue between Kantian aesthetician Li Zehou 李澤厚 (1930–) and humanist literary critic Liu Zaifu 劉再復 (1941–). By comparing Li's ruminations on “cultures of pleasure” (legan wenhua 樂感文化) and Liu's treatises on “literatures of sin” (zuigan wenxue 罪感文學), the author shows how religious ethics became a crucial medium for them to reflect on the theologico-political aspects of Chinese revolutionary culture. In particular, Li's cultures of pleasure were grounded in the May Fourth aesthetic discourse that highlighted the inculcation of secular humanity as an alternative to religious transcendence. Meanwhile, Liu underscored the transcendence of literatures of sin to stimulate an inner morality through which to excise all secular political commands from human interiority. Whereas Li prioritized a realistic ethical and psychological noumenon in Confucian aesthetics to refute the romantic and sublime figure of the proletarian subject, Liu's espousal of religious transcendence provided Chinese writers with a spiritual dimension to actualize literature's breakaway from the tutelage of the revolutionary state. Their reflections on this-worldly pleasure and otherworldly sin have merged in exorcising the myth of Mao's revolutionary utopia.

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