The Gender of Memory: 2021 MLA Session

Memory plays a central role in literary production––one writes from memory and writes to make memory. Memory writing is always gendered––from the author’s self-perception to the constructed gender relations in literary works. The entanglement between gender and memory was particularly salient in early modern China (17th–19th centuries) with radical social changes and fast-growing literacy among women. Recent studies have paid much attention to gender-related literary writing of that period, especially in homosexual stories, works by women authors, accounts of female chastity, and writings involving medicine and emotion. However, the gendered construction of memory in pre-modern China is rarely studied. Focusing on cases in Chinese history, this panel interrogates the relationship between gender (sexuality) and memory in literary production. In particular, the session explores how memory writing engenders and enables negotiation with male-dominant literary discourses. The four papers in turn address the roles of memory in homosexual stories, hagiographic essays, garden writings within a family, and collective memories of historical changes.